Methodology and the Functional Identity of Science and Philosophy

  • Graham Solomon
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 65)


Scholars put the question expressed by the title of this roundtable discussion [What do history and philosophy of science have to offer one another?] with some urgency nowadays. It is often as if the questioner thinks that the very continuation of the two specializations depended upon an answer to the question now. Things do not seem to me to require the sense of urgency, any more than they are made better by one of two relatively — complacent attitudes: “Well, the importance of history to philosophers of science has now been demonstrated, let us turn to questions of what, if anything, philosophy has to offer the historian of science”; or, “Well, we know that all history of science is infested with philosophical considerations, let us turn to the question of whether or not historians have anything relevant to say to philosophers of science.” I think it is not often enough appreciated that both history and philosophy of science, as special research and teaching disciplines, are relatively new. After all, it is only in our Century that history of science has become a fully mature and self-conscious technical discipline just as it is only in our Century that philosophy of science, armed with more powerful technology in the form of logic and techniques of analysis, has become, rightly or wrongly, a separable aspect of philosophy.


Ontological Commitment Posteriori Probability Functional Identity Scientific Enterprise Scientific Success 
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  1. 2.
    The reference to Aristotle is a mere historical courtesy. I am aware that the concepts of experience I am letting stand without proper explication are full of difficulties that cannot be overcome by simplifications of the sort I introduce here. Concepts of experience were the focal point of discussions in the first International Conference on History and Philosophy of Science, with papers by Jürgen Mittelstrass, “Two concepts of experience: Methodological foundations of Aristotelian and Galilean physics”, and by me, “Experience and experiment as regulative principles in methodology”. Mittelstrass’ paper has appeared in German as “Metaphysik der Natur in der Methodologie der Naturwissenschaften”, in K. Hubner & A. Menne (eds.), Natur und Geschichte, X Deutscher Kongress fur Philosophie, Kiel, 8–12 Oktober 1972 (Hamburg 1973). I think we have here a very good example showing why it is better to have proceedings of earlier conferences appear before those of later conferences. It helps to keep both the chronology and the scholarship tidy.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    It will be obvious in what follows that I owe many intellectual debts. No one is responsible for my mistakes but me, but I do want to note that my thinking on these topics owes a great deal to what I have learned from Nicholas Rescher, in this connection especially his Scientific Explanation (New York & London 1970), and his Scientific Progress, a Philosophical Essay on the Economics of Research in Natural Science (Pittsburgh & Blackwell’s 1978); from Wesley Salmon, “Bayes’s theorem and the history of science”, Historical and Philosophical Perspectives of Science, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy ofScience, Vol. 5, ed. R.G. Stuewer (Minneapolis 1970): and from Larry Laudan, Progress and its Problems, Toward a Theory of Scientific Growth (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London 1977). Salmon offers an important way of conceptualizing scientific success; Rescher notes the absolutely crucial distinction between disciplinary science and knowledge-producing efforts not subject to institutionalization: and Laudan provides the most compelling reading of the disciplinary success of science so far available. No one of the three philosophers, however, would necessarily want to put their efforts at the service of my model, and in this respect Laudan will perhaps not be satisfied with my intertwining of various senses of ‘success’ in what follows.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Larry Laudan, “The sources of modern methodology”, R.E. Butts & J. Hintikka (eds.), Historical and Philosophical Dimensions ofLogic, Methodology and Philosophy ofScience, Part Four ofthe Proceedings ofthe 5th International Congress ofLogic, Methodology and Philosophy ofScience, London, Ontario, Canada 1975 (Dordrecht 1977). The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 12.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For recent work on Galileo, see, for example, the relevant papers in R.E. Butts & J. C. Pitt, (eds.), New Perspectives on Galileo, Papers Derivingfrom and Related to a Workshop on Galileo held at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1975 (Dordrecht 1978). The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 14; for P.K. Feyerabend see his Against Method, Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (London, 1975).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    As I shall be trying to argue in what follows, the standard epistemic predicates ‘true’ and ‘false’ lose their integrity when epistemology is thought ofas intimately related to methodology. If, with Laudan and others, we take the decisive unit of scientific success to be the problem, then perhaps ‘solved’ and ‘not-solved’ will have to replace the standard epistemic predicates. It is curious to note that the epistemic predicates appear to take precedence over other utilities in relatively methodology-free philosophies of science. This seems especially true of the philosophy of science traditionally associated with Hume, and of recent positivism. I have argued that it is appropriate thus to disassociate science from its methodologies for purposes of studying the logical features of scientific systems. But this disciplinary abstraction is not science, if what we mean by ‘science’ has reference to an ongoing historical enterprise. I would suggest that the larger the methodological perspective becomes, the smaller is the true/false content of science seen to be. In any case, it seems to me that the cardinal emphasis in science is not upon true/false decisions per se, but simply upon the fact that scientific outcomes provide decisions of some sort. And it is the methodologies, not the abstract (reconstructed) epistemologies, that tell us what will count as a decision.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See the essay by Salmon in note 3 above. I have employed Salmon’s thesis in another context in my “Consilience of induction and the problem of conceptual change in science”, in R.G. Colodny (ed.), Logic, Laws & Life, Some Philosophical Complications (Pittsburgh 1977); University of Pittsburgh Series in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 6.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    This is the prevailing theme of Laudan’s Progress and its Problems. Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    For a detailed and enlightened discussion of the idea of the technological dependency of science see Rescher’s Scientific Progress, 132–192.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Solomon
    • 1
  1. 1.Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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