Friday, October 09, 2009

Philosophy of Science

I've been having some interesting discussions lately at a general philosophy of science blog called It's Only a Theory (great name for such a blog). It has got me thinking about the connection between the study of academic composition and the philosophy of science.

Back in 1837, Bernard Bolzano published his Theory of Science (Wissenschaftslehre). In it, he argued that "logic should be a theory of science", and by this he meant something very particular, namely, "that science which indicates to us how we should present the sciences in scholarly books suited to their purpose" (38). Like (at least the early) Wittgenstein, he believed that science is best approached, to use Heidegger's formulation in Being and Time, as "an interconnection of true propositions" (H. 357). (I'll write another post after the break about why Heidegger's definition of the "logical conception of science" is important.) The question, for Bolzano, was how best to arrange these propositions so that they could efficiently express what we know about the world. He recognized that there are many more true propositions than known propositions, but argued, to my mind rightly, that we do well to write the ones that we do know down in a clear and surveyable manner.

Bolzano talked about "scholarly books" or "treatises" (Lehrb├╝cher, arguably translatable as "textbooks"), which was a natural genre to focus on 170 years ago. But his general aim, separate from the question of genre, was to understand "how we can divide up the entire domain of truth in particular parts in an appropriate way and cultivate what belongs to each of them and present it in written form" (41). Today, I would argue, the "theory" or "logic" of science is about how to present scientific results in academic journal articles.

Also, with the progress we have made from logical positivism (in the philosophy of science) to social constructivism (in science and technology studies), leaving open how far along that route we want to travel, it may be useful to shift our focus from the logic of our store of knowledge ... Bolzano asks us to imagine the totality of human knowledge "written down in a single book" (35) ... to the rhetoric of our conversation about what we know. After all, our knowledge is constantly being revised and the more clearly we express what we think we know, the more efficiently those revisions can take place.


Presskorn said...

A bit on the side: Your post got me wondering whether it would be correct to say that the early Wittgenstein's view of science was as "interconnected true propositions".

Obviously, the early Wittgenstein thought of science (as such) as being co-extensional with the totality of true propositions, but whether they could be thought of as interconnected within the framework the Tractatus is quite unclear: The law of causality is nonsense except as a mere form, there is no synthetic apriori, all propositions are contingently true & the thesis of extensionality explicitly states that the true values of (elementary) propositions are strictly independent of each other.

Yet, the early Wittgenstein's celebatory remarks on Hertz seems to contain a vague idea of interconnectedness. Hertz's 'The Priciples of Mechanics' is praised for rewriting classical mechanics without the concept of "force" thereby avoiding certain confusions related to this concept.

With reference to PI§122, we might say that Hertz was arranging classical mechanics in a more perspecious manner. Such an idea of a proper arrangement of in the prensentation of mechanics would indeed sit well with Bolzano's thoughts. But it's still unclear how it sits with the Tractarian theory of propositions.

Just thinking out aloud & looking forward to the Heidegger-post & enjoy the break....

Thomas said...

I don't think Heidegger meant that the facts that the propositions referred to were to be "interconnected" (by forces or causes). It seems natural to say that the relations of implication that obtain between propositions, however, constitute "interconnections", i.e., logical ones, propositional ones.

It is true that atomic propositions are supposed to be independent in truth value. But I don't think Wittgenstein would say that science only deals in atomic propositions. Natural laws do imply connections between facts. (This actually tells us something about how strange those supposed "atomic facts", which he ultimately abandoned, really were.)

Presskorn said...

Science according to the Tractarian vision, surely, does not deal exclusively in atomic propositions – it deals in atomic propositions OR complex ones; there is no third option.

But it occurs to me that causal laws, on the Tractarian vision, is just empirical generalizations of such facts (complex or atomic or whatever), which happen to have no exemptions to ‘F(x) implies G(x)’, where F is a type event (not a token event) and in which is a G is a type event (not a token event).

If causal laws are construed in such a Tractarian way, it would be HIGHLY misleading to say that we know anything about causally related propositions (complex or otherwise), because in this case all we know is that some logical operator applies to some propositions.
(And that’s no sort of knowledge, because logical operators, per definition, applies to propositions.)

And on ‘introspection’ such a view of causal laws supports all the commonly demands on causal laws such as support of contrafactional conditionals etc. etc. (While maintaining the Tractarian thesis of being merely a form.)

It simply says that F as a matter of fact always implies G – and that tells us nothing about any propositions (atomic or complex or otherwise) which contain F-like or G-like predicates.

On a Tractarian vision, that is...

Presskorn said...

My last comment is really only concerned with what occurs in the last parenthesis of your comment.... (If it is related to anything that you say at all...)