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Is there such a thing as a superiority (or kingship) of one of the sciences over one (or several) of the others from some point of view? Considering the more exact sciences mathematics, physics and chemistry, there exist since centuries (or millennia) different claims that one of them were:

  • more important (Plato’s and Pythagora’s generally known claim for mathematics/geometry),
  • purer (e.g. Kant, mathematics in comparison to all others: https://xkcd.com/435/),
  • more fundamental
    1. The widespread claim for physics in comparison to chemistry,
    2. Physics may not make a single step without chemistry − Laplace cited in Fischer, E.: Physique méchanique, traduite de l’allemand avec des notes de J. Biot. Bernard, Paris. 1806 (in the introduction),
  • more central (chemistry in comparison to physics, textbook: "Chemistry the Central Science"),
  • more deeply exploring the secrets of nature (chemistry in comparison to physics; Senebier, J.: Essay sur l’art d’observer et de faire des expériences, tome III, J. Paschoud, Genève. 1802. p. 91),
  • less afflicted with circular concepts (physics in comparison with chemistry: Laszlo, P.: Circulation of Concepts. Found. Chem. 1, 225−239 (1999) p. 228. − But on the other hand, Max Jammer (Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Princeton, 2000, S. 167) said that the concept of mass were "shrouded in mystery".),
  • the cause of all others (chemistry in comparison to all existing things, according to Tachenius, O.: Antiquissimae hippocraticae medicinae clavis. Roselli, Neapoli (1697), p. 2).


Here my question:

I would like to know whether one of these claims (or perhaps further examples of them) is really sound, and how it would be justified and defended against foreseeable doubts.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Joseph Weissman Jul 31 '17 at 11:48

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Do you prefer anaesthetics or computers? – Richard May 24 '17 at 20:18
  • One can certainly compare sciences on one or more metrics, and some will come up with higher marks than others. If this is all "superiority" is supposed to mean than the answer is a vacuous yes. Most of your metrics are too vague and subjective (important? central? deep?) for the comparison to be meaningful. But, for example, one can make more or less objective sense of physics being more mathematized and logically structured, perhaps even more foundational, since its laws apply in all other sciences, but not vice versa. – Conifold May 24 '17 at 21:28
  • Obligatory XKCD reference – Cort Ammon May 24 '17 at 22:23
  • @Cort: I didn't know this reference until yesterday, when I had a disastrous argument with theoretical (i.e. physical) chemists (here) in "StackExchange Chemistry". - One of the answers was: "No. In general, the simplest physical processes are dependent on physics and mathematics. The simplest chemical processes are dependent on physics: xkcd.com/435 – Quantum AMERICCINO." .... They said there nearly unanimously that any other point of view is freaky. – user26880 May 24 '17 at 22:47
  • If it helps, there's a neat term in philosophy called "supervene." It describes a phenomena which can be completely explained by another. It is believed that chemistry supervenes on physics, because all chemists (that I know of) assume all of the features they measure are indeed caused by physical phenomena. Whether that makes one superior to the other is an entirely different question, but that word may help sort your thoughts. – Cort Ammon May 24 '17 at 22:55
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One thing I would do is separate mathematics from empirically-based sciences like physics and chemistry. The former is doubtless hugely important to the latter, but insofar as one takes mathematics to be non-empirical and a priori it is in a different category.

That said, wth respect to the empirical sciences you might be interested in some views regarding the unity of science (see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-unity/) and reductionism that are discussed in philosophy of science. This sort of thing was important to the logical positivists/empiricists in the early 20th century and is still defended, though I am unsure how widely.

Reductionism about metaphysics/ontology might be closest to what you label as 'more fundamental' and perhaps 'the cause of all others'. This would be the idea that all of the 'stuff' that science investigates reduces to elementary particles. This would make some sort of particle physics the 'most superior' in these senses. On that note, there are movements of anti-reductionism in philosophy of science (you can find more about this in the link above) which appeal to pluralism about metaphysics/ontology.

Epistemological reductionism might be closest what you label 'less being afflicted with circular concepts', but I'm not quite sure what you have in mind here. Again, you can find more on this in the article above. The resistance to this sort of view might come out of an epistemological pluralism. See, e.g., https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-epistemology/. Feminist philosophy of science could be of interest to use as a resistance to both metaphysical and epistemological forms of reductionism.

  • Mathematics is a language, not a process. That having been said, the process by which mathematics evolves is scientific. So, even though there are axioms in mathematics, and they are used by mathematicians as axioms, there are proofs for many of them. For example there are nearly 400 known proofs of Phythagoras' theorem, the most famous being the diagramatic one. – Richard May 24 '17 at 22:07
  • @Richard: Compared to its kinsman bookkeeping, mathematics is called scientific because the tautologies that it discovers, are much more complicated to overview and disentangle. – user26880 May 25 '17 at 1:56
  • yes Math's is hard, but It's still a language.. though i admit the difference between the two is hard to argue. – Richard May 25 '17 at 7:26
  • @Richard: really? if math is a lsnguage, which one is it? i hope you do not want to claim that the Chinese, Arab, Indian, etc. mathematicians were frauds since they did not write in your preferred idiom – user20153 May 25 '17 at 21:58