Demarcating the Philosophy of Science

Here we sit, scratching our heads, texting each other, having been asked to write an article on Philosophy of Science this time. Time ticks away, the deadline approaches and we have no clue how to go about this momentous task (it is momentous, trust me). Eureka! We suddenly realise we don’t even know what falls under the ambit of philosophy of science. And lo and behold we have accidently stumbled upon the famous ‘demarcation problem’ which is one of the central problems that philosophers of this field are looking to answer. This central problem of philosophy of science is defined as “the philosophical problem of determining what types of hypotheses should be considered scientific and what types should be considered pseudoscientific or non-scientific.”

And ironically the only answer that experts agree on is that there is no single, simple way to solve this problem. There are however certain criterion which have been introduced by philosophers time and again to distinguish science from the non-science. Larry Laudan in ‘The Demise of the Demarcation Problem’ says “Aristotle described at length what was involved in having scientific knowledge of something. To be scientific, he said, one must deal with causes, one must use logical demonstration, and one must identify the universals which ‘inhere’ in the particulars of sense. But above all, to have science one must have apodictic certainty. It is the last feature which, for Aristotle, most clearly distinguished the scientific way of knowing.”

Logical positivism held that only those statements which concern matters of fact can be called scientific. Introducing the notion of verificationism, the logical positivists believed that only statements about the world that are empirically verifiable or logically necessary are cognitively meaningful. As opposed to this, Karl Popper introduced the demarcation criterion of falsifiability. According to this criterion “statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible or conceivable observations”. Apart from these views, there have been many other criteria which have been introduced by philosophers and scientists. William Cecil Dampier Whetham, for example, defined science as “ordered knowledge of natural phenomena and of the relations between them.”

And after reading all these views, we were none-the-wiser about what constitutes science. We just realised that science has as many unanswered questions as does philosophy and that the two are so closely interconnected that it is impossible to distinguish the two. As Will Durrant writes “every science begins in philosophy and ends in art”.

-Shruti Slaria and Namrata Kumar


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