There are various philosophers of science who all offer a different theory about how the sciences proceed.

The most naive one is the theory that we make observations, build a theory and then again make observations to see if it corresponds to the facts.

Then there are somewhat mote advanced theories of philosophers of science like "Sir" Karl Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos. etc. They all construct their theories from the comfort of their working room behind a typewriter or computer.

There are luckily more experiment philosophies, like the ones of Hacking, Radder (The Material Realization of Science), or Pickering ("Constructing Quarks").

But these still are written from the perspective of a philosopher. They didn't do actual antropological fieldwork examining scientists.

Are there examples of this kind of fieldwork where the scientists are actually approached and interviewed about their belives and practices (like is done in examining so-called primitive tribes)? And doing so refute the theories put forth by the philosophers of science?

I am not arguing agaist philosophy, only against philosophers of science who like the sciences to conform to their view. However sophisticated their theories are they can always be confronted with the facts. Only Feyerabend was aware of this. Obviously the other philosophers (or at least the ones I mentioned) are afraid for this to happen. Their dream castles could be razed down to the ground...

I can see there are two votes to close on the basis that this question is off topic. Why it is off topic? It is about philosophies of science. If this question is off topic then also the philosophies themselves are. I just philosophize about these philosophies.

  • Again why the downvote? I am not asking how in the wirld can it be that someone votes down my question. Jul 10 at 13:18
  • Where did you get the information that Popper, Lakatos, Khun, etc... didn't engage in discussions with experimenting scientists ? A quick search can show it is false, they did. Which basically answers your question, i guess.
    – armand
    Jul 10 at 14:09
  • @armand Of course they did. But not in relation to the validity of their work. There are simply no studies done in this direction. At least not by them. Just discussing is not a study. Jul 10 at 14:17
  • @armand The way I arrived on my theory of elementary particles doesn't conform to any of the philosophies proposed by the gentlemen you named... Serendipity, imagination, deep thought, reading and listening to others and to experiment do not follow a well defined path as they suggest. Jul 10 at 14:24
  • @armand It is not my intention to take away your beliefs. If you want to believe in their theories then it is up to you. But theories must be supported by facts. That is what they even say themselves. Jul 10 at 14:32

Allow me to work from analogy... The United States has 350+ million citizens. If you were to were ask them individually what the USA is, or how the USA works, or what it means to be a US citizen, you would get a good half-million different answers, which you could probably organize into a few hundred different 'camps', of which maybe two or three dozen expressed credibly developed and meaningful worldviews. And if you dug into those few dozen credible worldviews, you'd find that they all traced back to some small number of political philosophers who espoused a worldview (about the US, or democracy, or republican government, or liberty...) that others adopted and adapted into understandings of the USA. That's the role philosophy has always had in human society: an orienting compass that gives us ideals to believe in and strive for.

People are not 'conscious' members of a society. People are immersed in society, knowing what to do without knowing how they know, or why they do this rather than that. Ask a baseball player why three strikes make an out but four balls make a walk and she won't know what to tell you, because nobody knows. There is no a priori reason for it, merely a posteriori justifications that people might give for what is otherwise an opaque fact of the game. Maybe some great unknown baseball philosopher determined that three strikes and four balls were right and good and just conditions, and everyone else just fell into line behind them... Who knows? And being immersed in the great game of society is just the same.

The same is true of the philosophy of science. Early philosophers — Spinoza, Francis Bacon, etc. — laid out certain guidelines and opinions about how they thought knowledge should be pursued, and subsequent people who were seeking out knowledge took them up on it. Towards the end of the 19th century — with the rapid upswing in formal science and technology — a new crop of philosophers started to worry that 'hard' science was being hobbled by metaphysical (mainly religious) concerns, and sought to re-ground science in pure empiricism. Towards the middle of the 20th century that effort frayed, and another crop of philosophers started noticing that the practice of science had some deep, important, and overlooked social aspects. Through all this, scientists did science the way that fish swim in water — knowing what to do, but not exactly why it's what to do — and if you were to ask them why they do what they do, you'd get a regurgitation of some previous or then-current philosopher's work.

People do philosophy of science because they want to make science... Well, not precisely better, but stronger and more authoritative. Scientists do what scientists do, but when people start attacking science and its results, scientists are perhaps the worst people to try to shore it up (in the same sense that a fish can't tell us why it's better to swim in water than walk on land). That demands a broader perspective than most scientists have.

  • Do you think philosophers of science know why scientists do science? Jul 10 at 17:54
  • I think that scientists dont need a philosophical compass which the philosophers of science provide. The recent philosophers (I dont speak of philosophers like Mach or Darwin or Bolzmann who were scientists at the same time) tend to formalize scientific practice and not to explain it. Scientific practice doesnt follow rules though. Knowing why a rule in basketball is why it is doesnt change the rules themselves. Philosophers of science tend to change the very rules and imposing these rules. If these are followed by scientists needing a compass it is up to them but it would inhibit progress. Jul 10 at 18:14
  • 2
    @DescheleSchilder: I don't think there would be anything akin to formal science without philosophers setting the ground rules. I think philosophers of science have a better idea what science is than scientists do. And I think the discussion of 'rules' is going to take un into Wittgensteinean territory that's way too deep for a comments section. Jul 10 at 19:23
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    @DescheleSchilder: You really should go back and read Bacon, Spinoza, et al. the ideas behind the modern scientific method were worked out painstakingly in works of philosophy; people didn't just start 'doing science', except int he most trivial way Jul 10 at 21:09
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    @DescheleSchilder: Bacon was really ahead of his time. Consider Newton, with his alchemy and bible codes obsessions - someone needed to tell him they were a total waste of time, & he'd have got more meaningful things done. I think of Sabine Hossenfelder who wrote 'Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray', a scientist examining metaprinciples physicists have appealed to, and calling them into question. Or the replication crisis, which is changing how studies are done, especially in psychology. P-hacking is the kind of thing scientists do in practice, that a good 'compass' should ward off
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 11 at 11:44

Are there examples of this kind of fieldwork where the scientists are actually approached and interviewed about their belives and practices (like is done in examining so-called primitive tribes)? And doing so refute the theories put forth by the philosophers of science?

Certainly, there are sociologies of scientific knowledge (SSK) programs, such as David Bloor's "strong program" and precisely the sort of anthropological studies you describe, most famously Bruno Latour's "Laboratory Life." And Kuhn, for example, was a trained physicist, so obviously his thinking emerged within the precincts of practicing scientists, if that counts.

But whether or not you consider these truly "scientific" approaches to scientific practice only refers us once again back to philosophies of science. And I'm not sure what you mean by "disprove" philosophies of science. Since the two fields parted company, it is generally held that "philosophy" is interpretive and dialectical and not the sort of practice that is subject to "disproof" by some scientific method any more than one could "disprove" a theory of music.

Moreover, the idea of a well-defined "scientific method" is very problematic and constantly stumbling over particular cases. All scientists operator under value-laden, philosophical ground rules, though most will not have or need any particular awareness of their epistemological or ontological assumptions. As Midgley has nicely put it, philosophy can be a lot like plumbing, you don't notice or care about it until something breaks--as happened, for example, with the double slit experiment or the necessary introduction of statistical methods by Maxwell and others.

Perhaps the closest we get to a modern "philosophy of science" being proven wrong in its view of scientific method was, ironically, the "positivism" of Mach, himself a top tier physicist and philosopher. His ontology precluded the idea of atoms hypothesized statistically by Boltzmann and later demonstrated by Einstein, and even then he could not really abandon his views. This is not, of course, a "falsification," but since then the most fruitful areas of physics have evolved far outside the empirical constraints of Mach's philosophy of science, establishing for now a historical refutation.

  • Nice anwer. But I dont agree with the (common) thought that Mach was a (logical) positivist. He just didnt belive in atoms (you say that but Im not sure). I dont think philosophy is like plumbing too. If something breaks physics offers a solution to repair. Not philosophy. Jul 10 at 20:44
  • Mach's "positivism" was not logical positivism, but somewhat earlier. Just what it was called then, though I don't know much about it. The "plumbing" metaphor is actually used by Midgley in regard to moral philosophy and refers to conceptual breakdowns, requiring a critique of fundamental and thus unstated assumptions. As when assumptions of linear causation or the luminous aether no longer work to validate results. The lab work just goes on, but physics doesn't "fix" these until, as Kuhn suggests, the old view just dies off. Theorists will then try to make things "coherent" again. Jul 10 at 22:00
  • As long as Kuhns suggestion doesnt influence scientists there is nothing wrong. When they actually follow him they will sooner be inclined to let theories just die because thats the way how science wirks, according to Kuhn. It takes away the will to hold on if they view the process of dieing as a natural process (which it is for people but no one wants to die). Jul 10 at 22:09
  • I'm sure Kuhn has zero influence on scientists "at work," but perhaps only as they regard the history of science, in which case it might be somewhat comforting. One of his points was to correct the idea that science is monolithically self-correcting. Rarely does an experiment conclusively "falsify" your favorite theory. As Quine notes, one can alway save a theory by adjusting certain hypotheses or assumptions, like Ptolemaic epicycles, and you can go on making correct predictions for centuries. Jul 10 at 22:54
  • Yes. If someone wants to hold on to epicycles why not. There are epicycles omnipresent nowadys. Every oscillatory motion is thought to exist of basis sine motions just like the orbits of the planets once were. Jul 10 at 23:50

The Kuhn Debt of Computer Science

The Turing Award is considered like a Nobel prize in Computer science. The 1979 Turing Award went to Robert Floyd. The title of his lecture was Paradigms of Programming. In case the Kuhn debt is in any doubt, Kuhn's Structure of Scientific revolutions is in Floyd's bibliography.

Paradigms in CS today

Admittedly, the word paradigm was used by Floyd differently than computer scientists use today. Today the broad area usually means imperative, functional, object-oriented, logic and many smaller areas. See wikipedia. To see the Kuhn debt more clearly we need to look at the history.


In 1957 when John Backus and team created FORTRAN — yeah computerese was ALL-CAPS THOSE DAYS! — leave aside the idea of paradigm, he had no idea even that he was creating a computer language. That he had created a mathematical FOR-mula TRAN-slator was big enough an achievement when computers were as functionally tiny as they were physically huge. Not to mention that language implementation was unexplored territory. So no mistake about it: Backus contribution was huge, but (in 1957) he did not understand language; still less paradigm.

But by 1960 programming language was becoming an exploding babel with little organizaing principle in sight.

Yet, Backus' Fortran contribution was so hugh that it was enough to earn him the Turing Award in 1977. Backus' Turing award lecture was a landmark in two important respects:

He was man enough to effectively admit In inventing FORTRAN I goofed! After having labelled and criticised the existing languages as von Neumann langauges, he says:

Although I refer to conventional languages as "von Neumann languages" to take note of their origin and style, I do not, of course, blame the great mathematician for their complexity. In fact, some might say that I bear some responsibility for that problem.

Starting with a searing criticism of almost all current languages as fat and weak and labelling them as von Neumann, he develops his suggested preferred alternative: viz a functional style.

So while it is true that:

  • Backus did not use the word paradigm, his usage of von Neumann vs functional prefigures the modern use of paradigm.
  • Just as Floyd did use the word paradigm but not in the way in the way computer scientists use it today

their combined effect is what makes up a large portion of the field of today's computer science practice.

And Kuhn has a seminal role in it

Is that for good?

So yeah... Kuhn definitely helped to raise the view from nitty-gritty detail to broader paradigmatic questions. This is a positive.

But there is a negative aspect of this as well...

But I will stop here

  • Now here is a real example from practice (not that they can be refuted but are confirmed, even before the actual Kuhn invented his paradigm). I am curious for the negative... Jul 11 at 6:45

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