Posts tagged with empiricism

[Scientific theories can be accurate and even make novel predictions, whilst being ultimately wrong. Scientific theories can also be inaccurate, whilst being ultimately right.]

Consider specifically the state of ætherial theories in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The electrical fluid, a substance which was generally assumed to accumulate on the surface rather than permeate the interstices of bodies, had been utilized to explain inter alia the attraction of oppositely charged bodies, the behavior of the Leyden jar, the similarities between atmospheric and static electricity and many phenomena of current electricity.

Within chemistry and heat theory, the caloric æther … explain[ed] everything from the role of heat in chemical reactions to the conduction & radiation of heat and … standard problems of thermometry.

Within the theory of light, the optical æther functioned centrally in explanations of reflection, refraction, interference, double refraction, diffraction and polarization. (Of more than passing interest, optical æther theories had … made … startling[, true] predictions, e.g., Fresnel’s prediction of a bright spot at the center of the shadow of a circular disc: a surprising prediction which, when tested, proved correct. If that does not count as empirical success, nothing does!)

There were also gravitational (e.g., LeSage’s) and physiological (e.g., Hartley’s) æthers which enjoyed some measure of empirical success. It would be difficult to find a family of theories in this period which were as successful as æther theories. Compared to them, 19th century atomism … a genuinely referring theory … was a dismal failure. Indeed, on any account of empirical success which I can conceive of, non-referring 19th-century æther theories were more successful than contemporary, referring atomic theories.

[According to] J.C. Maxwell…the æther was better confirmed than any other theoretical entity in natural philosophy!

Larry Laudan’s A Confutation of Convergent Realism, Philosophy of Science, 48(1), 19-49

via David Corfield

[In] Against Method … [Paul] Feyerabend divides his argument into an abstract critique followed by a number of historical case studies.

The abstract critique is a reductio ad absurdum of … the belief that a single methodology can produce scientific progress. Feyerabend … identifies four features of methodological monism: the principle of falsification, a demand for increased empirical content, the forbidding of ad hoc hypotheses and the consistency condition.

He then demonstrates that these features [together would] imply that science could not progress….


(Source: Wikipedia)

[T]he implication of authority in science is rather odd given that the fifteenth-century revival of science in western Europe was a reaction against argument from authority.

…Precisely what “science” denotes is … unclear, but the present mental associations of objectivity and progress ensure that … using this prestigious epithet confers an air of authority; … would anyone attend the London School of Economics and Political Alchemy?

Highlights from the episode on Sir Francis Bacon

  • "Male" scientists probe and ravage "female" nature.
  • Christian radicals funded science because of Daniel 12:9. They believed it was Last Days.
  • The New World symbolizes leaving the comfort of the Mediterranean. Aristotelian science = comfort; empirical science = new.
  • Society must “return” from squalid 17th century London to our right and natural state of ease and comfort. In the imagined past food was abundant, disease nonexistent, people happy and well-clothed — and knowledge as in Eden.
  • Science as the path of technological advancement back to Paradise — what Bacon meant by “Knowledge Is Power”

This programme aired on 2 April 2009.

History. The news that’s never too old to be relevant.

(Source: BBC)