Philosophy Discussion Group – Science – Tuesday 7th

The Socratic Society’s Philosophy Discussion Group meets again on Tuesday, October 7th in Morven Brown 372 from midday until 2pm. Anyone with an interest in the topic is welcome, and you can come and go at any time; you don’t need to be there for the whole two hours. Light refreshments will be provided.

The topic is: “Science”

Are economics, psychology, anthropology and archaeology scientific?

Is mathematics scientific?

Why is intelligent design generally considered not scientific?

What distinguishes science from other kinds of investigation?

Is there a clear demarcation between scientific and unscientific or are there degrees of scientific?

Is what is scientific any activity which solves problems by assessing ideas with observational evidence?

Is empiricism, the belief that the only source of knowledge is experience what gives science its authority? If so then science becomes an organised and systematic expansion of everyday thinking.

Then is theoretical physics which has evolved into a mathematical model building exercise with little contact with the empirical world still scientific?

Perhaps what makes science different is not empiricism but its attempt to understand the world using mathematical tools? As Galileo wrote ‘…this grand book the universe…it is written in the language of mathematics’ (Godfrey-Smith ‘theory and reality’ 2003). Then again Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ makes no real use of mathematics.

Perhaps it is the social structure of the scientific community that makes science different and successful? Policing, controlling and coordinating the actions of groups who are active in research therefore ensuring trust and cooperation. Perhaps it is some combination?

Is science too creative and unpredictable a process for a set method? It has been argued that great scientists like Newton, Darwin and Einstein did not conform to what we think of as ‘the scientific method’.

Is there any observation which is truly objective? Or does every observation rely on pre-conceived theories about what you are observing and what its significance is?

Is there any reason to hope that science will succeed in describing the world as it really is? How would we know if it did? Should truth be the goal of science?

Kuhn argued that that scientists work in paradigms which have sets of assumptions and exemplars which condition the way scientists solve problems and understand data. In normal science the data is read to fit with the existing paradigm. Is working under a paradigm working under a theoretical faith? Is normal science dogmatic? When enough anomalies build up in one paradigm then another is created which attempts to explain these anomalies and all of what the previous theory explains. There is then a scientific revolution with the competing paradigms.

Is science hierarchical where the higher is reduced by the lower? E.g. biology might be reduced by physiology, physiology by chemistry and chemistry by physics. Do the different areas of science describe just one physical reality at different levels of detail?

Should we consider science the only producer of knowledge?

Should scientists subscribe to an ethical code like the Hippocratic Oath?

(Godfrey-Smith ‘theory and reality’ 2003) (‘The Oxford Companion to philosophy’ 1995)

See you on Tuesday!


3 responses to “Philosophy Discussion Group – Science – Tuesday 7th

  1. I found many of the episodes in this podcast series thought provoking:

    If science is neither cookery, nor angelic virtuosity, then what is it?

    Modern societies have tended to take science for granted as a way of knowing, ordering and controlling the world. Everything was subject to science, but science itself largely escaped scrutiny. This situation has changed dramatically in recent years. Historians, sociologists, philosophers and sometimes scientists themselves have begun to ask fundamental questions about how the institution of science is structured and how it knows what it knows. David Cayley talks to some of the leading lights of this new field of study.

  2. It’s a bit early to be advertising this, as it doesn’t yet exist, but I’ve just delivered the manuscript of a book, What Science Knows, to Encounter Books, New York. Hopefully they’ll publish it around the end of the year and I’ll be an instant guru on these issues. Well, that’s the plan…

  3. I hope you can come to the discussion group tomorrow James.

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