Book Review: The Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction

The book reviewed here is ‘The Philosophy of Science’ by Samir Okasha and narrated by Peter Ganim. Ganim’s narration gives a strong impression of authority being low pitched with clear articulation.

In the first part of the book Okasha looks at Aristotle and his philosophy and its relation to science. He remarks on how some of the assumptions he made would look very unrealistic to us today. He moves onto discuss Karl Popper and his influential view of falsifiability. He notes Popper’s comparison of psychoanalytic theory with marxism and einstein’s theory of relativity. He notes that Popper was impressed with the kinds of predictions that Einstein was able to make. However he goes onto note that there have been theories which have been through some rough times and the proponents have stood by the theories and gone on to show the validity of such theories. Thus a lack of falsification of a theory isn’t necessarily a strength. Popper’s attacks on psychoanalytic theory are discussed. However Freud wrote many books and papers on psychoanalytic theory. He had some very clear ideas on the stages of development but he also identified other phenomenon such as the defence mechanisms as well as the nature of dream material. I would argue that just because the theory has a wide domain and wasn’t explicitly characterised for testability, the concepts contained therein are not invalidated. It is an easy approach to dismiss the theory but altogether more difficult to make a close study and aim towards a refinement. Indeed contemporary research in the area of psychoanalytic theory is doing just that. Perhaps philosophy is more useful in articulating those parts of the theory which should be tested or amended rather than testing their validity which is the role of science.

Okasha then introduces the listener to Hempel’s covering law simplifying it as an explanation of science where valid explanations can be predictions and vice verasa. However Okasha shows this to be incorect with an easily understandable example. He shows that such a law would in practice would be asymmetric rather than symmetric as predicted by Hempel. He goes onto address some of the general flaws in the argument and suggests that the law should be relevant to the phenomenon in question as well as the need for a causal chain. However even here he points out the difficulties with cause and effect invoking the arguments of David Hume a staunch empiricist. Okasha also discusses the debate between the realists and the antirealists. The antirealists believe that science can only draw conclusion about that which is observable. Okasha takes some time to detail the arguments and counterarguments. He seems to come down in favour of the realists or at least I found the arguments in favour of the realists more convincing. One particularly strong argument is that even if things are observable it doesnt mean that they are observed.

Okasha then looks at Kuhn’s ideas from ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ and details Kuhn’s suggestion that different theories are incommensurable. He also notes Kuhn’s suggestion that perception is altered by the assumptions in a theory. This Kuhn argues causes the scientists to perceive differently (presumably at a top level of perceptual processing). However Okasha challenges this notion by highlighting other arguments that have taken place in this area. Thus Einstein and Newton’s theories require only a partial translation. Okasha also tells the listener that Kuhn suggested that paradigm shifts occurred because there were particularly forceful proponents of a model who were instrumental in their popularisation. Kuhn was apparently criticised in that he was describing a ‘psychology of crowds’. Okasha explains that Kuhn was trying to address the assumptions of the remove the logical positivists who viewed science as rational, progressive and objective. He suggests that Kuhn wanted to use a more relaxied understanding of what a rational approach is. The relationship between science and philosophy is discussed later in the book and Oshama Okasha highlights the debate about the appropriateness of the methods of the natural sciences to social science. Oshama Okasha also discusses the debate between evolutionists and creationists. Sociobiological theories are examined in detail to illustrate the nature of this debate.

Having no training in philosophy, I found Okasha’s book provided a useful overview of some of the debates occurring in the philosophy of science and gives pointers to further reading on the basis of the philosophers discussed here.

References

Samir Okasha. The Philosophy of Science: A  Very Short Introduction (Unabridged). Audible Inc. Narrator Peter Ganim.

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  23. Pingback: Books Reviewed to Date (Last Updated 7.4.12) « The Amazing World of Psychiatry: A Psychiatry Blog

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