philosophy of science

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

philosophy of science

philosophy of science, branch of philosophy that emerged as an autonomous discipline in the 19th cent., especially through the work of Auguste Comte, J. S. Mill, and William Whewell. Several of the issues in philosophy of science concern science in general. David Hume raised a problem of induction, namely that of the grounds people have for believing that past generalizations, i.e., scientific laws, will be valid in the future. Sir Karl Popper and Nelson Goodman have made influential contributions to issues concerning induction in science. Another issue centers around the relations of scientific theories to the interpretation of the world. An additional general issue concerns the way science develops. Contemporary philosophers such as Thomas Kuhn have denied the thesis of the logical positivists (see logical positivism) that scientists choose between competing theories in a purely rational fashion, i.e., by appealing to theory-neutral observations. The philosophy of science also focuses on issues raised by the relations between individual sciences and by individual sciences themselves. An example of the former is the issue of whether the laws of one science, e.g., biology, can be reduced to those of a supposedly more fundamental one, e.g., physics. An example of the latter sort of issue is that of the implications of quantum mechanics for our understanding of causality.

See R. Boyd et al., ed., The Philosophy of Science (1991).

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