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Overview and organizing themes This entry could have been given the title Scientific Methods and gone on to fill volumes, or it could have been extremely short, consisting of a brief summary rejection of the idea that there is any such thing as a unique Scientific Method at all. Both unhappy prospects are due to the fact that scientific activity varies so much across disciplines, times, places, and scientists that any account which manages to unify it all will either consist of overwhelming descriptive detail, or trivial generalizations. The choice of scope for the present entry is more optimistic, taking a cue from the recent movement in philosophy of science toward a greater attention to practice: To some extent, different scientists at different times and places can be said to be using the same method even though, in practice, the details are different. For most of the history of scientific methodology the assumption has been that the most important output of science is knowledge and so the aim of methodology should be to discover those methods by which scientific knowledge is generated. Science was seen to embody the most successful form of reasoning but which form? Section 2 surveys some of the history, pointing to two major themes. One theme is seeking the right balance between observation and reasoning and the attendant forms of reasoning which employ them ; the other is how certain scientific knowledge is or can be. Section 3 turns to 20th century debates on scientific method. In the second half of the 20th century the epistemic privilege of science faced several challenges and many philosophers of science abandoned the reconstruction of the logic of scientific method. Views changed significantly regarding which functions of science ought to be captured and why. For some, the success of science was better identified with social or cultural features. Historical and sociological turns in the philosophy of science were made, with a demand that greater attention be paid to the non-epistemic aspects of science, such as sociological, institutional, material, and political factors. Even outside of those movements there was an increased specialization in the philosophy of science, with more and more focus on specific fields within science. The combined upshot was very few philosophers arguing any longer for a grand unified methodology of science. Sections 3 and 4 surveys the main positions on scientific method in 20th century philosophy of science, focusing on where they differ in their preference for confirmation or falsification or for waiving the idea of a special scientific method altogether. In recent decades, attention has primarily been paid to scientific activities traditionally falling under the rubric of method, such as experimental design and general laboratory practice, the use of statistics, the construction and use of models and diagrams, interdisciplinary collaboration, and science communication. Sections 4—6 attempt to construct a map of the current domains of the study of methods in science. As these sections illustrate, the question of method is still central to the discourse about science. Scientific method remains a topic for education, for science policy, and among scientists. It arises in the public domain where the demarcation of science is at issue. Some philosophers have recently returned, therefore, to the question of what it is that makes science a unique cultural product. This entry will close with some of these recent attempts at discerning and encapsulating the activities by which scientific knowledge is achieved. Aristotle to Mill Attempting a history of scientific method compounds the vast scope of the topic. This section briefly surveys the background to modern methodological debates. What can be called the classical view goes back to antiquity, and represents a point of departure for later divergences. Perhaps the most serious inhibition to the emergence of the history of theories of scientific method as a respectable area of study has been the tendency to conflate it with the general history of epistemology, thereby assuming that the narrative categories and classificatory pigeon-holes applied to the latter are also basic to the former. Histories of theories of method would naturally employ the same narrative categories and classificatory pigeon holes. An important theme of the history of epistemology, for example, is the unification of knowledge, a theme reflected in the question of the unification of method in science. Those who have identified differences in kinds of knowledge have often likewise identified different methods for achieving that kind of knowledge see the entry on the unity of science. Related to the diversities of what is known, and how, are differences over what can be known. E distinguished the realms of things into the visible and the intelligible. Only the latter, the Forms, could be objects of knowledge. The intelligible truths could be known with the certainty of geometry and deductive reasoning. What could be observed of the material world, however, was by definition imperfect and deceptive, not ideal. The Platonic way of knowledge therefore emphasized reasoning as a method, downplaying the importance of observation. E disagreed, locating the Forms in the natural world as the fundamental principles to be discovered through the inquiry into nature. Aristotle is recognized as giving the earliest systematic treatise on the nature of scientific inquiry in the western tradition, one which embraced observation and reasoning about the natural world. In the Prior and Posterior Analytics, Aristotle reflects first on the aims and then the methods of inquiry into nature. A number of features can be found which are still considered by most to be essential to science. For Aristotle, empiricism, careful observation but passive observation, not controlled experiment , is the starting point, though the aim is not merely recording of facts. The aims of discovery, ordering, and display of facts partly determine the methods required of successful scientific inquiry. Also determinant is the nature of the knowledge being sought, and the explanatory causes proper to that kind of knowledge see the discussion of the four causes in the entry on Aristotle on causality. In addition to careful observation, then, scientific method requires a logic as a system of reasoning for properly arranging, but also inferring beyond, what is known by observation. Methods of reasoning may include induction, prediction, or analogy, among others. In the Organon reasoning is divided primarily into two forms, a rough division which persists into modern times. The basic aim and method of inquiry identified here can be seen as a theme running throughout the next two millennia of reflection on the correct way to seek after knowledge: The Aristotelian corpus provided the framework for a commentary tradition on scientific method independent of the science itself its physics and cosmos. In analysis, a phenomena was examined to discover its basic explanatory principles; in synthesis, explanations of a phenomena were constructed from first principles. During the Scientific Revolution these various strands of argument, experiment, and reason were forged into a dominant epistemic authority. The 16th—18th centuries were a period of not only dramatic advance in knowledge about the operation of the natural world—advances in mechanical, medical, biological, political, economic explanations—but also of self-awareness of the revolutionary changes taking place, and intense reflection on the source and legitimation of the method by which the advances were made. The struggle to establish the new authority included methodological moves. The Book of Nature, according to the metaphor of Galileo Galilei — or Francis Bacon — , was written in the language of mathematics, of geometry and number. This motivated an emphasis on mathematical description and mechanical explanation as important aspects of scientific method. Through figures such as Henry More and Ralph Cudworth, a neo-Platonic emphasis on the importance of metaphysical reflection on nature behind appearances, particularly regarding the spiritual as a complement to the purely mechanical, remained an important methodological thread of the Scientific Revolution see the entries on Cambridge platonists ; Boyle ; Henry More ; Galileo. In Novum Organum , Bacon was critical of the Aristotelian method for proceeding too quickly and leaping from particulars to universals, largely as dictated by the syllogistic form of reasoning which regularly mixed those two types of propositions. Bacon aimed at the invention of new arts, of principles, of designations and directions for works. The community of scientists could then climb, by a careful, gradual and unbroken ascent, to reliable general claims. Whewell would later criticize Bacon in his System of Logic for paying too little attention to the practices of scientists. It is to Isaac Newton — , however, that historians of science and methodologists have paid the greatest attention, by far. Given the enormous success of his Principia Mathematica and Opticks, this is understandable. This was viewed mainly on the continent as insufficient for proper natural philosophy. The Regulae counter this objection, re-defining the aims of natural philosophy by re-defining the method natural philosophers should follow. No more causes of natural things should be admitted than are both true and sufficient to explain their phenomena. Therefore, the causes assigned to natural effects of the same kind must be, so far as possible, the same. Those qualities of bodies that cannot be intended and remitted and that belong to all bodies on which experiments can be made should be taken as qualities of all bodies universally. In experimental philosophy, propositions gathered from phenomena by induction should be considered either exactly or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses, until yet other phenomena make such propositions either more exact or liable to exceptions. The scientist was not to invent systems but infer explanations from observations, as Bacon had advocated. This would come to be known as inductivism. In the century after Newton, significant clarifications of the Newtonian method were made. Colin Maclaurin — , for instance, reconstructed the essential structure of the method as having complementary analysis and synthesis phases, one proceeding away from the phenomena in generalization, the other from the general propositions to derive explanations of new phenomena. The emphasis was often the same, as much on the character of the scientist as on their process, a character which is still commonly assumed. The scientist is humble in the face of nature, not beholden to dogma, obeys only his eyes, and follows the truth wherever it leads. It was certainly Voltaire — and du Chatelet — who were most influential in propagating the latter vision of the scientist and their craft, with Newton as hero. Scientific method became a revolutionary force of the Enlightenment. See also the entries on Newton , Leibniz , Descartes , Boyle , Hume , enlightenment , as well as Shank for a historical overview. Not all 18th century reflections on scientific method were so celebratory. Both Hume and Kant influenced the methodological reflections of the next century, such as the debate between Mill and Whewell over the certainty of inductive inferences in science. The debate between John Stuart Mill — and William Whewell — has become the canonical methodological debate of the 19th century. Although often characterized as a debate between inductivism and hypothetico-deductivism, the role of the two methods on each side is actually more complex. On the hypothetico-deductive account, scientists work to come up with hypotheses from which true observational consequences can be deduced—hence, hypothetico-deductive. Because Whewell emphasizes both hypotheses and deduction in his account of method, he can be seen as a convenient foil to the inductivism of Mill. Knowledge is a product of the objective what we see in the world around us and subjective the contributions of our mind to how we perceive and understand what we experience, which he called the Fundamental Ideas. Both elements are essential according to Whewell, and he was therefore critical of Kant for too much focus on the subjective, and John Locke — and Mill for too much focus on the senses. An idea can be fundamental even if it is necessary for knowledge only within a given scientific discipline e. This distinguishes fundamental ideas from the forms and categories of intuition of Kant. Clarifying fundamental ideas is therefore an essential part of scientific method and scientific progress. The subjective plays a role through what Whewell calls the Colligation of Facts, a creative act of the scientist, the invention of a theory. A theory is then confirmed by testing, where more facts are brought under the theory, called the Consilience of Inductions. Whewell felt that this was the method by which the true laws of nature could be discovered: Down-playing the discovery phase would come to characterize methodology of the early 20th century see section 3. Mill, in his System of Logic, puts forward instead a narrower view of induction as the essence of scientific method. For Mill, induction is the search first for regularities among events. Among those regularities, some will continue to hold for further observations, eventually gaining the status of laws. One can also look for regularities among the laws discovered in one domain, i. These five methods look for circumstances which are common among the phenomena of interest, those which are absent when the phenomena are, or those for which both vary together. The methods advocated by Whewell and Mill, in the end, look similar. Both involve induction and generalization to covering laws. They differ dramatically, however, with respect to the necessity of the knowledge arrived at; that is, at the meta-methodological level see the entries on Whewell and Mill entries.
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