Monday, March 22, 2010

Philosophy of Science 1

As my debate opponent is slow, as I am on spring break (no new Modern Philosophy posts for a week), and as I am still working on other material I'd rather not post until it is to my liking, I've been a little quiet this past week. To remedy that, I plan to post (in no particular order) some essays I wrote in last semester's Philosophy of Science.

For the class in Philosophy of Science I took last semester, we had to write at least 7 revised essays on various topics pertaining to the philosophy of science. These essays incorporate class discussion and points from Chalmers' "What is This Thing Called Science?"


“What is, or what are, the main problem(s) of the falsificationist approach according to Chalmers?”

The falsificationist approach has several problems that Chalmers relates and we discussed in class: Firstly, if an observation contradicts a theory or hypothesis, the falsificationist has no method by which he can discern which is or if both are false. In other words, that either the hypothesis or observation statement predicated on the observation has been falsified does not help the falsificationist know which of the two has been falsified. From prior discussions, we noted observations can be biased by unknown variables. Unless the falsificationist can solve this dilemma such that he knows that an observation statement is true or false, he cannot know the hypothesis is necessarily contradictory to reality. Moreover, this inhibits the scientist’s ability to know at what point a new hypothesis should be framed.

Secondly, one might perceive a problem of falsificationism is that from a logical standpoint, one can, at best, only hope to make scientific progress. This problem would also be attributable to the epistemological problem of discerning which observation statements are accurate depictions of the nature of reality. The reason that one can only hope to aspire to scientific progress is that, per paragraph one, we cannot know whether or not the hypothesis or the observation statement or both is falsified. To state that the hypothesis has been falsified would be presumptuous, then, as his observation was not infallible. This led the class to conclude that a problem with falsificationism is that its demarcation criterion of science – that is, the idea that falsifiability marks what is and is not genuinely scientific – is too easy to satisfy.

Thirdly, we noted that falsificationism is inadequate on historical grounds. This especially was shown in our discussion of the Copernican system. Falsificationism doesn’t explain why one observation (naked-eye) should be preferable to another (telescopic). Also, as one might suggest that Aristotelian, Ptolemaic, and Copernican systems are complex, we don’t know for example, what Galileo’s observations falsified. It could be the initial conditions of the experiments, it could be one of the multitude of premises which comprise each system, it could be the accuracy of available technology, or any number of other factors. The last one (available technology) especially compelled us to remark on one more important point: if falsifiability is the demarcation criterion for a scientist, then many promising theories would have been immediately falsified due to limitations with regards to the instruments he uses. This and the other aforementioned factors prompted us to conclude that a certain amount of dogmatism is necessary in order for science to make the headway that falsificationists hope to acheive.

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