Scientonomy

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Scientonomy is an academic discipline that aims to describe processes and instances of scientific change in accordance to an axiomatic-deductive system known as the laws of scientific change. It consists of two major branches: theoretical scientonomy and observational scientonomy. Theoretical scientonomy attempts to uncover the axioms and theorems that guide the process of scientific change. Observational scienonomy attempts to trace and explain historical and contemporary instances of scientific change.

Prehistory

Scientonomy seeks to join a number of other disciplines that have dealt with the processes of scientific knowledge creation and change from a variety of perspectives.

Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of science deals with a variety of epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical questions arising from scientific inquiry.1 These include both the normative question of how one arrives at reliable scientific knowledge and the descriptive question of how scientists have done so. Philosophical works on the question of how one acquires scientific knowledge date at least to the works of Aristotle (384-322 BCE).

As a distinct modern academic discipline, philosophy of science had its origin with the Vienna Circle in the early twentieth century.21 The Vienna Circle was a group of European philosophers and scientists who met at the University of Vienna during academic terms from 1924 to 1936. It was organized by philosopher and physicist Moritz Schlick, and included the philosopher and logician Rudolf Carnap, the philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath, and many others.3 Several members were involved in the founding of The Philosophy of Science Association in 1933. The association’s journal, ‘Philosophy of Science’ published its first issue in January 1934.4 The Vienna Circle sought to reconstruct empiricism based on new developments in mathematics, logic, and physics; especially Einstein’s theory of relativity. It became the birthplace of logical empiricism.52 The members of the circle saw themselves as champions of enlightenment, reason, and democracy in a time of metaphysical philosophy, mysticism, romanticism, and nationalism that preceded the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany. They saw scientific rationality as a potent force for progressive social change.62

Logical empiricism was a loosely unified movement rather than a specific body of ideas, but a common thread of thought can nonetheless be identified. The circle sought to reject all metaphysical claims of an underlying 'hidden world' in favor of knowledge grounded in experience, and relationships specified by powerful new tools of formal logic. As Schlick put it, “what every scientist seeks, and seeks alone, are…the rules which govern the connection of experiences, and by which alone they can be predicted”.2p. 30 They made a distinction between two sorts of statements. The first were analytic statements that are necessarily true by convention and empty of factual content. All statements of the formal sciences; mathematics, and logic, are of this sort. The second were synthetic statements whose truth must be verifiable in experience, or from which verifiable statements could be deduced. All other statements, such as those of theology, were pseudo-statements devoid of meaning. They maintained that the diverse scientific disciplines could by unified by a common vocabulary.78 The logical empiricists believed it was possible to distinguish a context of discovery, having the do with the actual historical and psychological processes by which scientific ideas come about, and a context of justification, having to do with the logical structure of scientific claims, and how they can properly be defended and justified. They saw the interests of philosophers of science lying in the latter, ahistorical domain.52

The interests and goals of philosophers of science changed radically in the second half of the twentieth century because of a variety of serious problems with the bold project of logical empiricism. The proliferation of successful scientific theories involving unobservable entities like subatomic particles, molecules, and genes made the logical positivists rejection of the metaphysical notion that a hidden world underlies our experience increasingly untenable. Subsequent to the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, it became evident that the logic of science could not be understood independently of its history.2

History of Science

The field of history of science attempts to provide a descriptive account of how science has developed over time. Historical works about science have been written since ancient times.9 In modern times, the history of science was established as a distinct academic discipline in the early twentieth century with the founding of the History of Science Society in 1924. The society is the oldest and largest devoted to the discipline.10 It was founded by George Sarton, who also founded the field’s first journal, Isis. Sarton, trained as a chemist and mathematician, authored a three volume four thousand page history of science that covered every civilization from antiquity to the fourteenth century. Sarton defined science as the “totality of positive knowledge”, and maintained that “the history of science is the only history which can illustrate the progress of mankind. In fact, ‘progress’ has no definite and unquestionable meaning in other fields than the field of science”.11 Sarton’s ultimate goal was a philosophy of science that bridged the gap between the sciences and the humanities.

The idea that scientific development involved the continuous accumulation of positive knowledge was challenged by physicist and historian of science Thomas Kuhn in 1962 in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.12 Inspired by his studies of the Copernican Revolution, and drawing primarily on examples from the physical sciences, Kuhn argued that scientific development involved revolutionary discontinuities. He spoke of scientific paradigms, which are the reigning scientific conceptual frameworks of non-revolutionary periods. Paradigms are constellations of theoretical beliefs, values, methods, and techniques shared by a scientific discipline. Normal, non-revolutionary science consists in solving problems and explaining new phenomena using the tools provided by the paradigm. A scientific revolution occurs when one paradigm is replaced by another. One groundbreaking aspect of Kuhn's work is that it greatly expanded the scope of what historians generally recognized as science. He argued that the Aristotelian framework that preceded modern science was recognizable as a reasonable scientific framework in terms of its times. Many philosophers of science, steeped in logical empiricism, found Kuhn's notion of the incommensurability of paradigms troubling. It seemed to call into question the rationality of theory choice. On the other hand, Kuhn's work tapped pre-existing philosophical interest in a more historicist and naturalistic view of scientific rationality.13 Post-Kuhnian debates led to the abandonment of the notion of a distinct context of discovery and context of justification. Social scientists saw it as grounds for positing influence by social and political factors external to science on its content. Particularist historical critics questioned the general applicability of Kuhn's ideas. Kuhn's large scale vision had limited influence on historians, who were generally moving towards more small-scale projects.1314

Early work in the history of science usually maintained an internalist focus on science itself, while post-Kuhnian work often seeks to place such work into context within the larger society. Historians of science are interested in the work of particular scientific practitioners, in the instruments and techniques they used to study nature, the ways they represented and communicated their work to others, the institutional arrangements they made to promote their research, and their ideas and arguments, as recorded in surviving manuscripts and papers.15 Historians of science have lacked a generally accepted guiding theoretical interpretive framework.

History and Philosophy of Science

As a joint discipline, history and philosophy of science seeks to create a historicised philosophy of science. The descriptive task of understanding scientific development and the normative task of prescribing reliable methods of seeking knowledge are often not distinguished. Academic programs in the history and philosophy of science were established at both Princeton University and Indiana University in 1960.16 The Indiana department was founded by Norwood Russell Hanson.17 Hanson’s book ‘Patterns of Discovery’, published in 1958 18, stressed the theory-ladenness of observation and the historical nature of scientific rationality in an exploration of modern particle physics.19 As a work in the history of science, Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ attracted considerable attention from philosophers, in part because some philosophers besides Hanson, including Stephen Toulmin, had been working on rather similar ideas.16 History and philosophy of science programs proliferated in the 1960's and 1970's, fueled in part, by interest in Kuhn's work and in part by the Cold War willingness of western governments to fund projects that promoted interest in science.20 Historicist views of scientific epistemology and rationality have subsequently been dominant. Irme Lakatos presented scientific development in terms of research programs that progressed when they made successful novel predictions, and degenerated when they failed to do so, and when core assumptions were adjusted in an arbitrary manner to avoid falsification.221 Empirical historical evidence led philosophers to reject the notion of a unitary scientific method that had remained fixed through history.22 Laudan’s reticulated model of scientific rationality posited during assessment of a theory, other theories, methods, and values all interact.23 Philosopher Ronald Giere dubbed the joining of history and philosophy of science a "marriage of convenience".24 Many question whether the two have formed a genuinely unified discipline because of the diverse interests and political commitments of those who study the development of science.25

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

The field of sociology, the scientific study of human social structures, was founded by Robert Merton. In the 1940’s Merton began studying the sociology of scientific communities. However, his studies had little contact with epistemology or philosophy of science, except in the general sense of identifying the social conditions under which scientific inquiry is possible and fruitful. Merton assumed a view of scientific knowledge similar to that of the logical empiricists.2 The philosophers John Stuart Mill, Charles Sanders Pierce, and Karl Popper stressed the social dimension of scientific epistemology, but their view did not become the dominant one until after the publication of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions.6 The ‘strong program’ of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) began in the 1970’s at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, under the leadership of sociologist Barry Barnes and philosopher David Bloor. Proponents of SSK view knowledge as a collective social product, and seek a naturalistic account of its production. In effect, they seek to use the methods of social science to study science itself.226 A central principle of the ‘strong program’ is the symmetry principle, in which normative epistemological concerns are ‘screened out’ for the sake of illuminating social interactions and relationships involved in the production of knowledge. Its value is most evident when considering knowledge processes far removed from our own by time and culture, such as when understanding how western astronomy disentangled itself from astrology in seventeenth century Europe.25 Social constructivism has sometimes been criticized as an attempt to “explain away” science as nothing but social power structures.6 However, recent attempts to introduce cognitive science concepts into social epistemology hold much promise of naturalizing rationality, and thereby obviating such concerns.2728

History

The term scientonomy was adopted to denote a science of science subsequent to the publication of The Laws of Scientific Change and seeks to identify a new field of study.29 To our knowledge, this usage of the term was first advocated by historian of science Scott Weingart, who is, at the time of this writing, a digital humanities specialist at Carnegie Mellon University. The term has also previously been coined as part of a parody of the Church of Scientology, with a very different intent and definition. We are aware of no other previous uses of the term scientonomy. Although the name had not yet been adopted, the characteristics of this new field are clearly outlined in the first section of The Laws of Scientific Change, 29pp. 3-123 which deals with metatheoretical issues. These include the scope, possibility, and assessment of any theory of scientific change. The specific theory proposed by Barseghyan is seen as the founding contribution to the new field of scientonomy.

Current View

The Scope of Scientonomy

The field of scientonomy

Scientific change.jpg

The term scientonomy refers to the science of science. If science is considered the systematic study of the natural universe, then the science of science is the systematic study of the social and cognitive processes that scientists use to undertake this study, as evidenced by what they write and say. The body of theories accepted by a scientific community, and the methods employed to evaluate them, change over time. Scientonomy is the descriptive scientific study of this process of scientific change, and is a new approach to developing a naturalistic account of how individuals and groups acquire knowledge. It differs from other approaches, such as history of science or the sociology of scientific knowledge, in that it maintains that the process of scientific change, despite its varied guises, is governed by fixed general laws. It posits a set of axiomatic laws and definitions, from which theorems can be deduced. These laws and definitions are open to modification by the scientonomic community in the light of new arguments and evidence. The basis for the new field is Barsegyhan's theory of scientific change as propounded in his 2015 book, The Laws of Scientific Change.29 It builds on the ideas of Kuhn, Lakatos, Laudan, and others, all of which can be considered scientonomic proto-theories. The field of scientonomy, given its distinctive concern for both general theory and the explanation of historical particulars has two branches. First,it has a theoretical branch that attempts to uncover the general mechanism of scientific change. Secondly, it has an observational branch that attempts to trace and explain individual changes in the mosaic of theories accepted by a scientific community.29pp. 72-80

Theoretical scientonomy

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Though highly relevant to the traditional field of philosophy of science, theoretical scientonomy differs from it in that, as a descriptive scientific field, it does not include the normative question of how science should be conducted so as to produce reliable knowledge. In the past, when a unitary and fixed scientific method was believed to exist, the descriptive question of how scientific change processes actually work was often conflated with the normative question of how they should work if reliable knowledge is to be produced. Scientonomy seeks a clear distinction between the two, and claims only the former as its subject matter.29pp. 12-20 This restriction is motivated by the same concerns as Bloor's symmetry postulate in the sociology of scientific knowledge.25 Scientonomy's descriptive account, however, does include the descriptive study of normative propositions espoused by scientific practitioners such as those contained in their avowed methodologies, and codes of ethics.30 Theoretical scientonomy concerns itself specifically with the identification of general principles of scientific change useful to a descriptive account of that process. The search for fixed general laws obviates the charge of incoherent relativism sometimes leveled at the sociology of scientific knowledge.31 By seeking such laws, it hopes to illuminate questions such as the nature of scientific rationality, and the naturalistic epistemological question of how knowledge has been acquired.

Observational scientonomy

Observational scientonomy differs from the current history of science discipline in significant ways. History of science currently lacks a guiding theory. It often focuses on the level of individual scientists, their work, and their social context, rather than on scientific communities. By contrast, Scientonomy focuses on theory-driven investigations of scientific communities, since it is at the community level that general principles of scientific change are evident. It seeks to confront the theory of scientific change with evidence that may force its alteration or refinement, and to apply it to an expanding range of particular cases, thereby enhancing our general understanding of the processes of scientific change.

Scientonomy vs. Particularism

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Scientonomy and the lack of a universal scientific method

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The approach of scientonomy contrasts with that of the particularism favored by some historians, social scientists, and philosophers. Particularism holds that the process of scientific change does not possess the sort of regularities that would render it amenable to any general theory. Its proponents typically make the tacit assumption that in order for a general mechanism of scientific change to exist, there must be a universal and unchanging method of science.29pp. xi-xvi, 81-97 Historical evidence now clearly indicates that the methods used by scientists to assess new theories have altered radically over time and between communities. For example, the Aristotelian-medieval method held that a scientific theory should be a set of axioms from which other propositions may be deduced. The axioms should be intuitive in the sense that any person with sufficient experience with the subject should be able to appreciate them.29pp. 143-144 Modern physicists would instead maintain that a theory must make novel predictions that are confirmed by observation and experiment.29p. 145 Scientonomy accepts the evidence that scientific methods have changed over time and differ between communities, but rejects the implication that this renders a theory of scientific change impossible. Instead, it supposes that changes in both theory and method obey a certain set of laws. It is these laws and not the methods of science, that scientonomy takes to be fixed.29pp. 82-8323pp. 33-41

The individual and the group

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Individual scientists differ one from another in their goals, desires, and criteria for theory appraisal. This too might seem to be grounds for rejecting the possibility of a general theory of scientific change. But the decisions to accept new theories, or to employ new methods, are made collectively by scientific communities rather than by individuals acting alone. Such communities have emergent properties and behaviors that cannot be understood solely in terms of the properties which their members possess separately. Scientonomy supposes that the general regularities it seeks are to be found at the level of whole scientific communities, rather than with the unruly particulars of the work of individual scientists. It thus focuses its investigations at that level.29pp. 43-52

The apparent lack of general features in science

The particularist claim that science appears to possess no general features that have remained fixed through history is not grounds for dismissing the possibility of a theory of scientific change. Theories often reveal that unexpected regularities underlie seemingly disparate phenomena. On the face of it, a point of light revolving in the heavens and a falling apple seem to have nothing whatsoever in common. Newton’s theory of Universal Gravitation asserted, however, that both are movements under the influence of a gravitational force. The theory was highly successful in accounting for both falling bodies and the movements of the planets using a small set of simple general principles. The similarities between the two classes of phenomena only became evident through the formulation of the theory. Success in theory formulation often depends on the ability to identify such unexpected connections.29p. 86

Open Questions

  • What is the ontological status of the laws of scientific change? Under what social, political, and/or economic conditions do the patterns of scientific change emerge and hold?
  • Are there historical observations that could, or do, demonstrate that the goal of scientonomy is unachievable?
  • Are any laws of scientific change reducible to some sociological or psychological laws?
  • Can the TSC be used to solve the problem of demarcation between science and non-science? Given the alteration of both theories and methods, including demarcation criteria, over history, how does scientonomy identify its subject matter?
  • Can the TSC be used to solve the problem of scientific progress?

Related Articles

Scientific Mosaic

Scientific Change

The Theory of Scientific Change

Theory

Method

References

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Contributors

Nicholas Overgaard (10.4%), Paul Patton (73.9%), Hakob Barseghyan (15.7%)