I saw that some people trying to differentiate science into western and eastern. What are the criteria for parting them?


2 Answers 2

  1. Science is a universal enterprise. If somebody tries to differentiate science into western and eastern, I suspect that he/she follows some non-scientific interests.

  2. Science defines itself by its method and its domain of investigation.

    Concerning the method:

  • Precise language, often using technical terms.

  • Striving for intersubjectively accepted and testable results.

  • Open-ended, correcting errors.

    Typical domains of scientific investigations:

  • Natural science, mathematics, philology, historical studies, sociology, psychology.

  1. On the other hand, a deplorable obstacle against scientific historical and philological investigation in academia is nationalism. E.g., in the field of indology controversial results are often assessed whether they are obtained by scholars from western universities or from academic institutions in the subcontinent.
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    Like, that's fine, but what about competing definitions? Why this definition? What does universal mean, for instance when there are lasting disputes? What are the sources or contexts to see it like this? I feel this is not so different from a dictionary definition.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 12:43
  • @CriglCragl I'm reminded of my Philosophy prof who said we can only determine truth after the fact, by results. So, maybe this definition is simply: "This is as far as we have gotten"?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 12:50
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    @CriglCragl If you propose a competing characterization of science then I’m curious to hear your proposal. – Universal = independent from geography. - Which lasting disputes do you mean? – Context dependency is exactly the OP’s question. How would you answer? Note that the OP‘s question is on science in general, it is not restricted to philosophy.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 15:41
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    I'd look to Durkheim on how groups are bound together by the enactment of shared values, with a buy-in of sharing core values like a social-contract, in this case about the primacy of observations & evidence: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/74408/… Whether science only aims to predict observations or also to explain evidence is a lasting cause of dispute, eg Hossenfelder holds the former & Rovelli the latter. There are sciences, each with their own methods, eg medicine must grapple with purely subjective experiences.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:57
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    @ScottRowe: "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." - Isaac Newton
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 19:00

Ah, me... Sorry, that's a reproving eye-roll at the intellectual world in general, not at the question itself.

This Eastern/Western science split traces back to a particularly devoted segment of the Karl Popper fan-base, who wanted to use Popper's notion of pseudoscience to attack and discredit traditional forms of medical treatment, particularly 'Chinese' or 'Eastern' medicine (due to the growing prominence of such in the '80s and '90s). Set aside the fact that Popper's theories were largely consigned to the historical dust bin by the time this medical dispute arose: their basic argument was that 'Western' medicine is based on structured empirical research paradigms ('falsifiable', in Popper's nomenclature) while 'Eastern' (traditional) medicines are steeped in religion, metaphysics, or other, uhhh... — to their mind, airy-faerie nonsensical crap — and thus little more than snake-oil peddled by unscrupulous bad actors to an ignorant public. They were quite aggressive in their pursuits, and hammered this distinction between Western science and Eastern malarky mercilessly.

Those who used or practiced these forms of traditional medicine were (predictably) a bit annoyed. They argued that traditional (particularly Chinese or Eastern) medicine worked on a different and complementary paradigm — the idea of wholistic balanced health ('wellness'), as opposed to the Western focus on the containment or elimination of disease and dysfunction — and that Eastern practices have a long history of empirical investigation. Nothing as rigorous as modern scientific medical investigation, obviously (since that only came to the fore at the turn of the 19th century), but still scientific enough in its own way. And note that the use of the term 'paradigm' here invokes Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions", the book which drove a stake through the otherwise undying heart of Popper's falsificationism. It is, thus, not something Popper's devotees were or are likely to embrace.

And so an overt attack on traditional medicine by advocates of a mostly defunct philosophy of science de-evolved into a dispute about the nature of scientific investigation itself, with the terms 'Eastern' and 'Western' senselessly held over from the earlier dispute. While I can't object to disputes in the philosophy of science about the nature of the scientific method, what we have here isn't that. It's a tempest in a sociopolitical teakettle that serves no fruitful intellectual purpose. I'd argue it serves no purpose whatsoever, except that it offers the opportunity (like any good teakettle) to make loud, shrill whining noises. But I suspect I'm jaded on the issue...

  • 4
    I don't know if you have a source for the bashing of traditional medicine originating with 1980s Popper fans, but criticism of a specific TM claim is instead usually phrased today in terms of statistical criteria, such as the outcomes of double-blind trials. It hasn't died in conjunction with any anti-Popperian shifts. As the question sought West-East demarcation criteria you think robust, you could improve your answer by saying if Kuhn's puzzle-solving criterion addresses that.
    – J.G.
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 19:52
  • @J.G.: I'm not complaining about science. I'm complaining about scientism, and about those people who have a hard time distinguishing between the two. The fact that double-blind tested medical practices are effective in no way implies that other practices are ineffective (or worse). And I'm sorry, but if you're not aware that people using a Popperean stance have been trashing alternative medicine as 'pseudoscience' (a specifically Popper-derived term), then you clearly haven't looked very far into the issue.Asking me to source common knowledge is tendentious, at best. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 23:09
  • But that's all beside the point: is traditional medicine Kuhnian science as much as is Western medicine or not? That would make for a great answer. If you can edit that in, please do, even if you'd like to keep what's already there.
    – J.G.
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 6:16
  • @TedWrigley Afaik Kuhn's paradigm shift idea was not concerned with the scientific method but rather with the model building. Like "normal science" is working within a model and upgrading it and a paradigm shift is moving to a different model. Neither criticizes the method by which science is done. That is a totally different use of "paradigm". And the problem with tradition and religion is that it's rather unsatisfying in terms of what you can explain, "we did it like that forever and it works". Science: Cool, BUT WHY?
    – haxor789
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 12:37
  • @haxor789: For Kuhn, the 'scientific method' is only defined within normal science: it is dictated by the given paradigm, and subject to change when the paradigm shifts. And science as such rarely tackles 'why' questions. I mean honestly, solid concepts like 'gravity', 'inertia', 'magnetism' etc might as well be magic given how little we understand about them. Science is good at what/how questions: anything of the form: "What do we have to do to get outcome X?" But scientific "Whys" are still matters of speculative hand-waving. Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 14:43

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