How is philosophy of science still one of the most essential fields after it broke from classical philosophy and established its own discipline?

  • 1
    Could you be more precise? How do you relate the fact that it "broke from classical philosophy" and the fact that it is essential? What makes you think it "broke from classical philosophy" (instead of just being a development of it or a sub-field of it)? Are you talking about philosophy of science, not science itself (philosophy of nature)? What do you mean by "essential"? Jan 30, 2019 at 13:30
  • If you have a text that you are reading which motivates the question this may help focus it. Jan 30, 2019 at 14:04
  • See this response philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/34174/13808 Jan 30, 2019 at 21:56
  • this question has generated some +ve voted answers so suggest just fixing the english/
    – user35983
    Jan 31, 2019 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


This is my opinion. But then, any answer you get on this subject will be someone's opinion.

Philosophy in my opinion, is the asking and seeking of answers to ANY question. Whereas science is a branch of philosophy which arbitrarily constrains its area of enquiry to ideas which 'predict'. It does this regardless of legitimate problems with 'abduction' or 'empiricism' as a means of acquiring knowledge. It does this regardless of legitimate questions as to the exact nature of existence. It does this because so far it has produced staggering results. So staggering in fact that some areas of science have "almost" exhausted all areas enquiry (Chemistry being one such field).

And in fact any perceived split between 'physics and metaphysics' is narrowing. The work of Heisenberg etc. has had the practical effect of making physicists less 'reductionist'. It has demonstrated areas where the scientific method ought to be able to work, but just cannot. Physics has begun asking some old 'metaphysical' questions.

I recently watched this video which features Brian Cox. Many areas of this conversation stray deeply into a kind of metaphysics that science would hitherto have not really considered.

  • Good post, but when you start with "this is my opinion" then it reaffirms the logical positivists won the day!
    – Gordon
    Jan 30, 2019 at 15:40
  • The OP asks about "philosophy of science" and you are discussing about 'physics and metaphysics'. Jan 30, 2019 at 15:41
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA the philosophy of science is an arbitrary subset of philosophy proper. I said that.
    – Richard
    Jan 30, 2019 at 15:42
  • @Gordon I believe everyone should be forced to ride a motorbike before being allowed to drive a car. Similarly I don't believe one should be allowed to study philosophy until you have a degree in a STEM subject (In fact the UK degree system makes your last degree, the philisophy degree, so we had this right in the past). Too many philosophy students are scientifically inept. But conversely, there are a lot of scientists who have never even heard the word 'epistemology'. In short, I now realise that the logical positivists are sometimes right.. Less often than they think though :)
    – Richard
    Jan 30, 2019 at 17:42
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    @PeterJ I agree. Calling it the philosophy of science suggests that scientists consider epistemology.. most don't. They just go about a routine.. I don't think the scientific method needs formalising or defending though. I see no need for the logical positivism movement etc. Many people feel that humanity is rolling back on the enlightenment, and we're in danger of regression. I consider science to be a genie which cannot be put back. If the US for example goes anti-science. It'll just be superceded. Bad for the US.. not humanity as a whole.
    – Richard
    Jan 31, 2019 at 15:58

As Dr. William Lane Criag pointed out, science cannot sustain itself without some governing principle. We all thought (with the logical positivists) that the "Verification Principle" could do the trick seventy-five years ago...


The principle of verification is supposed to furnish a criterion by which it can be determined whether or not a sentence is literally meaningful. A simple way to formulate it would be to say that a sentence had literal meaning if and only if the proposition it expressed was either analytic or empirically verifiable.

Language, Truth, and Logic by A. J. Ayer, p. 5

...but we can see now that the proposition that I reproduced above doesn't satisfy its own criterion, and thus fails. For reasons like this, philosophy of science is indispensable in providing the governing principles that extend, retract, or enforce, as needed, the bounds of what science is from day to day.

Even if people stop calling themselves "philosophers of science", somebody needs to make defensible statements in support of science when other smartypantses come around trying to undercut scientific findings, and those statements will have all the features that identify the discipline of philosophy to us today.

If what you're talking about is that set of principles that is sometimes called "philosophy of science", but is also sometimes called "Scientism," metaphysical naturalism, scientific materialism, ontological naturalism, philosophical naturalism, etc. then I don't have a specific argument for why this is indispensable.

  • i don't think that's a good criticism of logical positivism!
    – user35983
    Jan 31, 2019 at 13:22
  • 1
    @confused, it's not a criticism--- it's a defeater! Jan 31, 2019 at 16:55
  • hmm, not sure...
    – user35983
    Feb 1, 2019 at 13:10

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