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Philosophy of science

Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.

There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all. In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.

While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivism movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements' meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a "paradigm," the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period. Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology.

Subsequently, the coherentist approach to science, in which a theory is validated if it makes sense of observations as part of a coherent whole, became prominent due to W. V. Quine and others. Some thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould seek to ground science in axiomatic assumptions, such as the uniformity of nature. A vocal minority of philosophers, and Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) in particular, argue that there is no such thing as the "scientific method", so all approaches to science should be allowed, including explicitly supernatural ones. Another approach to thinking about science involves studying how knowledge is created from a sociological perspective, an approach represented by scholars like David Bloor and Barry Barnes. Finally, a tradition in continental philosophy approaches science from the perspective of a rigorous analysis of human experience.

Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein's general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.

Selected Article

Moritz Schlick around 1930
The Vienna Circle (in German: der Wiener Kreis) was a group of philosophers who gathered around Moritz Schlick when he was called to the Vienna University in 1922. They were organized in a philosophical association named Verein Ernst Mach (Ernst Mach Society). Among its members were Moritz Schlick, chairman of the Ernst Mach Society, Gustav Bergmann, Rudolf Carnap, Herbert Feigl, Kurt Gödel, and Otto Neurath.

With the exception of Gödel, members of the Vienna Circle had a common attitude towards philosophy, characterized by two main beliefs: first, experience is the only source of knowledge; second, logical analysis performed with the help of symbolic logic is the preferred method for solving philosophical problems.

Selected image

Harmonia Macrocosmica
Credit: Andreas Cellarius

In astronomy, heliocentrism is the belief that the Sun is at the center of the Universe and/or the Solar System. The word is derived from the Greek (Helios = "Sun" and kentron = "Center"). Historically, heliocentrism is opposed to geocentrism and currently to modern geocentrism, which places the earth at the center.


"Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice."

Albert Einstein in a 1926 letter to Max Born

Selected biography

Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) was an American intellectual, most famous for his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SSR). In SSR, he presented the idea that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but instead undergoes periodic revolutions which he calls "paradigm shifts", in which the nature of scientific inquiry within a particular field is abruptly transformed. The enormous impact of Kuhn's work can be measured in the changes it brought about in the vocabulary of the philosophy of science: besides "paradigm shift", Kuhn raised the word "paradigm" itself from a term used in certain forms of linguistics to its current broader meaning, coined the term "normal science" to refer to the relatively routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm, and was largely responsible for the use of the term "scientific revolutions".

Did you know...

The EPR thought experiment, performed with electrons. A source (center) sends electrons toward two observers, Alice (left) and Bob (right), who can perform spin measurements.

  • ...that Scientism is an ideology which holds that science has primacy over other interpretations of life?



Philosophy of science

Anti-psychiatry • Determinism • Empiricism • Epistemology • Evolution • Free will • History of science • Holism • Ontology • Philosophy of biology • Philosophy of physics • Pseudoscience • Reductionism • Skepticism • Sociology of scientific knowledge • VitalismRationalismPropositionPositivismObjectivityKnowledge

Further Reading

  • Bernard H. Baumrin. 1963. Philosophy of Science, Volume 1.Publisher: Taylor & Francis, 1963
  • Alexander Rosenberg. 2000.Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. Publisher-Psychology Press. ISBN 041515281X, 9780415152815
  • Merrilee H. Salmon. 1992. Introduction to the Philosophy of Science: A Text by the Members of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Pittsburgh. Publisher- Hackett ISBN 0872204502, 9780872204508
  • Martin Curd and Jan A. Cover. 1998. Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Publisher-W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393971759, 9780393971750
  • Stanley J. Tambiah. 1990. Magic, Science and Religion and the Scope of Rationality. Publisher Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521376319, 9780521376310
  • Terry F. Godlove, Jr. 1989. Religion, Interpretation and Diversity of Belief: The Framework Model from Kant to Durkheim to Davidson. Publisher -CUP Archive, 1989 ISBN 0521361796, 9780521361798
  • Gerd Buchdahl. 1969. Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Publisher- The MIT Press-ISBN-10-0-262-02057-2
  • Rudy Rucker. 2004. Infinity and the Mind:The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite. Publisher-Princeton University Press. ISBN: 9780691121277
  • Nancy Frankenberry, Hans H. Penner. 1999.Language, truth, and religious belief: studies in twentieth-century theory and method in religion. Publisher-Scholars Press. ISBN 0788505408, 9780788505409
  • Peter Godfrey-smith. 2003. Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science Publisher- University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226300633, 9780226300634


  • Cassandra Pinnick, George Gale. Philosophy of Science and History of Science: A Troubling Interaction. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2000), pp. 109-125
  • Watson Davis. Science, Philosophy, Religion Find Ground for Common Front. The Science News-Letter, Vol. 38, No. 12 (Sep. 21, 1940), pp. 180+188+190
  • Karola Stotz, Paul E. Griffiths. Biohumanities: Rethinking the Relationship Between Biosciences, Philosophy and History of Science, and Society. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 83, No. 1 (March 2008), pp. 37-45
  • Massimo Pigliucci. The Borderlands Between Science And Philosophy: An Introduction. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 83, No. 1 (March 2008), pp. 7-15


Philosophy of science: Biology • Chemistry • Information • Language • Logic • Mathematics (Education, Probability) • Mind (Artificial intelligence, Perception) • Physics (Space & time, Thermal & statistical physics) • Social sciences (Environment, Psychology) • Technology

Plato at the School of Athens

Epistemology: A priori and a posteriori • Analysis • Analytic-synthetic distinction • Belief • Causality • Coherentism • Constructivist epistemology • Contextualism • Descriptive knowledge • Determinism • Empiricism • Faith and rationality • Fallibilism • Foundationalism • Gettier problem • Holism • Infinitism • Innatism • Internalism and externalism • Knowledge • Objectivity • Positivism • Proposition • Rationalism • Reductionism • Regress argument • Reliabilism • Simplicity • Skepticism • Speculative reason • Theaetetus (dialogue) • Theory of forms • Theory of justification • Transcendental idealism • Truth • Uniformitarianism • Vienna Circle • Vitalism

Ontology: Being • Category of being • Change[disambiguation needed] • Cogito ergo sum • Dualism • Embodied philosophy • Entity • Existence • Existentialism • Identity • Integrative level • Physical object • Properties • Reality • Relativism • Scientific realism • Subjectivism • Substance theory • Type theory • Universal • Unobservables

General: Anti-psychiatry • Commensurability • Demarcation problem • Evolution • Free will • History of science • Pseudoscience • Rhetoric of science • Scientific method • Scientism • Sociology of scientific knowledge

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