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The term science (in Latin scientia, in Greek epistémé) means “knowledge.” In philosophy it refers strictly to proven ideas, to the exclusion of hypotheses or speculations. Until the twentieth century, proof remained mysterious, but what it achieves has been clear since antiquity: certainty, truth unshakable by criticism or doubt. In the nineteenth century Newtonian mechanics was admitted as scientific in this strict sense, and its overthrow was an earthquake. Scholars now agree that certitude is limited to logic and mathematics. Thus scientists have shifted their efforts toward securing for science a surrogate certainty—usually probability.
This shift raises many new questions, thus far unstudied. For example, is Isaac Newton’s theory still scientific? In 1962 the historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn spoke of “pre-science” and of “petrified science.” Which defunct theory should remain in the up-to-date science textbook? Kuhn suggested that it should present only the latest ideas. Which ones? If not proof, what makes an idea scientific? This is one version of the problem of the demarcation of science (as sets of statements) in disregard for other aspects of the scientific enterprise and its context— intellectual, educational, sociopolitical, and so on. Another possible point of departure is the social dimension of science. In the early seventeenth century the English philosopher Francis Bacon said that the advancement of science would improve the human condition, so investing efforts in scientific research would be the most efficient way to spend one’s spare time. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the early-nineteenth-century German philosopher, noted that the invention of gunpowder made city walls useless and so altered the political landscape. The German political philosopher Karl Marx in the nineteenth century equated science with technology (grosso modo) and declared all social and political changes as due to technological progress. Following on Marx, in 1939 the English physicist J. D. Bernal made the dubious claim that medieval science was superior to ancient science. In 1964 the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser rejected many of Marx’s sweeping generalizations but still declared the humanities mostly errors that express bourgeois ideology; he contrasted this ideology with science proper, which includes both the exact sciences and revolutionary dialectical materialism as he understood it. He did not trouble himself to demarcate these fields sufficiently to invite detailed discussions as to whether a certain theory, say, in physics or in economics, is or is not scientific. In 1919—decades before Althusser—the American economist Thorstein Veblen studied the nature of science in an effort to examine the validity of claims for the scientific status of diverse economic theories, including that of Marx. He demarcated science historically, by reference to the scientific ethos that, he said, these theories represent; this ethos is often called humanism, the same ethos that Althusser later dismissed as bourgeois. Veblen also drew attention to the wealth of empirical finds and role of theories as explanatory (as opposed to classificatory).
Twentieth-century social science developed ideas about specific aspects of society, including prestige—social prestige, the prestige of ideas, and the prestige of scientific ideas. (Prestige is enhanced by power over life; thus nuclear physics is most prestigious.) The concept of science must include the gathering of some sort of empirical information and the search for some interconnections between that information and certain ideas. Science then appears to involve intellectual activities of some sort.
Already four centuries ago Bacon deemed science the outcome of the indiscriminate collection of factual information and its use as a solid foundation on which to construct truly scientific ideas. His view, perhaps modified, prevails as the myth of science. (Being a myth proper, it is used at times in its original variant and at other times in modification.) The problem of demarcation then becomes: What do I know, and how can I show that I truly know it? This approach puts science in a psychological context, raising the question, as suggested by the twentieth-century philosopher of science Karl Popper: Is the psychology used to characterize science scientific? Science is also a publicly available fund of knowledge; the traditional view of it as psychological leads to the view (characteristic of the approaches known as reductionism and psychologism) of everything social as inherently psychological.
If science can be viewed as psychological, so too can mathematics, as suggested by Bacon and the nineteenthcentury English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill. The refutation of this notion led to the revolutionary shift of the view of knowledge from psychology to sociology—from my knowledge to ours—opening the way for the study of the enterprise of science, its prestige, and the social class of its practitioners. This in turn opens interesting secondary questions: Are the teaching of science and the administration of science scientific? (Is the dean of the faculty of science a scientist?) Is all sciencebased technology scientific? The sociology of science, a young discipline hatched in the early twentieth century, has not yet reached these questions. Such questions pose a difficulty: Science is international, but science-based professions are not. (Compare Japanese science with Japanese technology.) Come to think of it, how international is science? (Is establishing some lingua franca for science advisable?)
Here is a general dispute about all human studies: Existentialists and postmodernists want them to be utterly context dependent, case by case; positivists and analysts want them utterly context free. Seeking a middle ground in sociological laws to set limits on fragmentation, one may view social institutions as generalizations that determine the extent of context dependence. Money is one such institution. Rather than speak separately of the interests of every economic agent, we speak of their profit motive, which, as Georg Simmel argued in 1900, is an intermediary. This role of money makes it important and explains the success of the economic theory that eliminates it from its equations (by replacing prices with relative prices). The trouble is, while waiting for sociology to develop, how should social scientists proceed? They can make use of trivial sociology that at times is powerful. The suitable general concept here is that of games or science regulated by recognized rules (usually institutionalized). Games need not be problematic unless placed under the artificial limitations imposed in game theory, and as in the case of war games, they need not always be frivolous. As to the triviality of the sociology of games, it is advantageous: It stops the question-begging nature of the theory of science from becoming a nuisance. Thus the rules of the game are negotiable. The game of science then might, but need not, exclude science administration, science education, (science-based) technology, and more. Also the rules may be flexible. All this is a secondary issue, as it obviously should be, as long as science remains chiefly the search for ideas and information of a certain kind. The problem of demarcation now reappears: Which kind? Any kind we want.
As this view of science allows excessive freedom, it also invites instituting limitations—to some function, to some tradition, or to some existing paradigms. Paradigms can be ideas (Newton on gravity), preferred ideas (Einstein), institutions (the Royal Society of London, the local medical school, the patent office), traditions, perhaps ways of life. Approaches to problems via paradigms are limited: Taken too seriously, they prove troublesome as too much may depend on an innocent arbitrary choice. The paradigm of this trouble concerns choices of words resting on the view that the commonness of usage is its only justification. We do not want all usage justified, because we want language to function as a useful means for communication.
What then is the function of science? Among several functions, its most conspicuous is explanation, discovery, invention, better living. Jumping a few steps ahead, one can say that its chief function is the search for true explanations (as suggested by Newton, Einstein, and Popper). Its other functions are peripheral. Assuming this to be the case, one can view science as primarily but not solely the enterprise of approaching true explanations of increasing funds of publicly available information.
This is lovely but full of holes. How do we learn from experience? In what way are scientific theories empirical? Popper broke new ground when he said that theories are empirical when they exclude certain observations and to the extent that they do so. Testing them is, then, the search for these observations; the function of testing theories is to refute them so as to usher in their successors. Applying such a test to the theories of Marx and Sigmund Freud, Popper proved them nonempirical. This approach depends on the exact wording of theories, which may become testable by the enrichment of their contents. Popper later tried to square the two ideas: that the empirical is the refutable and that the aim of theorizing is the approximation of the truth (Einstein). The success of his attempt is under debate.
Robert K. Merton approached matters more historically. In 1938, in the wake of Max Weber, the German sociologist of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Merton identified the scientific revolution with the establishment of the Royal Society of London and the motive for it as Protestantism. He then developed a quasi-Weberian model of science, resting on the theory of science of William Whewell (1840, 1858). Merton’s views earned much fame and much criticism. The criticism is at times valid, as Whewell’s view is outdated, and at times based on trivial evidence that he idealized science (which he frankly admitted), both in the sense of presenting it at its best and in the sense that Weber recommended the developing of an ideal type. Reports on poor examples of laboratory life as if they were representative appeared as alleged refutations of his views, although fraud is hard to eradicate anywhere.
The presentation of science by Michael Polanyi (1958, 1966) is the most intriguing, even though he played down the rationality of science. He compared the sociology of science to that of the arts and deemed both artistic and scientific training as the tacit transmission of ways of life in workshops by way of personal example. Polanyi’s view is insightful and beneficial, although it overstresses tradition as endorsement while slighting the traditional encouragement of criticism and of independence (as suggested by Popper). Polanyi was in error when he ignored efforts to render the tacit explicit and open the results to criticism.
Polanyi’s views were further developed by Kuhn, who wished to extend the instruction of leaders beyond their immediate personal example limited to their workshops. Their products can travel and serve as substitutes for personal examples. These become chief examples or, in Greek, paradigms. A science is mature, he said, as it gains a ruling paradigm. This notion appealed to those who wanted their products to serve as paradigms, especially in social studies, where the craving for status is strong. Kuhn later admitted that a territory can be divided between paradigms. He also admitted that identifying a paradigm is difficult. This difficulty should not trouble followers of Polanyi, but it does bother followers of Kuhn, as he declared paradigms obligatory. Kuhn’s approach runs contrary to the view of Merton about the liberalism of science. Kuhn also declared his theory applicable only to the study of nature, not of society.
How do the studies of nature and society differ? Any discussion of this question has to be in accord with one view of science or another. One may of course go to and fro, using the best view of science to differentiate natural and social science and then taking the best differentiation one has to try to learn what it says about science. One thing is certain: Social sciences have a more important role to play in the discussion of science than was heretofore believed.
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