Friday, April 2, 2010

Philosophy of Science 3

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?"

1. There are two ways of describing scientific progress: either as cumulative, or as revolutionary process. Describe both and argue for what you think is a more adequate description.

The primary point of distinction between the cumulative description of science and the revolutionary description of science can be found in the way in which scientists from each school answer the following question: what is a critical point? The cumulative process would probably disallow such a reference, as such scientists would purport that an “old” paradigm P1 can be expanded to form a “new” paradigm P2 such that generally, P1 can be compatibilized with P2 – that is, those who subscribe to the cumulative process wouldn’t use the paradigm model at all. Kuhn, on the other hand, would protest that this explanation is historically inadequate. Instead, Kuhn argues that in periods of history, critical points arise which cause revolutions in science: “not merely a change in general laws but also a change in the way the world is perceived and a change in the standards that are brought to bear in appraising a theory” (Chalmers, 121). This implies that the harmonizing of a new paradigm with an old paradigm is unreasonable. One may picture that the cumulative process as follows: one big circle contains inside itself a smaller circle, signifying compatibility between two contrast points. The revolutionary process, on the other hand, would look like two circles, P1 and P2, with an arrow pointing from the former to the latter, signifying a revolutionary paradigm shift.

Of the two descriptions of scientific progress, I would say that even if neither process is a normative explanation of science, the revolutionary model better fits the history of science. The very fact that discussions of this sort presuppose a distinction between schools of science implies that Kuhn’s description is more accurate. Even a cumulative scientist would be hard pressed to agree that geocentricism and heliocentrism are in any sense compatible, as many theories particular to each paradigm were derived from the very different ideas of the position of the earth and sun in relation to each other and the universe.

2. What exactly does Chalmers’ distinction between “objective” and “subjective knowledge” (124ff.) mean in this context? Explain.

In the context of Kuhn’s philosophy of science, Chalmer’s believes that Kuhn is confused as to the distinction between these two alleged “types” of knowledge. This is due to the discussion on pgs. 122-123, in which Kuhn states in one breath that he is not a relativist because he believes that one can rationally call one paradigm as better than another and in the next breath states that the criteria of judgment is simplicity, scope, and compatibility, all of which is seemingly determined subjectively, as Kuhn provides no method for determining how one paradigm is simpler, more compatible, &c. than another. While Kuhn’s philosophy of science may accurately reflect the history of science, then, it does not adequately address the question of how one can know a given paradigm is objectively better than another.

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