From owner-bhaskar Tue Jul 2 10:12:04 1996 Date: Tue, 2 Jul 1996 08:08:38 -0600 Message-Id: <> From: Hans Ehrbar <> Subject: rts2-01 Preface It has often been claimed, and perhaps more often felt, that the problems of philosophy have been solved. And yet, like the proverbial frog at the bottom of the beer mug, they have always reappeared. There was a phase in recent philosophy when it was widely held that the problem was the problems and not their solution. In practice, however, this interesting idea was usually coupled with the belief that termination of philosophical reflection of the traditional kind would be in itself sufficient to resolve the problems to which, it was held, philosophical reflection had given rise. Whatever the merits of such a view in general, it is quite untenable for any philosopher who is concerned with science. For in one science after another recent developments, or in some cases the lack of them, have forced old philosophical problems to the fore. Thus the dispute between Parmenides and Heraclitus as to whether being or becoming is ultimate lies not far from the centre of methodological controversy in physics; while the dispute between rationalists and empiricists over the respective roles of the a priori and the empirical continues to dominate methodological discussion in economics. Sociologists are making increasing use of the allegedly discredited Aristotelian typology of causes. And the problem of universals has re-emerged in an almost Platonic form in structural linguistics, anthropology and developmental biology. The spectre of determinism continues to haunt many of the sciences; and the problem of 'free-will' is still a problem for psychology. In this context one might have expected a ferment of creative activity within the philosophy of science, and to a degree this has occurred. But the latter's capacity for autonomous growth is limited. For the critical or analytical philosopher of science can only say as much as the philosophical tools at his disposal enable him to say. And if philosophy lags behind the needs of the moment then he is left in the position of a Priestley forced, Preface 7 by the inadequacy of his conceptual equipment, to think of oxygen as 'dephlogisticated air';1 or, of a Winch baffled by an alien sociology.2 Hegel may have exaggerated when he said that philosophy always arrives on the scene too late.3 Yet there can be little doubt that our theory of knowledge has scarcely come to terms with, let alone resolved the crises induced by, the changes that have taken place across the whole spectrum of scientific (and one might add social and political) thought. In this respect our present age contrasts unfavourably with both Ancient Greece and Post-Renaissance Europe, where there was a close and mutually beneficial relationship between science and philosophy. It is true that in the second of these periods there was a progressive 'problem-shift' within philosophy from the question of the content of knowledge to the meta-question of its status as such.4 This shift was in part a response to the consolidation of the Newtonian world-view, until by Kant's time its fundamental axioms could be regarded as a priori conditions of the possibility of any empirical knowledge. However, those philosophers of the present who insist upon their total autonomy from the natural and human sciences not only impoverish, but delude themselves. For they thereby condemn themselves to living in the shadow cast by the great scientific thought of the past. Anyone who doubts that scientific theories constitute a significant ingredient in philosophical thought should consider what the course of intellectual history might have been if gestalt psychology had been established in place of Hartley's principle of the association of ideas; or if the phenomena of electricity and magnetism had come to be regarded as more basic than those of impact and gravity; or if sounds and smells had been taken as constitutive of the basic stuff of reality and the rich tapestry of the visual-tactile world had been regarded, like a Beethoven symphony or the perfume of a rose, as a mere effect of those primary powers. Suppose further that 1 See e.g. S. E. Toulmin, 'Crucial Experiments: Priestley and Lavoisier', The Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XVIII (1957), pp. 205-20; and J. B. Conant, The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory. 2 p. Winch, The Idea of a Social Science, p. 114. 3 G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Preface. Cf. G. Buchdahl, Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science, p. 2 8 A Realist Theory of Science philosophers had taken biology or economics as their paradigm of a science rather than physics; or 16th not 17th century physics as their paradigm of scientific activity. Would not our philosophical inheritance have been vastly different? As this is primarily a problem for the philosophy of philosophy rather than the philosophy of science, I shall not dwell on this point further here. Its significance for our story will emerge in due course. The primary aim of this study is the development of a systematic realist account of science. In this way I hope to provide a comprehensive alternative to the positivism that has usurped the title of science. I think that only the position developed here can do full justice to the rationality of scientific practice or sustain the intelligibility of such scientific activities as theory-construction and experimentation. And that while recent developments in the philosophy of science mark a great advance on positivism they must eventually prove vulnerable to positivist counter-attack, unless carried to the limit worked out here. My subsidiary aim is thus to show once-and-for-all why no return to positivism is possible. This of course depends upon my primary aim. For any adequate answer to the critical meta- question 'what are the conditions of the plausibility of an account of science?' presupposes an account which is capable of thinking of those conditions as special cases. That is to say, to adapt an image of Wittgenstein's, one can only see the fly in the fly-bottle if one's perspective is different from that of the fly.5 And the sting is only removed from a system of thought when the particular conditions under which it makes sense are described. In practice this task is simplified for us by the fact that the conditions under which positivism is plausible as an account of science are largely co-extensive with the conditions under which experience is significant in science. This is of course an important and substantive question which we could say, echoing Kant, no account of science can decline, but positivism cannot ask, because (it will be seen) the idea of insignificant experiences transcends the very bounds of its thought.6 This book is written in the context of vigorous critical activity in The philosophy of science. In the course of this the twin 5 L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 309. 6 I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the 1st Edition. Preface 9 templates of the positivist view of science, viz. the ideas that science has a certain base and a deductive structure, have been subjected to damaging attack. With a degree of arbitrariness one can separate this critical activity into two strands. The first, represented by writers such as Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Toulmin, Polanyi and Ravetz, emphasises the social character of science and focusses particularly on the phenomena of scientific change and development. It is generally critical of any monistic interpretation of scientific development, of the kind characteristic of empiricist historiography and implicit in any doctrine of the foundations of knowledge. The second strand, represented by the work of Scriven, Hanson, Hesse and Harre among others, calls attention to the stratification of science. It stresses the difference between explanation and prediction and emphasises the role played by models in scientific thought. It is highly critical of the deductivist view of the structure of scientific theories, and more generally of any exclusively formal account of science. This study attempts to synthesise these two critical strands; and to show in particular why and how the realism presupposed by the first strand must be extended to cover the objects of scientific thought postulated by the second strand. In this way I will be describing the nature and the development of what has been hailed as the 'Copernican Revolution' in the philosophy of science. 7 To see science as a social activity, and as structured and discriminating in its thought, constitutes a significant step in our understanding of science. But, I shall argue, without the support of a revised ontology, and in particular a conception of the world as stratified and differentiated too, it is impossible to steer clear of the Scylla of holding the structure dispensable in the long run (back to empiricism) without being pulled into the Charybdis of justifying it exlusively in terms of the fixed or changing needs of the scientific community (a form of neo-Kantian pragmatism exemplified by e.g. Toulmin and Kuhn). In this study I attempt to show how such a revised ontology is in fact presupposed by the social activity of science. The basic principle of realist philosophy of science, viz. that perception gives us access to things and experimental activity access to structures that exist independently of us, is very simple. Yet the 7 R. Harre, Principles of Scientific Thinking, p. 15. 10 A Realist Theory of Science full working out of this principle implies a radical account of the nature of causal laws, viz. as expressing tendencies of things, not conjunctions of events. And it implies that a constant conjunction of events is no more a necessary than a sufficient condition for a causal law. I do not claim in this book to solve any general problems of philosophy. It is my intention merely to give an adequate account of science. Philosophers, including philosophers of science, have for too long regarded the philosophy of science as a simple substitution instance of some more general theory of knowledge. This is a situation which has worked to the disadvantage of both philosophy and knowledge. If, however, we reverse the customary procedure and substitute the more specific 'science' (or even better 'sciences') for 'knowledge', considerable illumination of many traditional epistemological problems can, I think, be achieved. And some even, in so far as the 'knowledge' we are concerned with is that produced by 'science', become susceptible of definitive solution. The result of this reversal will also be a philosophy which has a greater relevance than is the case at present for scientific practice. In this sense my objective could be said to be a 'philosophy for science'. For I willingly confess to Lockean motives. That is to say, I believe it to be an essential (though not the only) part of the business of philosophy to act as the under-labourer, and occasionally as the mid-wife, of science.8 I have therefore tried in this study both to relate the philosophy of science to the more general historical concerns of philosophy; and at the same time to indicate more precisely than is usual the consequences for scientific practice of the methodological strategies implied by different philosophies of science. We are too apt to forget the frailty of both our science and our philosophy. There can be no certainty that they will survive and flourish; or, if they do, that they will benefit mankind. Civilisation is, like man himself, perhaps nothing more than a temporary rupture in the normal order of things.9 It is thus also part of the job of the philosopher to show the limits of science. And, in this broader sense, to seek to ensure that the Owl of Minerva takes flight before the final falling of the dusk. 8 J. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Epistle to the Reader. 9 Cf. M. Foucault, The Order of Things, p. XXIII. Preface 11 I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to Alan Montefiore and Rom Harre for reading earlier versions of this work; to Rom Harre and Hilary Wainwright for their continual encouragement; to many other colleagues and friends for their help; and to Mrs E. Browne for typing the manuscript. ROY BHASKAR University of Edinburgh April 1974 Preface to the 2nd edition This edition includes a postscript and an index. The postscript enables me to critically comment on the book. The index fills a major lacuna in the first edition of the work. Francis Roberts and Robin Kinross helped me to compile it. ROY BHASKAR University of Edinburgh September 1977 .