Saturday, March 27, 2010

Philosophy of Science 2

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 do you think about Feyerabend's idea of "freedom" in science?”

If Chalmer’s assesses Feyerabend correctly, I would agree with Feyerabend’s sentiment when Chalmer’s writes: “Feyerabend… leaves individuals the freedom to choose between science and other forms of knowledge” (p. 156). So long as Feyerabend is not promoting epistemic skepticism – but rather empirical skepticism – I can’t disagree with the criticisms he and others we have read thus far have made. In class, we discussed whether or not one should consider Feyerabend an anarchist or merely against scientific dogmatism. The latter indeed seems to have been the case. In other words, until or unless a normative method of science is established, Feyerabend contends that we should let people choose what to learn.

I concur with Feyerabend to a great extent, therefore, with regards to his assessment of the current state of scientific education in America: that is, that the freedom to choose what scientific criteria to believe – and thus, under which scientific criteria one would learn – is sorely lacking in public schools. The following question was raised as an implicit critique of Feyerabend: what would be the consequences of non-dogmatism? Some alleged that, due to what could be extreme differences between the curriculum of two schools, in order to change from school to the other, one would apparently have to start from the very beginning of the curriculum at the new school. The problem with this allegation is that it is question-begging: why should it matter that one would be required to start over? Given that the choice to transfer would have been made by the student – which is all Feyerabend wishes to establish anyways (the right to learn what one wants to learn) – the point is irrelevant.

“Reconstruct Chalmers’ argument against Worrall's argument.”

Worrall argues that a mutually exclusivity exists between relativity and universality; that is, one either accepts the idea that the standards (that by which we test theories et. al.) are subject to a universal method such that one is able to demonstrate a change in standards is justified, or one concedes scientific relativism. No harmonization is possible. One might picture Worrall’s argument as a vertical, dividing line between relativity and universality.

Chalmers uses Galileo as a historical example of how his argument – viz. there exists a non-universal method of changing scientific standards which does not lead to absolute relativism – is tenable. Firstly, he notes that Galileo and his peers shared a common goal: descriptions of the motions of the heavenly bodies supported by empirical evidence. When Galileo cast doubt on the correctness of the naked eye by means of certain examples, then, he was able to persuade his rivals to accept the results of telescopic observations as more accurate.

Chalmers concluded that only an a-historical account of scientific progression would suggest that the background to scientific progression is completely revolutionary. Equivalently, there always exists some contextual web in which scientists may work to examine and change parts without denying the whole. Those parts of the web which are not changed are those against which parts which are changed are judged to be better or worse. Thus, we defined in class that one could gauge whether a change in standards is justified by testing how such a change would affect the unchanged parts of the web (methods, aims, and theories). Chalmers’ approach, while not intended to be normative, does refute Worrall’s dichotomy. One could picture Chalmers’ position as a horizontal spectrum on which changes in one’s web can be more relative or less, depending on how many parts of the web are being changed/unchanged at once.

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