Science and Scepticism

Science and Scepticism

John Watkins
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Science and Scepticism
    Book Description:

    This book contains important technical innovations, including comparative measures for the testable content, depth, and unity of scientific theories.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5736-4
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Part One

    • CHAPTER 1 Scepticism and Irrationalism
      (pp. 3-38)

      The scepticism to which I will try to provide an answer in this book is neither Academic scepticism, which said that there is but one thing one can know, namely that one can know nothing else, nor Pyrrhonian scepticism, which said that one cannot even know that, nor Cartesian scepticism, which said that even logic and mathematics are dubious, but Humean scepticism. Humean scepticism allows that each of us can have a good deal of egocentric knowledge about our own beliefs, feelings, and perceptual experiences. It also allows that logical truths can be known. But it denies that one can...

    • CHAPTER 2 Probabilism
      (pp. 39-78)

      There is much plausibility in the claim that Humean scepticism results from interpreting proposition (III), the deductivist thesis, too simplistically, by taking only classical logic into account, and that it can be dissolved by ‘employing a logic of a peculiarly subtle or highly complex character’, in the words of George Boole (1854, p. 273), namely probability logic. In classical logic the only relations recognised between statements are entailment, independence, and inconsistency. Thus if we have evidencee,consisting of a conjunction of singular existential statements, and a universal hypothesish,there are only two possibilities:eandhare either...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Inductive Ascent
      (pp. 79-120)

      Hume divided sceptical arguments into those that are antecedent, and those that are consequent, to ‘science and enquiry’ (1748, pp. 149–150). The argument for probability-scepticism presented in §2.4 presumably belongs in the first category. The only assumption it makes concerning the de facto state of our actual knowledge is that much of it is uncertain. And its conclusion is that if any of our knowledge is certain, this cannot be used to grade uncertain hypotheses as more or less probably true. The sceptical arguments to be developed in this chapter will belong in Hume’s second category. They will make...

  7. Part Two

    • CHAPTER 4 The Optimum Aim for Science
      (pp. 123-165)

      Speaking of ‘the end and purpose of science’ Popper declared: ‘The choice of that purpose must, of course, be ultimately a matter of decision, going beyond rational argument’ (1934, p. 37). That appears to suggest that different groups of scientists may adopt different, perhaps even conflicting, aims for their science; but if that happened, instead of one republic of science would there not be different tribes ‘a-whoring after other gods’? Moreover, our hopes of defeating rationality-scepticism would fade. Faced by a choice between competing theories, sayTiandTjrationality-scepticism says that we never have any good cognitive reason to...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Optimum Aim Elucidated
      (pp. 166-224)

      What I am claiming to be the optimum aim for science has so far been depicted only in an informal and intuitive way. The key idea, in (B1), of one explanation beingdeeperthan its predecessor is in urgent need of clarification; and so is the idea, in (B2), of one theory being more unified than its predecessor. Moreover, it has turned out, in recent years, to be difficult to give precision to the idea in (B3) of one theory having more predictive power or a greater testable content than another in cases where one revises the other. Since this...

    • CHAPTER 6 Deductivism and Statistical Explanation
      (pp. 225-246)

      Our conjecturalist version of the Bacon-Descartes ideal endorses proposition (III), the deductivist thesis. And this means that it requires the explanandum of a scientific explanation to be deducible from the explanans. Clearly, for premiseshto constitute an explanans for an explanandumethere must besomekind of derivability ofefromh; and according to proposition (III), there is only one valid kind of derivability, namely deducibility.

      There are three ways in which a proposed explanation put forward in the actual course of science may fall short of the deductivist ideal. The first way is rather innocuous. It...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Empirical Basis
      (pp. 247-278)

      Our aim for science (B*) calls for even deeper and more testable explanations; but explanations of what and testable against what? The natural answer is: empirical facts. But we are trying to elaborate a conception of science that is invulnerable to Humean scepticism; and, as we saw in §3.1, Humean scepticism hits level-1 statements, or singular statements that purport to describe empirical facts, as well as level-2 generalisations and other statements higher up in the “inductive ascent”. So if we are to show that there can be rational adoption and rejection of higher level hypotheses under the guidance of (B*),...

    • CHAPTER 8 Corroboration
      (pp. 279-336)

      We now have both an aim for science, claimed to be the optimum aim, and the idea of an empirical basis for science, consisting of level-1 statements which, though conjectural, are well tested against perceptual experience and quasi-rationally accepted. (Henceforth, when I speak ofevidenceI will mean something reported by a statement incorporated into the empirical basis.) The question now is whether, equipped with these, we can answer Hume by defeating rationality-scepticism while retaining probability-scepticism. We could defeat rationality-scepticism if we couldknow, at least in a good many cases, which one of a set of competing hypotheses, given...

    • CHAPTER 9 Epilogue
      (pp. 337-355)

      One daunting problem remains. In Part Two of this book Humean scepticism has been outflanked so far as theoreticians’ choices between competing theories are concerned: a theoretician has a very good reason to accept a theory, inductive support for which is zero, if that theory is the one in its field that best fulfils the optimum aim for science. But being the one that best fulfils this aim by no means implies that a practical decision maker has any reason toacton it rather than to be guided by some alternative and conflicting hypothesis. What an agent would wish...

    (pp. 356-380)
    (pp. 381-382)
    (pp. 383-387)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 388-388)