Towards an Objective Theory of Rationality

9. Conclusion

Book cover: Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha

In this essay, I have assumed that Lakatos' MSRP qua historico-sociological thesis is substantially correct. My main purpose here was to provide a more thorough vindication of his MSRP qua theory of rationality. I had argued that Lakatos' defence of his theory of rationality, by appealing to its success as a historiographical research programme rationally reconstructing the history of science, was inadequate. This was because Lakatos had provided us with no reason for selecting the history of science as the exemplar of rationality, and so his MHRP appears arbitrary. Once it is supplemented with a prima facie argument for the rationality of science, his MHRP does serve as a partial vindication of his MSRP.

Nonetheless, the MHRP partly presupposes the adequacy of the MSRP qua theory of rationality. This fact, coupled with the reliance on a prima facie argument for the rationality of science, and Lakatos' poor public relations job in defending this rationality independently of the history of science, made the defence of the MSRP qua theory of rationality incomplete. I had sought to remedy this deficiency by laying the groundwork for a defence of the MSRP that was independent of the history of science.

My method for achieving this was to stipulate what we ordinarily mean by epistemological terms, such as 'truth' and 'rational', and to decide on the bearers of truth. I then indicated the epistemic relationship of truth-bearers to evidence in an objectivist epistemology and argued that this relationship is satisfied by three necessary conditions. Because these three conditions in isolation underdetermine theory choice, I had argued for two additional fundamental conditions.

Further elaboration of these five conditions requires an ontological-cosmological framework for dealing with observation statements. Applying the five fundamental criteria for theory choice, I argued that realism provides the best metaphysical framework. Drawing on recent work on the theory-ladenness of our observation language and on the psychology of perception, I then specified two explicit conditions for the acceptance of observation statements. I further argued that the use of controlled double-blind procedures is necessitated by these conditions.

No new elements appear in the epistemology developed here, for they can all be found elsewhere. What I have tried to achieve is the systematisation of these elements into one coherent framework, with that framework provided by the requirements of an objectivist epistemology. This framework of seven conditions is characterised by two kinds of criteria. The 'criteria of dependence' define the necessary logical relationships between theory and evidence while the 'criteria of independence' focus on the required freedom of evidence from theory and bias. If, as I argue, Lakatos' MSRP is reflected in the conditions elucidated here, then his theory of rationality is on the way to becoming vindicated independently of the history of science. There is much more work to be done in developing the outline that I have given here. If Lakatos was correct in his view that the history of science is the history of the application of the MSRP, then, hopefully, I have gone some way in answering Feyerabend's question, 'What's so great about science?'

Copyright © 2016

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