The definition of science:

"the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." - Oxford Dictionary

So then, it is not A systematic study, but THE systematic study... What standard governs this? Or is there some oversight here in the definition?

Note also "...THE structure and behaviour...". It assumes the physical and natural world conform to some single truth. This is technically objective, but by this definition, does it imply science could be misleading if this assumption is false?

  • +1 Good point noting what people take for granted. Having one definition of science is like having a monotheistic approach to reality. I recommend Jack Sander's YouTube videos on the philosophy of science for an overview. Mar 20 '18 at 3:39
  • 2
    Correct: see Oxford's entry: it is considered as a "mass noun". Thus, it assumes that it is the name for an "object" and thus the singular is needed. About the assumption concerning "he structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world", again science is aimed at gain knowledge about "the external reality": if not, what is knowledge about ? Mar 20 '18 at 8:21
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Just to test your position, do you characterize any systematic study as pseudo-science? Part of Popper's motivation to introduce falsification as a criteria for science to be able to say that other systematic studies such as psychology are not science. Mar 20 '18 at 13:15

You could omit 'the' from 'the systematic study' and the sense would be the same.

That aside, 'the' does not imply uniqueness here. Suppose I said : 'Architecture (as a discipline) is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of designing and building edifices for human use'. This would not imply that there is just one way of systematically studying and designing edifices for human use.

Or again if I said : 'Economics is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the production and distribution of wealth', no-one would suppose that there is just one way of systematically studying the production and distribution of wealth. There are econometric methods, Marxist methods, statistical methods, marginalist methods ... The definition is perfectly consistent with the existence of this variety of methods.

  • Given the interest in defining a "scientific method" to be able to distinguish between science and pseudoscience I wonder if this question is so easy to answer. People do talk of pseudoscience. I'm thinking of Popper's view of psychology. Do people talk of pseudoarchitecture? Mar 20 '18 at 13:19
  • +1 Although I think there is more to this, your position is the way things should be. Mar 20 '18 at 13:52
  • Relevant comment. I can see that pseudo-anything could count as systematic study. I didn't address that point because I was concerned that, in relation to science, assuming we can identify it for the sake of argument, 'the' does not imply a single, unique, one and only, way of conducting its systematic study. I don't think there's disagreement between us.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Mar 20 '18 at 13:54
  • Just to expand on your answer, from what I understood, are you saying "the" means the encompassing set in which all systematic approaches to explain physical and natural phenomena are contained? So this would imply, as long as a system exists for explaining these phenomena (in the manner of observation and experiment), regardless of convention, it is indeed science. Mar 20 '18 at 21:58
  • @Alluring Topaz. Yes, I agree with that. Thanks.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Mar 20 '18 at 22:06

The definition should replace the word “the” with “an”. The reason for this is the historic interest is finding ways to solve the problem of demarcation that would distinguish between science and pseudoscience. See Popper’s interest is labeling psychoanalysis as non-science in SEP. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#ProbDema

The interest in this demarcation problem suggests there exists at least one orthodox science and at least one heterodox science rather than multiple scientific approaches that can be lumped together in a generic definition. If there were no interest is separating science from pseudoscience the word “the” would be appropriate as Geoffrey Thomas mentions in his answer.


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