6.19.2010

the philosophy of science

Here's a really interesting section in Edward Feser's book on Aquinas! He's talking about how science has putatively rejected the Aristotelian notion of final causation, but in practice acts otherwise. Final causation, or the end, goal, or purpose of a thing, has been rejected by scientists as irrelevant and possibly anti-scientific, as purpose is an immaterial thing. Part of the project of modern science is to prove the philosophy of materialism, (look at neuroscience, for example) so they avoid talk of anything that even resembles such antiquated ideas as "purpose". But it seems that scientists have been unable to avoid using the concept, as Feser explains on page 49 of his book
Moreover, physicists do not in fact embrace a regularity as a law of nature only after many trials, after the fashion of popular presentations of inductive reasoning. Rather, they draw their conclusions from a few highly specialized experiments conducted under artificial conditions. None of this is consistent with the idea that science is concerned with cataloguing observed regularities. But it is consistent with the Aristotelian picture of science as in the business of uncovering the hidden natures or powers of things. Actual experimental practice indicates that what physicists are really looking for are the inherent powers a thing will naturally manifest when interfering conditions are removed, and the fact that a few experiments, or even a single controlled experiment, are taken to establish the results in question indicates that these powers are taken to reflect a nature that is universal to things of that type.
In my experience, as something of a scientist myself, this is absolutely true. No one would ever want to admit that what scientists are really doing is uncovering universal truths about a things nature and end, but it is probably the case.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Science is based on observation.
Religion is based on a book about what a guy said 2000 years ago.
Didn't they charge Galileo with heresy for that earth moves around the sun thing. Silly observations getting in the way of holey scripture.

Zach said...

hmmm..

that has nothing to do with this comment, or anything that i've said on this blog.

but yes, galileo was charged with the suspicion of heresy and the church later apologized and admitted it made a mistake. there was a lot of political context that influenced that trial that had nothing to do with religious dogma.