INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
Book I Page 5
3.41 Pragmatic Dimension
Pragmatics is the functions of language.
Linguists recognize the pragmatics of ordinary English when they distinguish the four moods, namely the declarative, interrogative, imperative and exclamatory moods. The intended mood can be indicated syntactically by word order and/or punctuation marks, and phonetically by inflection. The moods can be exemplified in the language of science, but philosophers of science make pragmatic distinctions that are more specifically functional for basic research in empirical science:
The pragmatics of basic research in science is theory construction and empirical testing, in order to produce laws and explanations.
Pragmatics is the metalinguistic dimension after syntax, semantics and ontology, and it presupposes all of them. The regulating pragmatics of basic science is set forth in the statement of the aim of science, namely to create explanations containing scientific laws by development and empirical testing of theories, which are deemed laws when not falsified by the currently most critically empirical test. Explanations and laws are accomplished science, while theories and testing are work in progress at the frontier of basic research. Understanding the pragmatics of science requires understanding theory development and testing.
3.42 Semantic Definitions of Theory Language
For the extinct neopositivist philosophers the term “theory” refers to universally quantified sentences containing “theoretical terms” that describe unobserved phenomena or entities. The nineteenth-century positivists such as the physicist Ernst Mach rejected theory, especially the atomic theory of matter in physics, because atoms had never been observed. These early positivist philosophers’ idea of discovery consisted of induction, which yields empirical generalizations rather than theories that contain theoretical terms.
Later the twentieth-century neopositivists believed that they could validate the meaningfulness of theoretical terms referencing unobserved microphysical particles such as electrons, and thus admit theories as valid science. But for discovery of theories they invoked human creativity and offered no description of the processes of theory creation.
The neopositivists viewed Newton’s physics as paradigmatic of theoretical science. They therefore also construed “theory” to mean an axiomatic system, because Kepler’s laws of orbital motion could be derived deductively as theorems from Newton’s gravitational law.
For the anachronistic romantic philosophers and romantic social scientists on the other hand “theory” means language describing subjectively experienced mental states such as ideas and motivations. Some romantics portray the theory-creation process as consisting firstly of introspection by the theorist upon his own personal subjective experiences or imagination. Then secondly it consists of imputing vicariously his introspectively experienced ideas and motives to the social members under investigation. The sociologist Max Weber called this verstehen. Thus since the social scientist can recognize or at least imagine the imputed ideas and motives, the ideas and motives expressed by his theory are “convincing” to him.
3.43 Pragmatic Definition of Theory Language
Scientific theories are universally quantified statements including mathematical expressions (a.k.a. “models”) that are proposed for empirical testing.
Unlike positivists and romantics, pragmatists define theory language pragmatically, i.e., by its function in research, instead of syntactically as an axiomatic system or semantically by some distinctive content. This functionality supplies the definition of “theory” in the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science. It contains the traditional idea that theories are hypotheses, but the reason for their hypothetical status is not due to either the positivist observation-theory dichotomy or the romantics’ requirement of referencing subjective mental states. Theory language is hypothetical because interested scientists agree that in the event of falsification, it is the theory language that is falsified instead of the test-design language. Often theories are deemed to be more hypothetical, because their semantics is more empirically underdetermined.
Theory is a special function of language – empirical testing – rather than a special type of language.
Scientists believe that the proposed theory statements are more likely to be productively revised than the presumed test-design statements, if a falsifying test outcome shows that revision is needed.
Pragmatically after a theory is tested, it ceases to be a theory, because it is either scientific law or rejected language, except for the skeptical scientist who wants further predictive testing. Designing empirical tests can tax the ingenuity of the most brilliant scientist, and theories may have lives lasting many years due to difficult problems formulating or implementing decisive test designs. Or as in a computerized discovery system with an empirical decision procedure, theories may have lives measured in milliseconds.
After a conclusive test outcome, the tested theory is no longer a theory, because the conclusive test makes the theory either a scientific law or falsified discourse.
Romantic social scientists adamantly distinguish theory from “models”. Many alternative supplemental speculations about motives, which they call “theory”, can be appended to a model that is has been tested. But it is the model that is empirically tested statistically or predictively. Pragmatically the language that is proposed for empirical testing is theory, such that when a model is proposed for testing, the model has the status of theory.
Some time after initial testing and acceptance, a scientific law may revert to theory status to be tested again. Centuries after Newton’s law of gravitation had initially been accepted as scientific law, it was tested in 1919 in the famous Eddington eclipse test of Einstein’s alternative general relativity theory. Thus for a brief time early in the twentieth century Newton’s theory was pragmatically speaking actually a theory again.
Thus the term “theory” is ambiguous; archival and pragmatic meanings can be distinguished. In the archival sense philosophers and scientists still may speak of Newton’s “theory” of gravitation, as is often done herein. The archival meaning is what in his Patterns of Discovery Hanson calls “completed science” or “catalogue science” as opposed to “research science”. The archival sense has long-standing usage and will be in circulation for a long time to come.
But research scientists seeking to advance their science using theory in the archival sense are seeking an El Dorado. The archival sense is not the meaning that is needed to understand the research practices and historical progress of basic science. That is why philosophers today recognize the pragmatic meaning of “theory”, which is a transitional phase for a science. In the pragmatic sense Newton’s “theory” is now falsified physics in basic science and is no longer proposed for testing, although it is still used by aerospace engineers and others who can exploit its lesser realism, i.e., lesser truth.
3.44 Pragmatic Definition of Test-Design Language
Pragmatically theory is universally quantified language that is proposed for testing, and test-design language is universally quantified language that is presumed for testing.
Accepting or rejecting the hypothesis that there are red ravens presumes a prior agreement about the semantics needed to identify a bird’s species. The test-design language defines the semantics that identifies the subject of the tested theory and the procedures for executing the test design. This semantics includes but is not limited to the language for describing the design of any test apparatus, the testing methods including any measurement procedures, and the characterization of the test’s initial conditions. The semantics for the independent characterization of the observed outcome resulting from the test execution is also defined in the test design language. The universally quantified test-design statements contribute these meaning components to the semantics of the descriptive terms common to both the test design and the theory.
Both theory and test-design language are believed to be true, but for different reasons. Experimenters testing a theory presume the test-design language is true with definitional force for identifying the subject of the test and for executing the test design. The advocates proposing or supporting a theory believe the theory statements are true with sufficient plausibility to warrant the time, effort and cost of testing with an expected nonfalsifying outcome. For these advocates both the theory statements and the test-design statements contribute component parts to the complex semantics of the descriptive terms that the theory and test-design statements share prior to testing.
Often test-design concepts describing the subject of a theory are either not yet formulated or are too vaguely described and conceptualized to be used for effective testing. They are concepts that await future scientific and technological developments that will enable formulation of an executable and decisive empirical test. Formulating a test design capable of evaluating decisively the empirical merits of a theory often requires considerable ingenuity. Eventual formulation of specific test-design language enabling an empirical decision supplies the additional clarifying semantics that sufficiently reduces the disabling empirical underdetermination in the descriptive terms of the theory.
3.45 Pragmatic Definition of Observation Language
Observation language is test-design sentences that are given particular logical quantification for describing an individual test procedure and execution including the reporting of the test outcome.
After scientists have formulated and accepted a test design, the universally quantified language setting forth the design determines the semantics of its observation language. Particularly quantified language cannot define the semantics of descriptive terms. The observation language in a test is sentences or equations with particular logical quantification accepted as experimentally or experientially true and used for description, and it includes both the test-design sentences describing the initial conditions and procedures for an individual test execution and also the test-outcome sentences reporting the outcome of an executed test. This is a pragmatic concept of observation language, because it depends on the function of such language in the test. Contrary to positivists and earlier philosophers, pragmatists reject the thesis that there is any inherently or naturally observational semantics.
If a test outcome is not a falsification, then the universally quantified theory is regarded as a scientific law, and the theory contributes its semantics to the meaning complex associated with the descriptive terms in the universally quantified test-design sentences. Additionally the terms in the universally quantified test-design sentences contribute their semantics to the meaning complex of the theory’s terms. These semantical contributions reduce vagueness, and do not depend on the logical derivation of test-design sentences from the theory sentences. But where such derivation is possible, coherence is increased and vagueness is thereby further reduced. Furthermore due to a mathematical derivation test-outcome measurement values may be changed to numerical values that still fall within the range of measurement error, and the measurement accuracy may be judged improved.
3.46 Observation and Test Execution
For the execution of the test all the statements involved have their quantification changed from universal to particular. The semantics for all the language involved in a test is defined by the universally quantified statements, since particularly quantified language does not define semantics. The particularly quantified theory statements make the prediction for the test. All the language needed to realize the initial conditions together with the test-outcome statements have their semantics defined by the universal statements in the test design. The particularly quantified statements in the test design describing the subject of the theory are observation statements. For a mathematically expressed theory particular logical quantification is accomplished by assigning values by measurement to the theory’s descriptive variables to implement the test’s initial conditions needed to calculate the one or several prediction variables, and then calculating the predicted numerical values.
After the test is executed, the statements in the test design reporting the test outcome are observation statements describing the observed results of the test. The prediction statements are not as such observation statements unless the test outcome is nonfalsifying. If the test is falsifying, the prediction statements are merely rejected language. For a mathematically expressed theory a nonfalsifying test outcome is a predicted magnitude that is manifestly larger than the estimated measurement error, such that the prediction is deemed to be as the test-outcome statements describe. Then the test is effectively decidable as nonfalsifying. Otherwise the test is falsifying, and the prediction values are simply rejected as erroneous prediction values.
3.47 Scientific Professions
In computational philosophy of science a “scientific profession” means the researchers who at a given point in time are attempting to solve the same scientific problem as defined by a test design. They are the language community represented by the input and output state descriptions for a discovery system application. On this definition of profession for discovery systems in computational philosophy of science, a profession is a much smaller group than the academicians in the field of the problem but is not limited to academicians.
3.48 Semantic Individuation of Theories
Theory language is defined pragmatically, but theories are individuated semantically.
Theories are individuated semantically in either of two ways:
Firstly different expressions are different theories, because they address different subjects.
Different theory expressions having different test designs producing different measurements or observations are different theories with different subjects.
Secondly different expressions are different theories, because each makes contrary claims about the same subject.
The test-design language defines the subject and is the same for all of such contrary theories.
Chapter 4. Functional Topics
The preceding chapters have offered generic sketches of the principal twentieth-century philosophies of science, namely romanticism, positivism and pragmatism. And they have discussed selected elements of the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of language for science, namely the object language and metalanguage perspectives, the synchronic and diachronic views, and the syntactical, semantical, ontological and pragmatic dimensions.
Finally at the expense of some repetition this chapter integrates those discussions into the four functional topics briefly examined in the overview chapter, namely the institutionalized aim of basic science, scientific discovery, scientific criticism, and scientific explanation.
4.01 Institutionalized Aim of Science
Over the last three hundred years empirical science has evolved into a social institution with its own distinctive and autonomous professional subculture of shared views and values.
The institutionalized aim of science is the cultural value system that regulates the scientist’s practices of basic research.
Idiosyncratic motivations of individual scientists are historically interesting, but are largely of anecdotal interest to philosophers of science, except when such idiosyncrasies have produced results that have initiated an institutional change.
The literature of philosophy of science offers various proposals for the aim of science. The three modern philosophies of science mentioned above set forth different philosophies of language, which influence their diverse concepts of all four of the functional topics including the aim of science.
4.02 Positivist Aim
The positivists proposed a foundational agenda based on their naturalistic philosophy of language. Early positivists such as Ernst Mach proposed that science should aim for firm objective foundations by relying exclusively on observation, and should seek empirical generalizations that summarize the individual observations. They deemed theories to be at best temporary expedients and too hypothetical to be considered appropriate for science.
After the acceptance of Einstein’s relativity theory by physicists, the later positivists known as “neopositivists” acknowledged the essential rôle that hypothetical theory must have in the aim of science. Between the twentieth-century World Wars, Rudolf Carnap and his fellows in the Vienna Circle group of neopositivists attempted to justify theories in science by logically relating the so-called theoretical terms in the theories to the so-called observation terms that they believed should be the foundational logical-reduction base.
Many of these neopositivists were also called “logical positivists”, because they attempted to use the symbolic logic developed by Bertrand Russell and Alfred N. Whitehead to accomplish the logical reduction of theory language to observation language. The logical positivists fantasized that this Russellian symbolic logic could serve philosophy as mathematics serves physics, and it became their idée fixe. For decades the symbolic logic ostentatiously littered the pages of the Philosophy of Science and British Journal of Philosophy of Science journals with its chicken tracks, and rendered their ostensibly “technical” papers fit for the bottom of a birdcage.
The positivists were self-deluded, because in fact the Russellian truth-functional logic does not adequately capture the hypothetical logic of empirical testing in science. For example the truth-functional truth table says that if the conditional statement’s antecedent statement is false, then the conditional statement is defined as true. But in the practice of science a false antecedent statement means that execution of a test did not comply with the description of initial conditions thus invalidating the test, and is therefore irrelevant to the truth-value of the conditional statement that is the tested theory. Today truth-functional logic is not seriously considered by post-positivist philosophers of science much less by any practicing research scientists.
Consequently the aim of these neopositivist philosophers was not the aim of practicing research scientists. Scientists do not use symbolic logic or seek any logical reduction for so-called theoretical terms. The extinction of positivism was in no small part due to the disconnection between the positivists’ philosophical agenda and the actual practices and values of research scientists.
Readers wishing to know more about positivism are referred to BOOKs II and III below.
4.03 Romantic Aim
The romantics have a subjectivist social-psychological reductionist aim for the social sciences, which is thus also a foundational agenda. This agenda is a thesis of the aim of the social sciences that is still embraced and enforced by many social scientists. Both romantic philosophers and romantic scientists maintain that the sciences of culture differ fundamentally in their aim from the sciences of nature. Romantics view the aim of the social sciences as the development of explanations in terms of subjective psychological motivations to explain observed social interaction in terms of purposeful human actions in society.
Some romantics call this type of explanation “interpretative understanding” and others call it “substantive reasoning”. Using this concept of the aim of social science they often say that an explanation must be “convincing” or must “make substantive sense” to the social scientist due to the scientist’s introspection upon his actual or imaginary personal experiences, especially when he is a participating member of the same culture as the social members he is investigating.
Examples of these romantics are sociologists like Talcott Parsons and his academic entourage, who advocate variations on the philosophy of the sociologist Max Weber, in which vicarious understanding called “verstehen” is a criterion for criticism that they believe trumps empirical evidence. Verstehen sociology is therefore also known as “folk sociology” or “pop sociology”. Enforcing this criterion has obstructed the evolution of sociology into a modern empirical science in the twentieth century. Cultural anthropologists furthermore reject verstehen as a fallacy of ethnocentrism.
The 1989 Nobel-laureate econometrician Trygve Haavelmo and his academic entourage of classical economists supply another example. These econometricians do not reject the aim of prediction, simulation, optimization and policy formulation using econometric models; with their econometric modeling they enable it. But they subordinate the selection of “explanatory” variables in their models to factors that are derived from their heroically imputed maximizing rationality theses, which identify the motivating factors explaining the decisions of the economic agents such as buyers and sellers in a market. Thus they exclude econometrics from discovery and limit its function to testing romantic “theory”. In his Philosophy of Social Science Alexander Rosenberg describes the economists’ theory of rational choice, i.e., the use of the maximizing rationality theses, as “folk psychology formalized”.
Readers wishing to read more about the romantics including Parsons, Weber, Haavelmo and others are referred to BOOK VIII below.
4.04 More Recent Ideas
Most of the twentieth-century post-positivist proposals for the aim of science are less dogmatic than those listed above and arise from examination of important developmental episodes in the history of the natural sciences. Some noteworthy examples:
Einstein: Reflection on his relativity theory influenced Albert Einstein’s concept of the aim of science, which he set forth as his “programmatic aim of all physics” stated in his “Reply to Criticisms” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist edited by Paul A. Schilpp. The aim of science in Einstein’s view is a comprehension as complete as possible of the connections among sense impressions in their totality, and the accomplishment of this comprehension by the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations. Einstein did not reject empiricism, but he included a coherence agenda in his aim of science. This thesis also implies a uniform ontology for physics, and Einstein found statistical quantum theory to be “incomplete” according to his aim.
Popper: Karl Popper was an early post-positivist philosopher of science and also critical of the romantics. Reflecting on Eddington’s historic 1919 test of Einstein’s relativity theory in physics he proposed in his Logic of Scientific Discovery that the aim of science is to produce tested and nonfalsified theories having greater universality and more information content than their predecessor theories addressing the same subject. His concept of the aim of science thus focuses on the growth of scientific knowledge. And in his Realism and the Aim of Science he maintains that realism explains the possibility of falsifying test outcomes in scientific criticism. The title of his Logic of Scientific Discovery notwithstanding Popper denies that discovery can be addressed by either logic or philosophy, but says instead that discovery is a proper subject for psychology. Cognitive psychologists today would agree.
Hanson: Norwood Russell Hanson reflecting on the development of quantum theory states in his Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science that inquiry in research science is directed to the discovery of new patterns in data to develop new hypotheses for deductive explanation. He calls such practices “research science”, which he opposes to “completed science” or “catalogue science”, which is merely re-arranging established facts into more elegant formal axiomatic patterns. He follows Charles Peirce who called hypothesis formation “abduction”. Today mechanized discovery systems search for patterns in data.
Kuhn: Thomas S. Kuhn, reflecting on the development of the Copernican heliocentric cosmology in his The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought maintained in his famous Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the prevailing theory, which he called the “consensus paradigm” has institutional status. He proposed that small incremental changes extending the consensus paradigm, to which scientists seek to conform, defines the institutionalized aim of science, which he called “normal science”. On the other hand he said that scientists neither desire nor aim consciously to produce revolutionary new theories, which he called “extraordinary science.” Kuhn therefore defined scientific revolutions as institutional changes in science, which he excludes from the aim of science.
Feyerabend: Paul K. Feyerabend reflecting on the development of quantum theory in his Against Method proposed that each scientist has his own aim, and that anything institutional is a conformist impediment to the advancement of science. He said that historically successful scientists always “break the rules”, and he ridiculed Popper’s view of the aim of science calling it “ratiomania” and “law-and-order science”. Therefore Feyerabend proposes that successful science is literally “anarchical”, and borrowing a slogan from the Marxist, Leon Trotsky, he advocates “revolution in permanence”.
Readers wishing to know more about the philosophies of Popper, Kuhn, Hanson and Feyerabend are referred to BOOKs V, VI and VII below.
4.05 Aim of Maximizing “Explanatory Coherence”
Thagard: Computational philosopher of science Paul Thagard proposes that the aim of science is “best explanation”, a thesis that is also called “explanationism”. The thesis refers to an explanation that aims to maximize the explanatory coherence of one’s overall set of beliefs. This aim of science is thus explicitly a coherence agenda.
Thagard developed a computerized cognitive system ECHO, an acronym for “Explanatory Coherence by Harmony Optimization”, in order to explore the operative criteria in theory choice by mechanically simulating noteworthy past episodes in the history of science. His system described in his Conceptual Revolutions simulated the realization of the aim of maximizing “explanatory coherence” by replicating various episodes of theory choice. In his system “explanation” is an undefined primitive term. He applied his system ECHO to several revolutionary episodes in the history of science including (1) Lavoisier’s oxygen theory of combustion, (2) Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species, (3) Copernicus’ heliocentric astronomical theory of the planets, (4) Newton’s theory of gravitation, and (5) Hess’ geological theory of plate tectonics.
In reviewing his historical simulations Thagard reports that ECHO indicates that the criterion making the largest contribution historically to explanatory coherence in scientific revolutions is explanatory breadth – the preference for the theory that explains more evidence than its competitors. But he adds that the simplicity and analogy criteria are also historically operative although less important. He maintains that the aim of maximizing explanatory coherence with these criteria yields the “best explanation”.
Explanationism, maximizing the explanatory coherence of one’s overall set of beliefs, is inherently conservative. The ECHO system appears to document the historical fact that the coherence aim is psychologically satisfying and occasions strong motivation for accepting theories, while theories describing reality as incoherent with established beliefs are psychologically disturbing. But progress in science does not consist of maximizing the scientist’s psychological contentment. Empiricism eventually overrides coherence when there is a conflict with new evidence. In fact defending coherence has historically had a reactionary effect. For example Heisenberg’s revolutionary indeterminacy relations, which contradict microphysical theories coherent with established classical physics including Einstein’s relativity theory, do not conform to ECHO’s maximizing-explanatory-coherence criterion.
Readers wishing to know more about the philosophy of Thagard are referred to BOOK VIII below.
4.06 Contemporary Pragmatist Aim
The successful outcome of basic-science research is explanations made by developing theories that satisfy empirical tests, and that are thereby made scientific laws that function in scientific explanations.
The principles of contemporary pragmatism including its philosophy of language evolved through the twentieth century beginning with the autobiographical writings of Werner Heisenberg, one of the central participants in the historic development of quantum theory. This philosophy is summarized in Section 2.03 above in three central theses: relativized semantics, empirical underdetermination and ontological relativity, which are not repeated here. Readers wishing to know more about the philosophy of Heisenberg are referred to BOOKs II and IV below.
The institutionally regulated activities of research scientists may be described succinctly in the pragmatist statement of the aim of science. The contemporary research scientist seeking success in his research may consciously employ the aim as what some social scientists call a “rationality postulate”. The institutionalized aim of science can be re-expressed as such a pragmatist rationality postulate:
The institutionalized aim of science is to construct explanations by developing theories that satisfy empirical tests, and thereby make scientific laws that function in scientific explanations.
Pragmatically, however, rationality is not some incorrigible principle or intuitive preconception. The contemporary pragmatist statement of the aim of science is a postulate in the sense of an empirical hypothesis about what has been responsible for the historical advancement of basic research science. Therefore it is destined to be revised at some unforeseeable future time, when due to some future developmental episode in basic science, research practices are revised in some fundamental way. Then some conventional practices deemed rational today might be dismissed as misconceptions, and perhaps superstitions, as are the romantic and positivist beliefs today. The aim of science is more elaborately explained in terms of the other three functional topics as sequential steps in the development of explanations.
The institutionalized aim can also be expressed so as not to impute motives to the successful scientist, whose personal psychological motives may be quite idiosyncratic. Thus the contemporary pragmatist statement of the aim of science may instead be phrased in terms of a successful outcome instead of a conscious aim imputed to scientists. The successful outcome of basic-science research is an explanation produced by developing theories that satisfy critically empirical tests, and that are thereby made scientific laws that function in scientific explanations.
The empirical criterion is the only criterion acknowledged by the contemporary pragmatist, because it is the only criterion that accounts for the advancement of science. Historically there have been other criteria, but whenever there has been a conflict, eventually it is demonstrably superior empirical adequacy that has enabled a new theory to prevail. This is true even if the theory’s ascendancy has taken many years or decades, or even if it has had to be rediscovered, such as the heliocentric theory of the ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos.
4.07 Institutional Change
Change within the institution of science is change made under the regulation of the institutionalized aim of science.
Institutional change is the historical evolution of scientific practices involving revision of the aim of science, which may entail revision of its criteria for criticism, its discovery practices, or its concept of explanation.
Institutional change in science must be distinguished from change within the institutional constraint. Philosophy of science examines both changes within the institution of science and historical changes of the institution itself. But change of the institution is typically recognized only retrospectively due to the distinctively historical uniqueness of each episode and also due to the need for eventual conventionality for new basic-research practices to become institutionalized.
In the history of science institutionally deviate practices, innovative instruments and unconventional concepts that yielded successful results are initially recognized and accepted by only a few scientists. As Feyerabend emphasized in his Against Method, in the history of science successful scientists have often broken the prevailing methodological rules. But the successful departures eventually become conventionalized. By the time they are deemed acceptable to the peer-reviewed literature, reference manuals, encyclopedias and student textbooks, the institutional change is complete and has become the conventional wisdom.
Successful researchers have often failed to understand the
reasons for their unconventional successes, and have advanced or
accepted erroneous methodological ideas and philosophies of
science to explain their successes. One of the most historically
notorious such misunderstandings is Isaac Newton’s “hypotheses
non fingo”, his denial that his law of gravitation is a
hypothesis. Nearly three centuries later Einstein demonstrated