The Rationality of Science

By W. H. Newton-Smith | Go to book overview

II

OBSERVATION, THEORY AND TRUTH

1 OBSERVING AND THEORIZING

My central aim in this work is to vindicate a rationalist account of the scientific enterprise based on a realist construal of scientific theories. It will prove fruitful to introduce in this chapter the central ideas and issues concerning realism prior to considering in Chapters III to VI the views, respectively, of Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend. In these chapters we shall see how difficult it is to combine realism and rationalism and it will require the balance of the book to meet the challenges that emerge. In this chapter a characterization of realism is developed and it is shown that realism is more promising than either of its primary rivals, instrumentalism and relativism. We begin with a discussion of the relation between observation and theory, since it will emerge that the primary difficulty in an instrumentalistic construal of theories is that it presupposes an untenable view of the relation between theory and observation.

Positivist and neo-positivist philosophers of science held that expressions used in science were either observational or theoretical. The class of observational, or O-terms, was held to include such expressions as: '…is warm', '…is yellow', '…sinks', '…points to five'. Theoretical or T-terms included: '…is a field', '…is a quark', '…has spin ½'. The distinction between O-terms and T-terms was supposed to represent a difference in kind and not merely a difference in degree. For it was held that O-terms and T-terms functioned in science in significantly different ways. In our discussion of this view it will be useful to have available the following terminology. By an observational sentence I

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The Rationality of Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • I - The Rational Image 1
  • II - Observation, Theory and Truth 19
  • III - Popper-The Irrational Rationalist 44
  • IV - In Search of the Methodologist's Stone 77
  • V - T.S.Kuhn: from Revolutionary to Social Democrat 102
  • VI - Feyerabend, the Passionate Liberal 125
  • VII - Theories Are Incommensurable? 148
  • VIII - The Thesis of Verisimilitude 183
  • IX - Scientific Method 208
  • X - Strong Programmes 237
  • XI - Temperate Rationalism 266
  • Notes 274
  • Bibliography 282
  • Index 289
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