Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Keith Ward: Is Science The Only Sure Path To Truth?

Philosophy of science hits the mainstream?

Finals week--no time to read carefully or comment--but I thought this was interesting enough to post. (At a glance I don't see anything really novel, but I think it's interesting that this stuff is being discussed outside a philosophy department.)

One quick point. There are lots of slightly different ways to approach these issues (many of them being largely equivalent.) But here's Peirce in "The Fixation of Belief,"
To satisfy our doubts, therefore, it is necessary that a method should be found by which our beliefs may be determined by nothing human, but by some external permanency -- by something upon which our thinking has no effect. Some mystics imagine that they have such a method in a private inspiration from on high. But that is only a form of the method of tenacity, in which the conception of truth as something public is not yet developed. Our external permanency would not be external, in our sense, if it was restricted in its influence to one individual. It must be something which affects, or might affect, every man. And, though these affections are necessarily as various as are individual conditions, yet the method must be such that the ultimate conclusion of every man shall be the same. Such is the method of science. Its fundamental hypothesis, restated in more familiar language, is this: There are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those Reals affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really and truly are; and any man, if he have sufficient experience and he reason enough about it, will be led to the one True conclusion. The new conception here involved is that of Reality. It may be asked how I know that there are any Reals. If this hypothesis is the sole support of my method of inquiry, my method of inquiry must not be used to support my hypothesis.
Peirce's point, roughly and stripped of detail: science can't secure its own foundations. In Peirce's way of casting the problem, the question is: how can we prove the fundamental hypothesis of science (described above)? Since it is a presupposition of all science, we can't prove it with science, unless we are willing (roughly) to countenance circular reasoning as valid. (As some people are; but they are in error.)

People tend to want to jump to solutions at this point, but I think that's a bad strategy. The thing to do at this point is to spend a little time with the problem. It's a genuine problem--which is, of course, not to say that it is an insoluble problem.


Blogger Yodood said...

It would seem that science is hung up in the materialism of cosmic scale making their efforts as divergent as the expanding universe they posit, leading them away from the the one constant, the theme of the variations, so far only approached by poets and Taoists.

We are either individual interpretations of an existing external truth, personal reality tunnels perceiving only what our condition allows at any moment of the entirety of a real universe, or … external reality is our projection of internal interpretation of sensations dictated by a central intelligence like bees helplessly devoted to. the purpose of the hive.

6:15 PM  

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