Can someone recommend me some science philosophy please..
February 27, 2011 4:46 AM   Subscribe

Can someone recommend me some science philosophy please..

I am currently exploring the philosophy of science and what constitutes a good argument, for example evidence based theories.

Can someone recommend some journals or works to read on such a matter please.
posted by sockpim to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias are two blogs you might want to check out.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:58 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

For modern epistemology of science you want Kuhn and Popper
posted by hydropsyche at 5:05 AM on February 27, 2011

posted by hydropsyche at 5:06 AM on February 27, 2011

For classic stuff I'd 2nd Popper and Kuhn and add Merton.

For more recent stuff about science, politics, and the how the two interact, I'd start with Jasanoff and Latour.

If you want to trip out a little bit, check out Donna Haraway.
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 5:37 AM on February 27, 2011

It'd really help if you could give us some idea how much about this you know, already. Do you have any background in philosophy? (It's okay if you don't, of course, but it'll help us figure out what resources would be most useful for you.)
posted by meese at 6:30 AM on February 27, 2011

Besides reading up on Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper I'd recommend spinning these links:
  • Albert Einstein's Philosophy of Science. As Einstein himself wrote:
    I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth. (Einstein to Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574)
    Einstein said he owed a great debt to David Hume in working on his theories of relativity. Just keep that in mind as you read up on the philosophy of science; there's way more to it than restricting yourself to the acknowledged canon.
  • Bertrand Russell's Teapot, as a simple and direct example of Karl Popper's falsifiability principle.
  • The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? (New Yorker). Modern story about the remarkable falsehoods being discovered in drug trials that truly bring home an important lesson about scientific empiricism, which is obvious from Bertrand Russel's teapot, Karl Popper's work, and ultimately David Hume's work - you cannot use induction prove something to be true.
  • Scott and Scurvy. An extraordinary story about how the world's doctors managed to forget the cure for scurvy, and this brings home another truth about science - it's based on people. As Immanuel Kant aptly put, "out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made".
  • A plea for empiricism (Times Literary Supplement). There's no better way, in my mind to end a post about the philosophy of science than an extract from this book:
    “The human race has produced only one successfully validated epistemology, characterizing all scrupulous inquiry into the real world, from quarks to poems. It is, simply, empiricism, or the submitting of propositions to the arbitration of evidence that is acknowledged to be such by all of the contending parties. Ideas that claim immunity from such review, whether because of mystical faith or privileged “clinical insight” or the say-so of eminent authorities, are not to be countenanced until they can pass the same skeptical ordeal to which all other contenders are subjected.”

posted by asymptotic at 6:57 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

People are saying some crazy stuff in this thread. Aside from the weird reading suggestions...
1. "Russell's teapot" was not about science; it was intended as a parody of the claims some people make about the existence of God (along the same lines as today's Flying Spaghetti Monster). Note that the nonexistence of such a teapot is also unfalsifiable.
2. While I don't know a lot about Einstein, he was no particular fan of Hume, and I believe his views on epistemology were heavily influenced by Kant. (The SEP has a a whole article on Einstein's philosophy of science which does not mention Hume.)
3. Frederic Crews is not a philosopher but rather a literary critic known especially for grumbling about the influence of Freud on the humanities. He might be right about Freud, but he has nothing to do with philosophy of science (and his claim that "the human race has produced only one successfully validated epistemology" suggests that he is unaware of what an epistemology actually is).

As for my own suggestions: I'm not a philosopher and I don't know much about philosophy of science in particular, but I think that for any topic in philosophy, it's much better to read a collection of articles by many authors--for example, Philosophy of Science: the Central Issues by Curd & Cover--than the works of any one author like Kuhn or Popper (as important as they are). That way you get a wide range of opinions on several major topics.

However, if you have no background in philosophy at all, it might be easier to start with a textbook (there are many) or Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (I haven't read that one, but the series in general is usually good for a complete beginner's introduction to any topic).

Hopefully an actual philosopher will come along and give a better answer.
posted by Chicken Boolean at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Curd & Cover is the basic text used in the undergraduate course I took. I recommend it highly, now having read a few other introductory texts to general philosophy of science.

I found Chalmers' What Is This Thing Called Science? too introductory for me--but I'd already had some philosophy of science and analytic philosophy before reading it.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:34 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

philosophy of science as a academic subject should be called "Positivism and its discontents." Most of it is tendentious and amounts to a lot of inside baseball.

You really should try reading at least the transcendental aesthetic of Kant and see what the positivists are arguing against. Arthur Eddington (famous in astronomy and general relativity) has a very old popular science book where he more or less hashes out the Kantian view of epistemology in science: The Nature of the Physical World.
posted by at 9:02 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want something that'll actually challenge your critical abilities, try Paul Feyerabend's Against Method.
posted by nasreddin at 9:51 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest the following articles:

Kuhn, Thomas. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Hempel, Carl. (1950). "Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance"

Putnam, Hilary. (1962). "What Theories are Not"

Psillos, Stathis. (1999). Scientific realism: How science tracks truth.

Quine, W.V.O. (1951). "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"

and for an interesting way in which science turns on itself

Laudan, Larry. (1981). "A Confutation of Convergent Realism"

A solid understanding of the problem of induction is really helpful to grasp the epistomological challenges science faces. It may be back to Hume with you if you want to go deep into this. Good luck with the readings!
posted by ubermasterson at 10:25 AM on February 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

Kuhn and Popper are kind of outdated. They're good to read for historical perspective, but while Kuhn is a brilliant historian, his philosophy is pretty muddled, and Popper is not treated seriously very much any more. The first book I would recommend you read is Ian Hacking's Representing and Intervening. It's a short and opinionated little introductory text that is very good. He discusses Kuhn and Popper. Other good philosophers of science I like include Bas van Fraassen, Nancy Cartwright, and Elliot Sober.

Philosophy of science has kind of fractured into two streams now... to be a philosopher of science, you either need to know a lot about physics or a lot about biology. People are starting to realize that what counts as a good argument in one field is not necessarily structured like the kind of thing that counts as a good argument in the other. If you're interested in physics and want to learn about philosophical issues related to general relativity, Sklar's Space, Time, and Spacetime is a masterpiece. For quantum physics, try Albert's Quantum Mechanics and Experience. For evolutionary theory and philosophy of biology, try Sober's The Nature of Selection or Sterelny and Griffith's Sex and Death. Psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science are usually studied in philosophy of mind rather than philosophy of science.
posted by painquale at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ubermasterson's list looks great. That will be a really challenging group of readings, though, especially if you're not taking a class in which the prof can explain them to you. I'd start with an intro book like the Hacking book first.
posted by painquale at 10:29 AM on February 27, 2011

RE: Albert Einstein and David Hume:
In 1915, Einstein wrote to Schlick: “You have also correctly seen that this trend of thought [positivism] was of great influence on my efforts, and specifically E. Mach and still much more Hume, whose treatise on understanding I studied with fervor and admiration shortly before the discovery of the theory of relativity. It is very well possible that without these philosophical studies I would not have arrived at the solution” (“Auch darin haben Sie richtig gesehen, dass diese Denkrichtung von grossem Einfluss auf meine Bestrebungen gewesen ist, und zwar E. Mach und noch viel mehr Hume, dessen Traktat über den Verstand ich kurz vor Auffindung der Relativitätstheorie mit Eifer und Bewunderung studierte. Es ist sehr gut möglich, dass ich ohne diese philosophischen Studien nicht auf die Lösung gekommen wäre”) (Einstein to Moritz Schlick, 14 December 1915).
Just saying, I cite.
posted by asymptotic at 10:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know philosophy of science from jack, but the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is always a good place to start for any philosophical topic. Unfortunately they don't have a "philosophy of science" entry but some of these results are probably worth looking at.
posted by creasy boy at 11:19 AM on February 27, 2011

I agree that it would help if you could say more about what kinds of questions you're interested in. I think probably an introductory book would be the most useful for you, rather than journal articles in current journals, because the latter are going to be very specialized and hard to understand without more background. So - an introductory book. Honestly a quick look at some online resources like Wikipedia or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which is usually at a higher level)

What makes science different from religion? This is called "the demarcation problem" because it's about the demarcation (line) between science and religion.

What kinds of evidence are proper for science to accept, or what factors should contribute to a scientific theory's being accepted? In school we're often taught that the scientific method is "make hypothesis, test hypothesis, make observations, draw conclusions" but there's more to it than that.

For example, suppose we have a theory from astrology: my horoscope says that tomorrow I will "have great excitement" - a prediction! - so we make observations and indeed, I do have an exciting thing happen. Does that give good support to the theory that astrologers can predict the future? No, for a few reasons - one reason is the prediction is too general (good scientific predictions should be specific), it's something that's likely to happen regardless of whether the astrology theory is true (good scientific predictions are ones that will only come true if the proposed theory is true, not otherwise), the theory is subject to confirmation bias or "seeing what you expect" (good scientific tests will prevent this by choosing outcomes or methods of recording outcomes that avoid confirmation bias). Furthermore the astrological theory does not fit with the rest of what we understand about how the physical world works, so it would have to provide extra-convincing evidence before we would be willing to overturn the rest of our physical theories.

Are you interested in one of those problems? Or something else?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:27 PM on February 27, 2011

Seconding Bruno Latour
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:25 PM on February 27, 2011

To get science philosophy in fiction form, see Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a 70+chapter fan fiction by the guy who wrote the Less Wrong blog recommended in the first answer.
posted by sninctown at 11:27 PM on February 27, 2011

I always recommend Carl Sagan's book "The Demon Haunted World" which is tremendously helpful in dealing with the vast avalanche of pseudo-science and sloppy thinking which we face in the modern world.
posted by grizzled at 9:52 AM on March 1, 2011

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