Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE IN AMERICA

Victor F. Lenzen*


I

Contemporary philosophy of science in America exemplifies the philosophical standpoint of logical empiricism. Science is conceived to be an activity of discovering, recording, and organizing empirical phenomena; organization is recognized as a logical achievement which is accomplished especially through the concepts of mathematics. The logico-empiricistic philosophy of science has been created against a background of idealism in metaphysics; scientists, epistemologists, and logicians have cooperated in its development. Important methods of approach have been through criticism of physics, analysis of meaning, and independent creative work in logic. These modes of philosophical activity have their roots in the early period of the American Republic.

During the colonial period, American thought was guided by the Cambridge Platonists, whose influence on science is represented by the theological and absolutistic concepts in Newton's philosophy of physical theory. Later, during the middle of the eighteenth century Benjamin Franklin ( 1706-1709), America's first creative scientist, whose achievements and illumination of thought won the friendship of France for the new nation, exhibited critical insight into the nature of physical theory. Franklin was an ingenious experimenter and a creator of theoretical ideas as well. In descriptions of his electrical experiments he recognized the hypothetical and tentative character of theoretical explanation. For example, after describing experiments1 which led to the conclusion: "That the clouds of a thunder-gust are most commonly in a

____________________
*
Born in 1890. Ph. D., Harvard University, 1916. Professor of Physics, University of California. President, Pacific Division American Philosophical Association, 1944. Author of The Nature of Physical Theory ( 1931), Procedures of Empirical Science ( 1938), The Figure of Dionysos on the Siphnian Frieze ( 1946); contributor to scientific and philosophical publications.
1
Franklin, Experiments and Observations on Electricity, edited by I. B. Cohen ( Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1941), p. 271.

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