How exactly are the history and philosophy of science supposed to come together? In the case of the scientific realism debate there is a relatively straight forward answer to this. In short, scientific realists are keen to make some sort of success-to-truth inference. Typically they state that when scientific success is sufficiently impressive, we ought to infer that the hypotheses (or parts or aspects of the theory) that generated this success are at least approximately true. This allows for the possibility that, in the history of science, one might find just that sort of success, born of a theory/set of hypotheses that are definitely not approximately true (whatever your take on ‘approximate truth’). Even allowing for one or two exceptions, the possibility arises that there might be many such cases in the history of science. This makes many scientific realist positions falsifiable—loosely speaking, at least. But as things stand, nobody knows which contemporary realist positions (if any) are indeed falsified because we just don’t have at hand the relevant historical ‘facts’ (again, speaking loosely). What we need to make progress is careful and detailed history of science, dealing with relevant historical episodes…
Reflection on the last hundred years of physics might naturally lead one to suppose that the ancient debate as to whether the world was ultimately composed of things or processes had been resolved in favour of the latter. Quantum physics, whatever else it may be, seems to constitute a decisive rejection of the atomism at […]
Models and modelling practices in science were once ignored in philosophy of science; however, in the past fifty years they have been anything but. From Mary Hesse’s pioneering work in the 1960s, to the writing of Ron Giere, Uskali Maki, Nancy Cartwright, Mary Morgan, and Margaret Morrison in the 80s and 90s, to today’s contributions from Michael Weisberg, Mauricio Suarez, Wendy Parker, and too many others to mention, scientific models are now studied left and right. This work is no longer quirky or marginal, and it spans many scientific fields. There are detailed and intricate accounts of what models are, the variety of different models, and the epistemic and social roles played by models. But we would like to suggest that in one respect, more should be done.
In the last few decades, economists have puzzled over the curious phenomenon of so-called ambiguity-averse preferences. You are indifferent between (A) receiving a cash prize if a coin lands heads, and (B) receiving the prize if a coin lands tails. You are also indifferent between (A*) receiving the prize if the Nikkei stock index goes up and (B*) receiving the prize if it goes down; for you are totally ignorant about the Japanese stock market. But you prefer (A) to (A*), and you prefer (B) to (B*). Thus, intuitively, you prefer gambling on the more familiar toss of a coin than on the less familiar stock market.
Most professional philosophers of science would, I hope, agree that our discipline shares the object of its investigations with some other academics, i.e. scientists. But how often do we actually talk to them? Till Grüne-Yanoff has published a paper over at the EJPS, making a case for science students to be taught compulsory philosophy of science courses, and setting out some constraints on the optimal design of such courses. He does a great job of identifying some obstacles that advocates of such courses need to overcome.
What is an organism? Ask any two biologists from any two different sub-disciplines, and you’d probably get two different answers. A physiologist would give you a physiological answer, an immunologist would give you an immunological answer, a developmental biologist would give you a developmental answer, an evolutionary theorist would give an evolutionary answer… and so on. There would, of course, be some important recurring themes (organisms are ‘integrated wholes’, they are ‘organized’, they are in some sense ‘autonomous’) but as soon as we get down to details it’s plurality, not unity, that prevails.