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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

Billiard balls
Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. No wholly random, spontaneous, mysterious, or miraculous events occur, according to this philosophy.

The idea that the entire universe is a deterministic system has been articulated in both Western and non-Western religion, philosophy, and literature. Determinism in the West is often associated with Newtonian physics, which depicts the physical matter of the universe as operating according to a set of fixed, knowable laws. The "billiard ball" hypothesis, a product of Newtonian physics, argues that once the initial conditions of the universe have been established the rest of the history of the universe follows inevitably.

The concept of determinism is extensively used in chaos theory (refer splinter cell chaos theory), used to predict the results of seemingly-random events such as rolling a die. However, determinism is a classical concept and cannot be used in new contextual frameworks such as in quantum mechanics. Determinism presupposes the Cartesian partition that quantum mechanics does not encompass

Selected image

Schrödinger's cat
Credit: Anarkman

A common representation of the uncertainty principle is Schrödinger's cat, a seemingly paradoxical thought experiment devised by Erwin Schrödinger that attempts to illustrate the incompleteness of an early interpretation of quantum mechanics when going from subatomic to macroscopic systems.


"The truth is more important than the facts." ... "There is nothing more uncommon than common sense."

Selected biography

Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte (full name Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte) (January 17 (recorded January 19), 1798 - September 5, 1857) was a French thinker who coined the term sociology. He is remembered for being the first to apply the scientific method to the social world.

One universal law that Comte saw at work in all sciences he called the 'law of three phases'. It is by his statement of this law that he is best known in the English-speaking world; namely, that society has gone through three phases: Theological, Metaphysical, and Scientific. He also gave the name "Positive" to the last of these because of the polysemous connotations of the word.

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


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