Fundamental problems in the philosophy of science
Whelan, Charles Richard
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The purpose of this thesis is to examine a selected group of problems fundamental to the philosophy of science. The functions of philosophy and science are briefly examined and several views are considered. This leads to a definition of the philosophy of science as the critical examination of the presuppositions, methods, and concepts of science, the examination of the relations of the special branches of science to each other and to other fields of study, and the integration of the discoveries of science into the total picture of human experience. The epistemological problem is considered, the discussion being centered around the problem of the external. Pearson's view is considered and is shown to lead to an almost unavoidable solipsism. The discussion attempts to show that almost any method of accounting for the existence of an external world by an examination of the facts of consciousness implicitly assumes the existence of the external world. The conclusion seems to be that the existence of an external world, although unprovable, is an unavoidable postulate. The principle of induction is examined briefly as a method of gaining knowledge of the external world. As a principle by means of which a degree of probable truth can be assigned to a general proposition or hypothesis even though it is only possible to verify the truth of the proposition empirically in a limited number of actual cases, the principle of induction seems to be another unprovable, but unavoidable, postulate. The problem of the reality of the objects of scientific concepts is considered. A major portion of the discussion centers around the meaning of scientific concepts according to several views. This is done by examining the extent to which the data and the knowing operations determine the formation of a concept according to the various views. Pearson's view is examined, in which scientific concepts are found to be chiefly aids in the classification of the data of science. This view is criticized as being too passive. Bridgman's more recent form of positivism is examined and is found to be much more satisfactory than that of Pearson. Bridgman's operationalism represents the views of a large group of modern scientists in their attitude toward the concepts of science, but as a form of positivism it is perhaps open to criticism as a philosophical point of view. Poincare's conventionalism is examined and is found to give perhaps the most meaningful account of the scientific concepts that are contained in the structure of physical knowledge in its purest form. In this view, in contrast to Pearson's and Bridgman's views, the knowing operations take on a highly significant role in the formation of scientific concepts. The view of the scientific realists is not very different from that of the modified positivists such as Poincare except that for the realists the knowing operations are essentially acts of discovery instead of acts of invention or creation as they are for the modified positivists. Eddington's view is presented as being perhaps the most rationalistic of any view of scientific concepts. The more strict forms of positivism such as is found in Pearson and Bridgman are found to be in danger of falling into a solipsism from a philosophical point of view with regard to the reality of the objects the concepts are supposed to described. Poincare admits a certain amount of subjectivity in scientific concepts and holds that the only knowable reality is that which exists in the relations between the objects, not in the objects themselves. The realists, on the other hand, perhaps go too far in their faith in the reality of the objects. The concept of causality is examined as a particular example of a scientific concept. Basically it seems to be that concept in the structure of scientific knowledge which describes, or represents, the observed uniformity in the processes of the physical universe. Several formulations of the concept are examined and found to be inadequate. The formulation that was adopted states that causality may be said to exist, or be operating, whenever a given state A is always followed by the same state B. The states may then be said to be causally connected. The concept of causality is itself a definition of the term "state" in the sense that only those states that are causally connected may be subject to scientific study. The significance of the rise of modern quantum theory is briefly examined to illustrate the meaning of the concept of causality. The controversy between the determinists and the indeterminists is briefly examined but no attempt is made to decide between the two views. The problem of free will is considered, with the discussion centering around the meaning of the concept of causality as it is applied to the area of human behavior. The position of the incomplete determinist is examined and is found to be irrefutable in the last analysis, but unsatisfactory since it offers no positive results. An attempt is made to establish a view of free will independent of the outcome of the controversy between the indeterminist and the determinist views on the physical world. This view of free will is based on three hypotheses: (1) Mental states can affect physical states; (2) There exists a certain amount of indeterminacy in mental states; (3) The individual possesses the power to introduce into an indeterminate mental state factors sufficient to make that situation determinate. This leads to a view of limited human freedom which seems to be in harmony with the concepts of science and offers an account of the experience of freedom subjectively. The discussion turns finally to the metaphysical problem involved in the philosophy of science. The metaphysical considerations involved in the problem of the external world are centered around the mind-body problem but the discussion is too brief to warrant significant conclusions. The metaphysics, of modern science, positivism, is examined and criticized.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University