Débat N.Maxwell – M. Puech (2)

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Vous pourrez trouver ci-dessous la réponse de Michel Puech à la réaction de Nicholas Maxwell, publiée le 30 mars.

Cette réponse est suivie d’une courte synthèse de l’échange, par N. Maxwell.

Vous pouvez également lire la recension effectuée par Michel Puech du livre de N. Maxwell

>> Michel Puech

I am glad there is just one point of misconception in my review – I think there is just one point in your response.

I agree on the following:

(1)   Philosophy of science (as a separate discipline) has no influence at all on real science — it is one of the first things I say to my students.

(2)   Real science is influenced by the conception of science by scientists themselves, this conception being “standard empiricism” as you define it.

For the sake of coherence we have to admit that some internal and largely implicit philosophy of science reigns in science. So the question is about the origin of this (bad) philosophy of science. It seems to me that scientists, from Newton to Feynman, have no respect for disciplinary boundaries and do philosophy of science themselves. They are justified in doing so. I would like to say that:

(3) As a separate discipline or internal professional view, a bad philosophy of science is

a) separate from the content (results) of science

b) damaging to its rationality, its scope, and its use

c) the object of a possible critique

d) this argument seems to be at work in WWWS in the following passages for instance (where science and a bad philosophy of science are as separate as the fish and the newspaper wrapped around it):

p. 10 : “The suggestion That I have to make in this book is that one major reason why [it turned out so bad] is that the scientific community, by and large, has sought to make science conform to a bad ideal for science, a bad idea as to what it is to be scientific, a bad philosophy of science.”

p. 59 : “This true marvellous human creation, science, had been wrapped up in a quite grotesquely inadequate philosophy of science (…)”

p. 101 : “So dogmatically gripped are they [generations of physicists] by a philosophy of science that they abandon the heart of their subject.”

p. 167 : “Standard empiricism is a seriously defective, unrigorous methodology for science, which singularly fails to capture the implicit methodology in science which is responsible for the successful, progressive character of science.”

Moreover, I would like to maintain a difference between “what people do” and the conception they have of what they do – what they believe or say about what they do. It am always struck by how scientists do things and talk about them (when “widening their thinking about their practice, instead of simply practising science”).

>> Nicholas Maxwell

In connection with what you say about « philosophy of science », when I talk about a bad philosophy of science I am using the phrase « a philosophy of science » to mean « a view about what the aims and methods of science ought to be ».  It very definitely does not refer to the academic discipline – unless I make it clear I am referring to the discipline.  This is rather clear, I would have thought in the passage you cite below from page 10 of the book where I use as synonyms the phrases « a bad ideal for science, a bad idea as to what it is to be scientific, a bad philosophy of science.”

The « bad philosophy of science » in question is standard empiricism, which I see as something for which scientists themselves are responsible.  It is, to a considerable extent, built into the institutional structure of science.  Almost nothing to do with the academic discipline of philosophy of science – except that the discipline takes (one or other version of) standard empiricism for granted and, in the old days, tried to justify it, and, of course, failed lamentably in the attempt.  (Philosophers of science today seem even to have given up on this endeavour.)  Standard empiricism probably goes back to the decision of the Royal Society, when first formed, to exclude all religious, political, moral and social issues from its deliberations.

One of the implications of aim-oriented empiricism is that philosophy of science – in both senses – ought to be an integral part of science itself – aim-oriented empiricist science becoming rather more like what used to be called « natural philosophy ».  (The Royal Society decision slowly, over time, squeezed values, philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, even methodology, out of natural philosophy and, by around the middle of the nineteenth century had converted it into science.  The term « scientist » was I think invented by Whewell; perhaps here a philosopher of science did have a slight influence on science itself.  Faraday, I note with pleasure, held out against the fashion, and always regarded himself as a « natural philosopher ».)

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