Studies in the History and Methods of the Sciences

By Arthur David Ritchie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
HUMAN ORDER

Prediction in human and other studies . No single human science . Special human sciences . Evidence in law and history . Medical digression . Lessons from Aristotle's Politics . Prediction and morals

§1. GENUINE sciences are expected to justify themselves in practice. After a preliminary probationary period, during which queer things may happen, they succeed in doing so. All sciences are supposed to begin with past events, with facts; but some go on to experiment and predict. Experimental sciences justify themselves by orderly control of events, i.e. by introducing order into otherwise chaotic processes. In doing this they may be said to predict, but their predictions are confined, with rare exceptions, to the four walls of the laboratory (Latin) or workshop (Anglo-Saxon) from which they come and to which they refer. Prediction outside laboratories and workshops is more precarious though not impossible (cf. R. O. Kapp , Facts and Faith, 1955. Riddell Lectures).

Consider the science of meteorology. The weather is assumed to be a purely physical process, the laws of classical physics are assumed to apply to these processes. Indeed the meteorologist habitually uses some of these laws for his calculations, e.g. for calculating the deviation of wind direction due to the earth's rotation and the cooling or heating of air masses in rising or descending air currents; these are some of his tools, just as barometers and thermometers are. For his predictions however, he uses imaginative entities unknown to classical physics, whose relations are discovered by him empirically, independently of physical theory. Such are his cyclonic and anti-cyclonic systems, and warm and cold fronts. His predictions are not at all like the predictions of the physicist about what goes on in his laboratory but they are very like the predictions of the botanist about what goes on in the countryside. Show the botanist an acorn and a broad bean, and he will predict what will become of each, wheft planted under suitable conditions, and specify the characters of the full grown plants

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