Francis Bacon’s call for philosophers to investigate nature and ‘‘join in consultation for the common good’’ is one example of a powerful vision that helped to shape modern science. His ideal clearly linked the experimental method with the production of beneficial effects that could be used both as ‘‘pledges of truth’’ and for ‘‘the comforts of life.’’ When Bacon’s program was implemented in the following genera- tion, however, the tensions inherent in his vision became all too real. The history of (...) the Royal Society of London, from its founding in 1660 to the 42-year presidency of Joseph Banks (1778–1820), shows how these tensions led to changes in the way in which both the experimental method and the ideal of the common good were understood. A more nuanced understanding of the problems involved in recent philosophical analyses of science in the public interest can be achieved by appreciating the complexity revealed from this historical perspective. (shrink)
Various explanations for the success of science have become central to both sides of the philosophical debate over scientific realism. In this paper I argue that the recent attempt by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, in Leviathan and the Air-Pump, to provide a sociological explanation for the success of experimental science fails to make any significant contribution to this debate because of (1) the historical prejudgments that they employ and (2) their oversimplification of present-day philosophy of science.
The standard of disinterested objectivity embedded within the US Data Quality Act (2001) has been used by corporate and political interests as a way to limit the dissemination of scientific research results that conflict with their goals. This is an issue that philosophers of science can, and should, publicly address because it involves an evaluation of the strength and adequacy of evidence. Analysis of arguments from a philosophical tradition that defended a concept of useful knowledge (later displaced by Logical Empiricism) (...) is used here to suggest how the legitimacy of scientific findings can be supported in the absence of disinterested objectivity. (shrink)
After years of relative neglect, experimental science has once again become an object of scrutiny. Philosophers such as Hacking and Cartwright have examined contemporary science in an attempt to display the epistemic status of experimental results, while sociologists such as Shapin and Schaffer have focussed on historical cases in an attempt to display the conventional basis of experimentation. In this study I am concerned with the epistemological question: How can one justify the claim that it is rational to believe that (...) the methods of experimental science yield knowledge about the unobserved causal structures of our world? My answer to this question is produced by way of an historical analysis and philosophical retrieval of Robert Boyle's epistemological defense of experimental science. ;The first two chapters examine contemporary issues surrounding experimental science, particularly those challenges posed to its knowledge-producing ability by philosophical instrumentalists and sociological constructionists. I then turn to an examination of Boyle's version of experimental philosophy, which includes a detailed discussion of the background traditions from which he drew in its formulation, and his response to critics of experimentation, such as Hobbes and Spinoza. ;Boyle's work is not only historically important, but is philosophically significant in light of the fact that he developed epistemological strategies in defense of experimental techniques at a time when it was not clear that experimentation would become the standard of modern science. His philosophy is characterized as a sophisticated and complex method that employs the elements of inductive, retroductive, and hypothetico-deductive reasoning. This combination, he argues, yields a system of checks and balances on sense, reason, and ideology that, while fallible, offers us the best assurance that we have of coming closer to the truth about the processes operative in our world. ;In a concluding chapter it is argued that Boyle's philosophy of science, by virtue of its richness and complexity, is sufficient to respond to the general challenges to scientific objectivity posed by sociologists of knowledge, and the more specific challenges to the realist import of the theoretical claims of experimental science posed by philosophers such as Laudan and van Fraassen. (shrink)
Ever since Hilary Putnam claimed that a realist philosophy is “the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success of science a miracle,” explanations for the success of science have proliferated in the philosophical literature (Putnam 1975, p. 73). Realists argue that the success of science, as exhibited by our ability to accurately predict and explain a wide range of phenomena, indicates that our theories have identified some of the underlying causal structures of the world (e.g., Boyd 1985, Ellis 1985, McMullin (...) 1984, Salmon 1984). Nonrealists counter that success cannot provide a warrant for belief in the truth of scientific theories because there have been successful theories in the past that are now believed to be false (Laudan 1981b). Instead, they offer a naturalized account whereby our theories are designed to be successful predictors and only those which fulfill this goal survive (Laudan 1987, van Fraassen, 1980). (shrink)
In her recent case study, Elizabeth Potter attempts to show how Boyle's experimental method was biased by gender considerations. Part of her argument focuses on the combination of the “invisibility” of women in Boyle's published work together with his unpublished comments on female chastity, and part concerns Boyle's rejection of the animistic explanation of his air pump experiments by Francis Line. I argue that the historical and biographical elements of the case make Potter's arguments questionable. In addition, I address whether (...) and how such historical cases can shed light on current debates about gender issues and argue that Boyle's methodological writings could be used to better advantage in the feminist cause. (shrink)
The most comprehensive collection available in paperback of Bacon’s philosophical and scientific writings, this volume offers Bacon's major works in their entirety, or in substantive selections, revised from the classic 19th century editions of Spedding, Ellis, and Heath. Selections from some of Bacon's natural histories round out this edition by showing the types of compilations that he believed would most contribute to the third part of his Great Instauration. Each work has a separate brief introduction indicating the major themes developed. (...) In her general Introduction, Sargent gives a biographical sketch of Bacon's early life, education, and legal career, discusses the major components of his philosophical project, and traces his influence on subsequent natural philosophy. In addition, she looks at the primarily negative evaluations of Bacon's methodological writings by philosophers of science in the first half of the twentieth century, the reassessments of his works that took place as the influence of logical empiricism declined, and the current revival of interest in Bacon that coincides with the focus on experimental practice today. A bibliography and index complete the text. (shrink)
Experimental philosophers of 17th-century England recognized a complex relationship between scientific values and civic virtues. Francis Bacon, motivated by his desire to promote the common good by producing useful knowledge, noted that the advancement of learning required a cooperative research effort guided by civility, charity, toleration, and intellectual modesty. This essay examines how the founders of the Royal Society of London, including Robert Boyle, put his advice into action by their efforts to establish an expanded and inclusive society of investigators (...) that would strengthen the habits of discourse in a civil society, while furthering the economic, political, and social benefits of scientific inquiry. (shrink)