Static and Dynamic Methods

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The Static Method Thesis states that the scientific method is unchangeable and therefore transhistorical, whereas the Dynamic Method Thesis states that the scientific method is changeable and may vary between historical episodes and communities. The Theory of Scientific Change subscribes to the Dynamic Method Thesis.

Prehistory

The debate between the Static Method Thesis and the Dynamic Method began in the 20th century, with Thomas Kuhn and later Paul Feyerabend asserting the dynamic quality of scientific methods. Before Kuhn, it was accepted that the scientific method was static and transhistorical, while theories and other elements of the scientific process were changeable. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions argues that science undergoes paradigm shifts, and that methods can and do change between paradigms. Kuhn’s theory is often interpreted as a relativistic view of science. Likewise, Feyerabend’s Against Method also provides historical and relativistic examples that support the argument that there is no fixed scientific method.

The most important debate on the topic of Static versus Dynamic Methods is the exchange between Larry Laudan and John Worrall, who defend the Dynamic Method Thesis and the Static Method Thesis, respectively. Worrall argues that a defence of the Dynamic Method Thesis is bound to fall into relativism wherein there would be no objective viewpoint from which to identify and study scientific progress without over-contextualizing the findings. Worrall instead asserts that there are some aspects of methods and methodologies that have persisted throughout history and are immune to change. Laudan argues that in fact the implicit methodological standards of the 20th century have not always been present throughout history, despite Worrall’s assumptions. Furthermore The Dynamic Method Thesis does not imply relativism, according to Laudan, because it is not necessarily relativistic to argue that methods do in fact change. What would be considered relativism is the assertion that there is no rational foundation for the various scientific methods that have existed throughout history.

History

In The Laws of Scientific Change, Barseghyan distinguished between two questions: the empirical question as to whether there exists any methods that have not changed throughout history, and the theoretical question as to whether there are methods, in principle, which are completely immune to change. This is considered to be a point of confusion within the Worrall-Laudan debate, where Worrall was concerned with the former and Laudan with the latter. The TSC is concerned with the theoretical question, because the empirical question is within the domain of the history of science. Barseghyan also demarcated between two types of methods: substantive methods, which presupposed at least one contingent proposition, and procedural methods, which do not presuppose any sort of contingent proposition and therefore rely exclusively on necessary truths. Whether procedural and substantive methods are static or dynamic are questions that fall under the scope of the TSC.

Current View

The currently accepted view is that substantive methods are necessarily dynamic and procedural methods are necessarily static. It is accepted that procedural methods do exist - for example, the requirement to accept deductive consequences of accepted theories is procedural because, although abstract, it relies simply on the notion of a deductive inference. All procedural methods are static because they rely on necessary truths, which cannot be incompatible with any other sort of truth. This is true regardless of whether our understanding of mathematics and logic is correct. On the other hand, all substantive methods are dynamic because they are based upon contingent propositions which are, in turn, fallible.

Open Questions

  • Is there any avenue of approach that would allow for the identification of a method or form of appraisal that is completely immune to change? Is it possible to identify a procedural method without it being reducible to a logical or mathematical theorem?
  • What further methods and requirements can be identified as procedural, and therefore, static? Are there methods we consider substantial that can be reappraised as procedural?
  • Are all implementations of known procedural methods substantive? How can this relationship be further defined?

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Contributors

Aaron Lepp (2.7%), Hakob Barseghyan (13.4%), Mirka Loiselle (83.8%)