| || ||BOOK BRIEF|
Introduction to the Philosophy of Science: A Text by Members of the Dept. of the History and Philosophy of Science of the Univ. of Pittsburgh. Merrilee Salmon et al. Prentice Hall (1992). ISBN 0-13-663345-5. 458 pp. $34.67 paper.
This is a fine introductory survey of contemporary issues in philosophy of science, assembled by members of one of the most renowned philosophy departments in the U.S. It will pose probing questions for the teacher who enjoys musing on the conceptual puzzles of science. On the other hand, it offers little background for teaching "the nature of science." Following many contemporary philosophical approaches to science, the contributors focus on the metaphysical and often unanswerable problems that inspire philosophers, bypassing most of the methodological issues relevant to practicing scientists.
For example, one chapter addresses confirmation of scientific hypotheses and presents (clearly and concisely) the fundamental problem of induction. Logically, we can never jump from a few (or even many) cases to universal laws: we cannot generate "universal" evidence. The final comment, however, is telling: "As Hume makes abundantly clear, however, life--and science--go on in spite of these troubling philosophical doubts" (p. 66). Yes, science does effectively make these leaps. What we need to know--and teach--is when these leaps are appropriate, how they work, when they occasionally malfunction, and--most importantly, perhaps--how we correct the inevitable errors when they occur.
Another chapter addresses the question of realism. Do our scientific theories represent a real world? We read about the landmark positions of John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Rudolf Carnap on the meaning of scientific theories and evidence. It seems that sceptics and their relativist cousins will perpetually challenge whether justified belief is ever possible. Yet scientists seem to accept some theories as justified and reject others as unjustified without ever addressing these questions. Why? Should we jetison the work of science as philosophically uninformed? Or do philosophers, perhaps, need to address a different set of questions? For instance, researchers seem far more interested in whether theories are reliable than in what or how theories represent (see also "Are Atoms Real?" SHiPS News 2/1). Questions of realism are for the armchair epistemologist, concerned with the nature and limits of knowledge; questions of reliability are for the philosopher who can tell us more about epistemics: about how we develop and assess knowledge. As a result, the picture of science that the debates in this volume portray can be misleading. The book conveys the current status of philosophy of science very well, while also illustrating its significant weaknesses.
In the remaining two-thirds of the book, readers will find discussions of particular conceptual issues raised in the different sciences. Teachers may simply find engaging the discussions (in separate chapters) of space and time, determinism, the nature of perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary fitness and teleology, and the implications of accounting for behavior on the neurological level.
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