The Philosophy of Science: Science and Objectivity


George Couvalis

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    Striking features of the modern era are the growth of scientific knowledge and the growth of the power and influence. of the natural sciences. The natural sciences have been widely used as a model for many kinds of human activities and regarded as the acme of human achievement. They have also been widely reviled for distorting human life and veiling crucially important truths. Yet many textbooks on the philosophy of the natural sciences are either unnecessarily technical or simplistic. In addition, many of them fail clearly to connect with fields of general interest, such as epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. Despite this, the philosophy of science has rightly had and continues to have an important influence both within and outside philosophy. A danger posed by its indirect influence is that half understood or dubious views are taken up and used to defend outrageous claims. Sociologists, literary critics and historians are among the worst offenders, but philosophers are by no means immune. There is thus a need for a textbook, for higher education students and academics who have some philosophical knowledge, which presents material in a sophisticated but non-technical manner.

    I have tried to meet this need here by discussing central arguments in the literature in a way that makes clear their relevance to a wide range of issues and corrects dubious interpretations of them. I also vigorously present a view of my own as it is important in these times to defend objectivity and realism. The philosophy of science has become too much a technical domain that only indirectly contributes to areas to which it is relevant. It should be intelligently discussed in the mainstream of philosophical thought, as it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

    The book often refers to important developments in the history of science. Readers do not need to understand any more of either the science or the history than is explained in the text to understand the philosophical relevance of the material discussed. In addition, while the text works through a large number of ideas derived from a variety of sources, I list at the end of every chapter some suggested texts for further reading which require little background knowledge, as well as some texts which require more background. Material referred to in the main text but not in the lists of further reading is generally more suitable for detailed research. However, many of the items listed can be read with profit by any intelligent reader, and people attempting to read this material should not be intimidated by jargon or technical notation. Often key points become clear if one continues reading. In any case, a quick look at encyclopaedias of science and technology or in The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy will often clarify things. The notes to the text take up issues which may be of concern to people who know the philosophical, historical, or scientific literature well. Students should feel free to ignore them.


    There are a large number of people I wish to thank. I particularly wish to thank Linda Burns for her useful comments and for coping with me while I was writing. Josep Corbi, Tobies Grimaltos, Graham Nerlich, Belinda Paterson and Ian Ravenscroft have been particularly kind in providing me with helpful comments on many aspects of the book. Richard Brown, Greg Currie, Marty Davies, Gerard O'Brien, Ian Hunt, Pamela Lyon, Chris Mortensen, Ken Sievers and Peter Woolcock have also provided me with useful comments. Sandra Egege proofread the manuscript with great thoroughness. The participants in the Flinders/ Adelaide research seminar series and my students have also made useful suggestions. Catherine Dale, Sally Fraser and Karen Gordon have provided me with some valuable administrative help.

    The Department of Epistemology and Metaphysics at the University of Valencia in Spain provided me with a congenial place in which to begin work on the manuscript. I would like to thank the members of the department for their kindness and their comments. Mercedes Torrevejano provided me with every facility a visitor could wish for. Josep Corbi, Carmen Fayos, Alfredo Garriga and Tobies Grimaltos were particularly kind.

    The National Technical University of Athens provided with me with administrative help, a room and helpful feedback. I thank the staff and students there, particularly Pantelis Nicolacopoulos.

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