Ontology of Scientific Change
What is the ontology of scientific change? What are the fundamental entities, processes, and relations of scientific change?
In the process of scientific change, we are dealing with different epistemic agents, taking different epistemic stances towards different epistemic elements. For instance, we can say that the Paris community of 1720 accepted Cartesian natural philosophy. In this example, Paris community is the epistemic agent, acceptance is their epistemic stance, and Cartesian natural philosophy is the epistemic element. There are a number of important ontological questions that arise here:
- What types of epistemic agents can there be? I.e. can epistemic agents be communal, individual and/or artificial (instruments, AI)?
- What types of epistemic elements can there be in the process of scientific change? I.e. are there theories, method, values, research programmes, paradigms, etc?
- What are the different stances that an agent can take towards an element? I.e. do these include acceptance, use, pursuit, employment, commitment, neglect, rejection, etc.?
Addressing these questions is the main task of the ontology of scientific change.
In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. Epistemic Agents - Community (Barseghyan-2015), Epistemic Elements - Theories Methods and Questions (Rawleigh-2018), Epistemic Stances Towards Methods - Employment (Barseghyan-2015), Epistemic Stances Towards Theories - Acceptance Use and Pursuit (Barseghyan-2015) and Theory Assessment Outcomes (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017) are currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available theories on the subject. Epistemic Agents - Community (Barseghyan-2015) states "Only a community can be the bearer of a scientific mosaic." Epistemic Elements - Theories Methods and Questions (Rawleigh-2018) states "The three classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are theories, methods, and questions." Epistemic Stances Towards Methods - Employment (Barseghyan-2015) states "The list of possible stances towards a method is limited to employment." Epistemic Stances Towards Theories - Acceptance Use and Pursuit (Barseghyan-2015) states "The list of possible stances towards a theory includes acceptance, use, and pursuit." Theory Assessment Outcomes (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017) states "The possible outcomes of theory assessment are satisfied, not satisfied, and inconclusive."
Historically, theories of scientific change differed not only in their explanations of how science changes through time, but also in their views on what exactly underwent change in science. Thus, a range of different ontologies of scientific change have been suggested over the years.
In the early twentieth century, logical positivists formulated an ontology of scientific change. While they individually held varying views, we can summarize their ontology by generalizing from the overlap between authors. The positivists generally supposed that there was a single scientific method that did not change through history or across disciplines so that the only epistemic elements capable of change in their ontology were scientific theories.1 A similar ontology was championed by many non-positivist authors, including Karl Popper.2
Despite its inherent vagueness, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions can be interpreted as suggesting a number of new ontological elements, including methods, values, questions, standards, and problems. It is not quite clear whether these are all meant to be independent epistemic elements in their own right. Kuhn also famously used a whole range of words denoting epistemic stances, such as embraced, universally received, acknowledged, and committed among many others.3 It remains to be seen whether he meant them as synonyms, or whether he ascribed different meanings to at least some of them.4
Imre Lakatos generated a holistic account of scientific change slightly regressive to previous ontologies. Lakatos kept Kuhn’s view of the fluidity of paradigms within scientific communities however, with two small modifications. Firstly, Lakatos saw paradigms as research programmes, of which many simultaneously existed, and secondly Lakatos believed they followed a more rational model of change, i.e. modifications were judged as regressive or progressive based on certain conditions.5 With regards to regression, Paul Feyerabend criticized Lakatos for once again suggesting that theories can only be pursued. The whole system Lakatos built was a high functioning competition between research programmes.6 As such, per Lakatos, theories could never really be accepted, and thus they carried the potential to threaten science with a potentially infinite number of theories all of which are rational to pursue.
Finally, Larry Laudan paints the closest picture to the ontology scientonomy posits today. Laudan recognized values, theories, and methodologies as epistemic elements with relations to scientists as epistemic agents. Theories could be accepted under his view and methodologies could be employed. Each epistemic element under Laudan’s reticulated model could be modified. Laudan did not recognize the potential of theories to be used but not accepted but he did recognize pursued and accepted theories in contrast to Lakatos and the logical positivists.7
In Barseghyan's The Laws of Scientific Change, the question of the ontology of scientific change is discussed without being explicitly formulated. While the question has been accepted and discussed at length by the scientonomy community ever since its inception, it wasn't until the early 2017 when the question was openly formulated and documented.
Barseghyan's original ontology included:
- theory and method as the only two types of epistemic elements that undergo scientific change;4
- three epistemic stances towards theories: acceptance, use, and pursuit,4 as well as one epistemic stance towards methods, employment;4
- and community as the sole epistemic agent capable of taking these stances towards theories and methods.4
Only descriptive theories were included in Barseghyan's original ontology, while the status of normative theories was left indeterminate due to the the paradox of normative propositions. Once the paradox of normative propositions was resolved, the original ontology was extended by Sebastien to also include normative theories.8
In 2018, Rawleigh suggested that questions are to be accepted as a separate epistemic element; the suggestion became accepted later that year and the ontology was modified to include theories, methods, and questions.9
|Community||Accepted From||Acceptance Indicators||Still Accepted||Accepted Until||Rejection Indicators|
|Scientonomy||1 January 2016||The question was tacitly accepted even before its explicit formulation in 2017. Thus, it has the same acceptance date as the rest of the original TSC.||Yes|
In Scientonomy community, the accepted theory on the subject is Epistemic Agents - Community (Barseghyan-2015). It states: "Only a community can be the bearer of a scientific mosaic." There is only one type of epistemic agents that can bear a mosaic - community.4 As for individual epistemic agents, their status and role in the process of scientific change is unclear; thus, individuals are left out of the ontology of epistemic agents. Read More
In Scientonomy community, the accepted theory on the subject is Epistemic Elements - Theories Methods and Questions (Rawleigh-2018). It states: "The three classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are theories, methods, and questions."
This formulation expands the ontology proposed by Sebastien by introducing questions as a separate epistemic element not reducible to either theories or methods. Thus, theories, methods, and questions are the three basic elements that undergo scientific change. Read More
In Scientonomy community, the accepted theory on the subject is Epistemic Stances Towards Methods - Employment (Barseghyan-2015). It states: "The list of possible stances towards a method is limited to employment." The only stance that an epistemic agent can take towards a method is employment, i.e. a method is either employed or unemployed by an agent in theory evaluation. Read More
In Scientonomy community, the accepted theory on the subject is Epistemic Stances Towards Theories - Acceptance Use and Pursuit (Barseghyan-2015). It states: "The list of possible stances towards a theory includes acceptance, use, and pursuit." There are three distinct stances that one can take towards a theory: Read More
In Scientonomy community, the accepted theory on the subject is Theory Assessment Outcomes (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017). It states: "The possible outcomes of theory assessment are satisfied, not satisfied, and inconclusive." According to this ontology of theory assessment outcomes, when a theory is assessed by a method, one of the three following outcomes can obtain:4 Read More
The following related topic(s) currently lack an accepted answer:
- Hierarchy of Theories: Is there a hierarchy of theories that determines hierarchical authority delegation, hierarchical anomaly-tolerance, compatibility criteria or theory acceptance criteria? The topic has no accepted answer in Scientonomy.
It has the following sub-topic(s):
- Epistemic Agents
- Epistemic Elements
- Epistemic Stances
- Hierarchy of Theories
- Status of Multiple Mutual Delegation
- Status of Non-Hierarchical Authority Delegation
- Theory Assessment Outcomes
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Schlick, Moritz. (1931) Die Kausalität in der Gegenwärtigen Physik. Die Naturwissenschaften 19, 145-162.
- Popper, Karl. (1963) Conjectures and Refutations. Routledge.
- Kuhn, Thomas. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Edition. University of Chicago Press.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
- Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-93.
- Feyerabend, Paul. (1970) Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 4 (2), 17-129.
- Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
- Sebastien, Zoe. (2016) The Status of Normative Propositions in the Theory of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 1, 1-9. Retrieved from https://www.scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/26947.
- Rawleigh, William. (2018) The Status of Questions in the Ontology of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 2, 1-12. Retrieved from https://scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/29651.