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Tuesday
Dec092008

What is Science?

[sent to analytic in response to the question, "what is the proper definition of science?"]
 
... it depends upon whether you mean "science" to be a title, a social club, a behavior, or a state of affairs for propositions (certainty) -- or some complicated mixture of all of these things. (If you do intend a recipe, beware that cooking has variation).

[don't know if you can see this with proper formatting, but here are some remarks from an old paper of mine]:
_________________________________________________________________________

1.0.          What is Science?
1.1.                     People may mean different things when they use the word “science.”
1.1.1.      Some may merely mean a group of academic scholars with a shared interest in a given subject and a professional regimentation. Science as “organized scholarly professionalism.” With this way of speaking one might say that any organized department in a college or university today is a “science.” Art appreciation is a sort of “science” in this way of talking. The people who practice art appreciation are serious about what they do, they teach certain conventions to others, develop and carry on “knowledge,” write about what me might call “disciplinary matters,” and so forth. In this sense of talking, law is also a science. So is communications. So is theater.
1.1.1.1.              But astrology, for example, is not.  It cannot be a science according to this vernacular because the academy has not christened it. Same with religion (although not religious studies). Were these pursuits to gain membership in academia – and were students to major and enroll in these subjects – then, they, too, would be “science” according to this way of speaking.    
1.1.2.      Others may mean it to refer to those who study some phenomena in the external world. Hence, mathematics or logic would not be a “science” according to this way of talking. Only the data-gatherers and world-watchers would count. Only empirical pursuits would quality. (Of course, there would be debate about what is “empirical”).
1.1.3.      Others may say that science is the study of only natural phenomena in the external world, which means that subjects like geology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, biology, are in, but subjects such as economics, sociology, psychology, etc., are not counted. Indeed, there is the need to say of these latter pursuits that they are “social science.” This grammar suggests something adjective, which is an indication that behavioral sciences are not exemplars of the idea. (Similar ideas come from the expression “hard” or “soft” science, or natural science).
1.1.4.      Still others may attempt to define science according to a specific methodological criterion. Science is, e.g., the process of falsifying empirical hypotheses. Note that this suggests science is a behavior, not a subject. It is an activity. Presumably, anyone could do science so long as they behaved properly.
1.1.4.1.              Let us imagine a creation scientist who spent productive years falsifying certain evolutionary hypotheses. As to this behavior, we would have to say it was “scientific,” although we might not say that other aspects of the behavior – e.g., obstinately believing in a created world – would count as “science.” (This would be because the latter behavior was not an attempt to falsify an empirical hypothesis). Hence, if science is a behavior, any social group can both engage and not engage in it when furthering the goals of the group.
1.2.                       My Intentions.—
1.2.1.      It is not my intention in these remarks to declare what “science” is. Philosophers who seek to turn semantics into legalisms do not understand what philosophy is. I want to do something different. All I really want to do is to identify a particular kind of behavior that scholars who are often said to be “scientists” engage in. When I identify this behavior, X, I will say that “science engages in X,” but what is meant is only that “a way of talking exists such that a distinct group of scholars, Y, called ‘scientists,’ engage in X.”  It would not be a proper response to say of this premise, “political science doesn’t do this, and they are also considered a ‘science,’ too.”  This objection plays a language game. It misunderstands what is said.
 
Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.
Assistant Professor
Wright State University
New Website: http://seanwilson.org
SSRN papers: http://ssrn.com/author=596860


________________________________
From: gerardoprim
To: analytic@yahoogroups.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 7:07:50 PM
Subject: [analytic] Is falsability enough for the demarcation of science?


Hello, I'd like to know what do you think about the demarcation of
science vs nonscience. Is falsability a necessary condition? Is it a
sufficient condition? What are the other relevant criteria? Or should
we abandon the goal of demarcation?

Best Regards,
Gerardo.

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