The rationality of science



The great figures of the Scientific Revolution -- Galileo, Kepler, Newton -- were crystal clear on why science could be a rational enterprise: scientists were reading Nature, "the book of God"... and God being the supremely rational mind, naturally the book had a rational design, one that, with effort, our more limited minds could follow.

The major part of the history of the philosophy of science since the 18th-century has been the hunt to find some other, any other, basis for science's rationality. Once Hume destroyed the purely empiricist case for science, the search had an air of desperation to it. Instrumentalism, verificationism, falsificationism: all were attempts to patch up the whole Hume had noted.

All these attempts have failed.

6 comments:

  1. In much the way Copernicus explained why he was right, that the math worked cleanly, science can claim rationality. That which is rational conforms in some way to laws of mathematics. If not, we either have the science wrong, the math wrong or we lack the tools to understand the math and hence label the science either hypothetical or "not proved." Like Galileo, it moves should be sufficient. But, it's all a hypothesis...given this, that appears to work. Need to be a bit utilitarian here, or just wander on down the old rabbit hole and start wearing your underpants on your head with pencils in your nose.

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    1. "In much the way Copernicus explained why he was right, that the math worked cleanly..."

      Well, Copernicus didn't have much math, and he still needed epicycles. (It wasn't until Kepler that they were eliminated.) What he had was a *vision* of a more rational ordering of the solar system. And as a Catholic priest, he would have had no doubt from whence that rationality arose.

      "But, it's all a hypothesis...given this, that appears to work. "

      You write as if you have never encountered Hume's critique of induction!

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    2. "You write as if you have never encountered Hume's critique of induction!"

      Hume's critique should apply even under the "book of God" assumption though, right?

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    3. No: a rational, loving Creator solves the problem of why we should expect induction to continue to work.

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  2. What is the "instrumentalist" case?

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    1. Scientific theories are just ways of coping with the world and have nothing to do with "truth."

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