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Science works like this:

  1. We observe some phenomenon X.
  2. We form one or more hypothesis about what the relationship between X and something else might be.
  3. We evaluate the predictive power of the hypothesis through attempted falsification--an ideal experiment is one which would definitively disprove the hypothesis. If the hypothesis proves to be predictive, it is tentatively accepted until such time as it does not predict some other phenomenon X2.

This is highly fallacious reasoning, in two ways:

First of all, the set you came up with in step 2. is not complete. There's an infinite number of other theories that would explain phenomenon X, which you did not consider. Hence, these theories are not being tested in step 3., and hence you cannot rule them out.

Secondly, step 3. is in and of itself highly fallacious as well. Just because a theory stands up to some experiment, does not mean it is true. In fact, humans came up with both theory and experiment. So it is natural to think that the same fundamental causes for why humans came up with the theory, are also playing a role when humans came up with the subsequent tests experiments. Hence, there's a bias, a hidden link between theory and experiment, caused by the fact that they are creations of the human mind. We are limited in thought and perception, hence our theories themselves are a byproduct of the very same thoughts and perceptions.

So should science be ignored in philosophical debates, to due it being fallacious?

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  • 9
    See e.g. Dewey: Because it proved to be a successful methodology despite its problems.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 7, 2017 at 17:53
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    This reminds me a quote erroneously ascribed to Churchill:"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others" and Kant's preface to CPR:"We find, too, that those who are engaged in metaphysical pursuits are far from being able to agree among themselves, but that, on the contrary, this science appears to furnish an arena specially adapted for the display of skill or the exercise of strength in mock-contests—a field in which no combatant ever yet succeeded in gaining an inch of ground." Reasoning that leads to new knowledge is never truth preserving, i.e. it is fallacious.
    – Conifold
    Nov 7, 2017 at 18:56
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    What is the eventual outcome whenever philosophical and scientific ideas have clashed? It generally goes poorly for philosophy. Nov 7, 2017 at 19:04
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    My immediate reaction was: "Why does philosophy carry so much weight in philosophy when it is highly fallacious?" Nov 9, 2017 at 6:51
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    I would change that to 'Why do so many bad idea carry weight in philosophy when they are fallacious, and why do they carry any weight in the sciences'. It beats me and I have no sensible answer. .
    – user20253
    Nov 9, 2017 at 14:01

13 Answers 13

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As wolf-revo-cats points out, your question is so broad as to encompass the entire fields of epistemology and philosophy of science.

You do point out to some interesting details in your question which have been answered elsewhere in this post. But we need to break up your statements.

Secondly, step 3. is in and of itself highly fallacious as well. Just because a theory stands up to some experiment, does not mean it is true.

See Karl Popper's concept of Falsification: We can never prove a theory definitively, on we can only say that it hasn't been falsified yet.

There's an infinite number of other theories that would explain phenomenon X, which you did not consider. Hence, these theories are not being tested in step 3., and hence you cannot rule them out.

Here you are referring to the problem of underdetermination of theories by experiments, a well known issue in philosophy of science which was most famously addressed by W.V.O. Quine. See here and here for details on this issue.

So it is natural to think that the same fundamental causes for why humans came up with the theory, are also playing a role when humans came up with the subsequent tests experiments. Hence, there's a bias, a hidden link between theory and experiment, caused by the fact that they are creations of the human mind. Hence, it is no surprise that the tests made by humans corroborate the theories made up by humans!

This was a question that was brought most famously by T. Kuhn in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Based on the previously mentioned problem of underdetermination, Kuhn argued that theories are never fully proven or disproven by experiments. Instead various sociological considerations go into which science theories are accepted and which are not. For example, the switch from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics and relativistic mechanics in the first half of the 20th century was due to new experimental results, but also to the fact that a younger generation of physicists and college professors was willing to accept the new theories, whereas the older generation was committed to the previous theories for various reasons. Some schools have gone further and claimed that all of science is socially constructed (i.e. that is, science is similar to religion or to political ideologies) - see the Strong Programme.

It's a form of confirmation bias: we are limited in thought and perception, hence our theories, which are a byproduct of our thoughts and perception, cannot be "disproven" easily by our experiment, which themselves are a byproduct of the very same thoughts and perceptions. Hence, it is also a type of circular reasoning.

Kuhn also adresses this in his book. Per Kuhn, science has multiple phases (see section 3 of this answer for details), and one of the main phases is the puzzle solving phase, when researchers just spending their time confirming already existing theories by solving minor puzzles, instead of truly questioning them and coming up with new ones.

Why does science carry so much weight in philosophy?

But does it? Consider the number of philosophers who say science is not everything - or even those of the Frankfurt school, who saw scientific thinking as having been harmful in many ways to humanity.

See among other things, Logical Positivism and why many considered it to have failed, Quine's Holism, non-overlapping magisteria, and Pragmatism (as Philip Klöcking ♦ said: Dewey and others).

The short answer is: Science, for all of its problems, still works better than anything else. If you are sick do you go to a priest, a guru or to a scientifically trained doctor? If you need to make a decision about what to wear tomorrow, who do you ask for advice, the meteorologist or your horoscope reading? Which ones do you trust, and why? See here for details.

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  • This might turn into a discussion, but please tell me the mechanics behind confirming a theory. Nov 9, 2017 at 10:18
  • "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." -Planck, in his autobiography
    – CriglCragl
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:58
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The reason science is taken seriously, within and outside philosophy, is that it has been demonstrably effective in creating a wide, usable and internally connected body of practical and theoretical knowledge.

Therefore both its existence and its seeming effectiveness become part of the facts about the world that any other system of thought must account for.

While there have been philosophical movements that have attempted to exclude from consideration anything that cannot be logically or rigorously proven, this has largely been acknowledged as unworkable in practice. Therefore, your question, properly speaking, is not about philosophy in general, but a particular (and largely discredited) branch of philosophy.

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Your claim that scientific reasoning is fallacious is simply misguided. The point about the scientific method- particularly as it is applied in modern physics- is not that someone proposes a hypothesis as absolutely true, but instead that they propose a model and test for its validity, by which I mean the extent to which the model produces results that coincide with our observations of reality. There might well be many other models we have not thought about that could work just as well or better- but in a sense, that is irrelevant. What we are about is not proving that one model is the right model (in some absolute sense) but that it is a useful one, in that it allows us to make predictions that have a high probability of being right, and that it helps us to conceptualise what might 'really' be happening in a way that gives us insights about how to develop and refine our models.

I am afraid that I cannot resist the temptation to add that certain branches of philosophy could be improved by the shedding of centuries of accumulated nonsense were they to apply the same sort of scientific reasoning to the subjects within their scope.

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First of all, the set you came up with in step 2. is not complete. There's an infinite number of other theories that would explain phenomenon X, which you did not consider. Hence, these theories are not being tested in step 3., and hence you cannot rule them out.

I agree. We can at most, right now, shift the probability of a theory being true by an infinitesimal amount. However, there are two ways of thinking about science. One way is to look at it as a system of confirmation: every time we make a prediction from a theory and it turns out to be correct, we get closer and closer to knowing that the theory is true or, if we keep falsifying theories, we keep getting closer to the correct one.

It is true that this does not seem to be justified with current mathematical frameworks for science. However, not everyone accepts the idea of scientific confirmation, even to any degree. I do not. However, falsification is nice.

Consider a collection of theories {T1, T2, T2, …, TN} and we use that collection, as a whole, to determine the probability distribution of outcomes for a given experiment. Using little more than probability theory and the assumption tht reality is logically consistent, we can say that if an observation is unlikely, given the probability distribution derived from our collection of theories, then the collection of theories, as a whole, are unlikely to be true.

Of course, how to modify that collection used to make the prediction is tricky. But we continue to make modifications and make predictions until the point where we have run out of reasonable ways to falsify the system.

Secondly, step 3. is in and of itself highly fallacious as well. Just because a theory stands up to some experiment, does not mean it is true.

Indeed, but we can apply parsimony at least. If we have two sets of theories which both explain the data equally well, the most parsimonious one is the most likely to be correct. Once we have shown that two sets of theories explain a data set and have run out of reasonable ways to test them, we just take the simplest collection we have and assume that the system is true, until we are shown otherwise in future experiments (or events in life).

System of Theories

To better explain what I mean by system of theories, consider testing some concept in thermodynamics like the rate of heat transfer. We measure the temperature, using fluid thermometers, in two containers, connected by a conductor over a course of time and plot it to see if our theory holds.

But are we really measuring temperature? No. We are measuring the volume of the fluid in the thermometer, and using theories of material science to infer the temperature. Therefore you are not testing the theory of rate of heat exchange. You are testing the system which includes not only that theory, but the theories used to produce the measurements as well, and if you get a result that's reasonably inconsistent, you are not falsifying a single theory but the collection of theories used to make the prediction.

Robustness of Theory

I would like to add that I generally look at theories as being "robust" or non-robust. A theory is more robust if all reasonable methods to show it false have been made and there are a number of other theories which are dependent on it. The theory body of theory of evolution is important in a number of other fields, such as medical science. If evolution is false, then a lot of our medical theory, including epidemiology, falls apart. It has also gone through a lot of rigorous testing. Therefore it is quite robust. I personally like the word "robust" much better than "true" or "proven" when talking about scientific theories.

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    Cosmology provides good examples of what you're talking about, because results generally rely on a large set of other theories & assumptions with their own (typically quite large) estimated errors, like the Cosmological Distance Ladder.
    – CriglCragl
    Jan 17, 2023 at 13:02
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To the extent that science does carry 'much weight' in philosophy...

If philosophy is largely an exercise in trying to arrive at an accurate understanding of reality (including the ways in which we interrogate, perceive and interact with reality), then any such weight attributed to science is likely to do with the fact that - to the best of our knowledge, and fallacies notwithstanding - we possess no more reliable means by which to arrive at accurate conclusions about reality than via scientific enquiry (in co-operation with the application of logic).

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Maybe a bad reply, I'm more or less bullshitting, based on encountering something like this argument, in contemporary literature on anti-realism, against the no miracles argument. So this answer is not based on the impossibility of justifying induction, but problems with abduction, and its selection of a "best" theory. I'm concluding that the best explanation is just the best explanation, as if there were no miracles in that sense.

  1. Philosophy can't do anything, ground the scientific enterprise, nor limit what science is "successful", nor any philosophical bastardizations of 'success', without concluding and assuming that science is a success.

But,

  1. any philosophy of science, any question to ask about it, involves selecting theories, which is sufficient for doing science, just with different kinds of intuitions and goal to scientists.

So philosophy of science is unavoidably engaged in a regress that is vicious -- whatever else it does or concludes it concludes what it assumes which is what it does. Supposing that

  • any vicious infinite regress shows that its assumption is not the case

then science and its success cannot demonstrate anything at all (e.g. naturalism, atheism, whatever), beyond what the "best explanation" of something is.

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So should science be ignored in philosophical debates, to due it being fallacious?

As already said by others, science is the method we use to learn about the (indirectly) observable part of the world. If we dismiss this information, our scope will become very limited. Restricting yourself to a priori truths has been tried and imho the fruits are not abundant.

Secondly, a possibly incorrect scientific theory can still be input for correct philosophical considerations. What are the implications if this theory is true?

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    This answer is unsourced and seems mostly your own opinion and thoughts one the topic. Can you lease try to make the answer more objective and add sources? Nov 9, 2017 at 22:14
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Assuming theory's main purpose is to build a predictive schema, test can be use to demonstrate that a theory is false because it's mean that your theory isnt reliable to predict the phenomenom. In this case, there are no fallacie to use test to assess the theory's reliability. Regarding to proof that a theory is true is different and you can fall into fallacies you have said. All we can do is to specifie a very accurate environment of work to make sure that test has been elaborated in probante condition. That should explain why sciences are shaped by specialization, in order to comply and match the standard for the sake of test's reliability and subsequently, theory's reliability. So, we can specify required conditions which define the validity of the test. The fallacie dont come a logical statement between an theory and his subsequent test but from the test itself and the condition where it have been made. This can be applied to philosophy or any others science.

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  • "assuming theory's main purpose is to build a predictive schema" - the assumption that the role of [scientific] theory is to make predictions and control the environment is non-trivial and needs justification, or at least mention the fact that this is highly dependent on your take on what the goals of science should be.
    – Lili FN
    Aug 3, 2023 at 15:12
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Why does science carry so much weight in philosophy when it is highly fallacious?

  1. We form one or more hypothesis about what the relationship between X and something else might be….

First of all, the set you came up with in step 2. is not complete. There's an infinite number of other theories that would explain phenomenon X, which you did not consider. Hence, these theories are not being tested in step 3., and hence you cannot rule them out.

No, you cannot rule the other theories out. But there are several things you can do. First, depending on the test results, you can begin to estimate which hypotheses are likely to be true and which ones are not. Does the next test look for atoms or angels?

Second, you can begin to evaluate which hypotheses are (a) falsifiable, and (b) likely to be falsified, and then take aim at that area.

And that brings us to your Step 3:

Secondly, step 3. is in and of itself highly fallacious as well. Just because a theory stands up to some experiment, does not mean it is true.

This statement is correct. The exact fallacy is hasty generalization: because "A therefore B" is true in one instance or a few, this relationship must be true in every case.

The answer is that this reasoning does not describe the scientific method. Affirmative proof is rare, if it exists at all. Rather, the method calls for a statement that can be falsified. The experiment tries to show that the relation is wrong, and so isolates the remaining group of possibly truthful statements.

The result is an estimate. Outside a given area, the original statement is definitely false. Within that area, there are a group of relations that have not been shown to be false.

And that is all that anyone can ever say.

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You are exactly right when you say that the scientific process as you have summarized it here is highly fallacious. That's because it is, in fact, not an accurate description of how science is actually done: what you have done is constructed yourself an easily-refuted straw man.

If the actual scientific method really was as fallacious as you claimed it is, then it would be in fact useless, and we would know it right away because it could not furnish the right answers to any of our questions. The fact that it does invalidates your thesis.

It would take me the rest of the night to exhaustively list all the errors, misconceptions and misrepresentations your straw man contains, but many others here have in any case listed a good many of them so I will not bother.

What you need to do is find yourself a professional working scientist and ask them to summarize for you what the scientific method is, what it is good for, how it is supposed to work, how its results are tested, how errors are corrected, and how its results are supposed to be used. You will get an earful.

FYI there is also a huge body of written material on this topic for your perusal, and not just by Kuhn.

Note also that the underdetermination of theory by evidence can be used to refute any hypothesis and invalidate any model (it is what mathematicians, physicists and engineers call a logical "divide by zero" function i.e., it blows up any equation you apply it to) and as such is useless for testing the truth content of any hypothesis or the correctness of any model.

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Philosophy Is About Observation. Science Is About Experimentation.

Anybody who don't agree with this have to explain why no philosopher did the dropping of two balls experiment and just theorized that heavy ball will reach the ground first. Why it had to wait till a scientist do an experiment? Has any philosopher who is also not a scientist ever experimented anything?

In Philosophy Ultimate Proof Is Claimed To Be In Observation. In Science Ultimate Proof Is Claimed To Be In Experimentation.

A philosophical theory may as its proof present another philosophical theory and so on but all of these theories claim that they ultimately rest on observation.

A scientific theory claims that its proof is in experimentation.

Philosophy Requires Data To Analyze. Science Provides Data Through Experimentation That Mere Observation Cannot Provide

Science is considered important in philosophy because science provides data that cannot come through mere observation. Once experiment is done that data is available and philosophers have more to ponder on.

Note: The question claimed science to be "highly fallacious". This is a baseless claim that go against observation.

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  • "In Philosophy Ultimate Proof Is Claimed To Be In Observation" Well that's just not true. The whole domain of logic & mathematics which proof belongs only in, is about reasoning, not observation.
    – CriglCragl
    Jan 17, 2023 at 13:07
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    Your problem is lack of understanding concept of ultimate proof. Philosophy make a framework of statements on which an argument stand. We only look for validity of argument on basis of framework and dont compare argument with reality to find its truth value. But the framework itself has to be valid and so on until at some point you reach axioms. Axioms don't rest on other axioms. They directly stand on comparing with reality.
    – Atif
    Jan 18, 2023 at 3:45
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I want to start by saying that I find your main statement, invalid.

It is invalid because: a) you provide no evidence that Science "carries so much weight" and b) the evidence you provide for Science being "fallacious," is incorrect.

I would like to provide evidence that Science actually carries "a small weight" in Philosophy. One method we can use to determine its importance is to list the various branches/categories of Philosophy:
1 - Aesthetics
2 - Epistemology
3 - Ethics
4 - Law
5 - Logic
6 - Mathematics
7 - Methaphysics
8 - Politics
9 - Science

With this list, it is easy to see that Science carries only 1/9 of the "weight" of Philosophy.

Although you present a fallacious method, we do not "evaluate the predictive power of a hypothesis through attempted falsification." We actually test a hypothesis by predicting some results which can be measured and verified. If additional results validate the hypothesis, our confidence that the hypothesis is valid increases. There is no fallacy in this method.

Although Science is ignored (mostly) in Philosophical debates, it is because it may not be applicable, rather than fallacious!

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It's typical that the fine answer (of Alexander S King, I don't criticise it, but rather the whole atmosphere of modern intellectual life) gives a typically vapid "principle":

"See Karl Popper's concept of Falsification: We can never prove a theory definitively, on we can only say that it hasn't been falsified yet."

Falsification, if it is theoretical, as it was meant to be (since it was purposed in contradistinction to verification), is meaningless. Since if something turns out different than what we expected, that must then be understood as verification of the falsification. Pure nonsense. Popper is so incompetent, and so incapable of saying a serious word, one wonders why he continues to be in such power amongst a certain demographic? Why does he not go away? Is this not a specific modification, making it concrete, of the above inquiry, of the question here? It is precicly because of a superstition, or ideology, that links Democracy with the sciences, understood in a certain fashion. If one has to make arguments, and persuade each one, in the political forum, one has great problems, if one, contrary to this, can set down, authoritatively, facts, on the basis of the power of a science, one eschews the difficulty. That is the nub of it. Popper, who was refused employment for rank incompetence in philosophy, is known because he pressed a philosophy of "Open Society". And people like the notion of being for it, and do not care in the slightest bit how empty it is. A great travesty.

In other words, what the question asks in essence, is, why does it not matter that the sciences produce trash? and the reason is, they need only make things that work, not things that make sense. But, it is only from a human ground that we can ask what it means for something to "work". Does it mean, simply, to be powered, and to overpower? Or, rather, does it mean to raise human beings to the zenith? Why should one not come aware that the sciences need be must answer for themselves?

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    I'm always surprised at the strong opinions K. Popper generates. Elsewhere on this forum, there are those who worship him like he was some sort of prophet, not just one of many philosophers of the 20th century, and who get offended every time I critique him or point out to problems in his theory. Aside from that, I'm not the one who down voted your answer, but I suspect those who did, did so because your answer is highly opinion based - and opinion based answers are discouraged. The idea is that answers should be as objective as possible. I will edit my post though. Cheers Nov 8, 2017 at 22:08
  • Popper doesn't create strong opinions, the persistence of manifest incompetence for ideological reasons does. (I've made also more close examination of the evidence which caused University of Chicago to reject him as an idiot.) Nov 13, 2017 at 1:18

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