A Historical Introduction to the
Philosophy of Science

Ch. 17: The Justification of
Evaluative Standards

Book cover: A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by John Losee

The following is a summary of the seventeenth chapter of John Losee's book, A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (fourth edition), with some ancillary notes.

Philosophers discussed in this chapter: Imre Lakatos (1922–74); Thomas Kuhn (1922–96); Larry Laudan (1941—); Neurath (1882–1945)

(p. 236) Philosophers of science reconstruct progress in science differently:

  1. Francis Bacon – successive inductive generalizations on expanding factual base
  2. Karl Popper – sequence of bold conjectures that survive refutation
  3. Imre Lakatos – articulation of scientific research programmes

Lakatos's Incorporation Criterion

Lakatos's criteria of theory replacement:

  • incorporation of older rival theory by explaining its previous successes
  • addition of corroborated excess context (experimentally verified novel facts)

Lakatos suggested applying the same criteria to reconstructions of scientific progress using two steps:

  1. rationally reconstruct the history of scientific progress according to each methodology
  2. compare each rational reconstruction against the history of science

Result: favour the methodology that reconstructs more of the history of science as rational.

(p. 237) Lakatos claimed his criterion superior to Popper's falsificationist methodology as Popper's reconstruction renders, for example, Newtonians continued research in the face of the falsifying orbit of Mercury as irrational.

Kuhn on the Circularity of Lakatos' Appraisal

Kuhn charged Lakatos's procedure as circular because Lakatos held that:

  1. Philosophies of science imply rational reconstructions of scientific growth.
  2. Each reconstruction delimits an 'internal history' of science from its 'external history'.
  3. The history of science serves as a standard for the evaluation of rival methodologies.
  4. Every 'history of science' is an interpretation of the historical record from a particular standpoint.

(p. 238) For Kuhn, there is no methodologically neutral vantage point for evaluating methodologies. Lakatos rejected Popper's falsificationism using Lakatos's own biased reconstruction of science.
[LA: Even though there is no completely methodology-neutral way of writing the internal history of science, Carnap, Hempel, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, et al, by and large agree on which episodes count in the internal history of science. In this case, they agree that Newton's work on dynamics in the face of counter-instances is part of the internal history of science. None the less, as I argue in my 'Imre Lakatos: A Critical Appraisal', Lakatos's meta-methodology is incomplete as a normative theory of rationality.]

Losee observes that in Lakatos's favour, Lakatos grants that even his methodology may be superseded in future by a new methodology that reconstructs more of the internal history of science.

Laudan's "Standard-Case" Model

Book cover: Progress and Its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth by Larry Laudan

To remedy the circularity of Lakatos's meta-methodology, Laudan suggested favouring the methodology that reconstructs as rational the most number of standard-case episodes in the history of science.

Laudan's candidates for standard-cases approved by scientists today are:

  1. Newtonian Mechanics beat Aristotelian Mechanics in 1800.
  2. Kinetic Theory of Heat beat the Caloric Theory in 1900.
  3. General Theory of Relativity beat Newtonian Mechanics in 1925.

(p. 239) Losee sees Laudan's choice of best methodology as open-ended as:

  1. methodologies in the future may reconstruct more of the standard-cases as rational
  2. scientists in the future may agree on a different list of standard-cases

For Losee, a further problem is that Laudan's meta-methodology allows for the ad hoc inclusion of evaluative principles that explain a single recalcitrant standard-case.

But to block such an ad hoc move is to invoke a higher-order principle of rationality. Laudan has not escaped the problem of circularity he had hoped to avoid.

The Sociological Turn

(p. 240) For Lakatos and Laudan:

  • standards of rationality explain the 'internal history of science'
  • social and political forces explain the 'external history of science'

In the 1970s and 80s, Bloor, Barnes and Shapin's 'Strong Programme' sought to explain both the internal and external history of science using the same social forces of power and conformity.

But 'Strong Programme' theorists ignore the fact that sometimes the cause of a scientist's belief is an anterior belief that a reason is correct (e.g., Aristotle's belief about how fish conceive).

(p. 241) Explaining Aristotle's belief by reference to reasons is more informative than explaining by reference to social reinforcement. Another case is Rutherford's belief about the density of nuclei.

Losee thinks it implausible that social factors can account for all aspects of theory change in science.

Normative Naturalism

(pp. 241–2) Normative naturalists hold that:

  • evaluative standards are assessed just like any scientific theory
  • philosophy of science does not sit above science
  • evaluative standards are provisional
  • evaluative standards are truly normative

(p. 242) Neurath's Normative Naturalism stated that:

  1. empirical inquiry, evaluation standards and their selection are not outside of science proper
  2. there are no inviolable/transempirical principles in science
  3. all propositions in science can be disputed
  4. no propositions in science are foundational, not requiring validation from other propositions
  5. every proposition in science requires justification
  6. knowledge claims are subject to the pragmatic social and political requirements of the day
  7. the normative claims of reason comes from the requirement for explanatory coherence

Neurath saw growth in science as analogous to the rebuilding of a ship at sea, plank by plank.

(p. 243) Underlying Neurath's 'Boat' analogy are three assumptions:

  1. scientific enquiry is ongoing with no end in sight
  2. pressures from within science and without from society require continual scientific adjustments
  3. there is no rock-solid outside-of-science source for adjustments

For Neurath, evaluative principles are themselves learned during the boat's voyage. Even observation-statements can be questioned (hence Neurath's anti-foundationalism).

An observation report may be rejected if:

  1. other observers observe something contrary
  2. the observer was not in the right state for an accurate observation
  3. the observer is proved unreliable
  4. the observer is too committed to their theory
  5. the observer is anxious to please their research group

Contra the Logical Reconstructionists, Neurath concluded that observation reports are not the incorrigible foundation for science.

(p. 244) Quine built on Neurath's 'Boat' analogy with his 'field of force' analogy in which experience constrains how adjustments are made to the system.
[LA: Imagine lines of force impinging on a sphere directed towards the centre of the sphere and in which observation statements sit at the periphery, scientific laws sit further in, theories sit even deeper within the sphere and where the laws of logic sit at the centre.]

When there is a conflict between a theory and an observation, Quine teaches that scientists exercise a choice between:

  • making minimal adjustments at the periphery of the force field; or
  • making drastic adjustments deep within the force field that affect all regions

In choosing a response, Quine recommended the normative principles of:

  • simplicity (Ockham's Razor)
  • conservatism (minimal adjustments to the system)

Justification and Inviolable Principles

Lakatos and Laudan assumed a hierarchy (ladder) of levels of justification:

  1. laws and theories (lowest level)
  2. evaluative standards
  3. inviolable justificatory principles (highest level)
Book cover: The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Philosophical Papers Volume 1 by Imre Lakatos

(p. 245) Contra Lakatos and Laudan, Shapere's 'non-presuppositionist' view saw all levels subject to change and criticism. For Shapere, as there is no suprahistorical standpoint for evaluating standards of rationality, judgments of rationality are dependent on the historical context.

In 1984, Laudan came to accept Laudan's historical relativism. He came to reject the 'ladder of justification' model for a 'reticulational model' in which theories, methodological principles and cognitive aims work reciprocally (see diagram on p. 246).

(pp. 245–6) Cognitive aims include the mutually inconsistent aim of Newtonian science to allow only 'manifest qualities' (observed properties) vis-à-vis theories positing unobserved entities.

(p. 246) Laudan preferred his 'reticulational model' over the evaluative relativism of 'Kuhnian holism'. For Kuhn, during periods of revolution scientists replace theories, methodological rules and cognitive aims as a complete package.

Contra Kuhn, Laudan saw replacements as rational and piecemeal. For Laudan, methodological rules are hypothetical imperatives: If goal y is the aim, then do x (see table on p. 247 for examples).

(p. 247) Laudan used inductive reasoning to support means-end correlations because:

  • it uses empirical generalization
  • philosophers universally accept it as a 'criterion of choice'
  • it exemplifies learning from experience

Losee points to exceptions to Laudan's inductive generalization of reliable means-end correlations (see table on p. 248).
[LA: But these are not examples of the highest-order and posited inviolable methodological rules at the top of the ladder of justification. Each is a heuristic for a particular, historically situated research programme.]

(p. 248) Doppelt objected that Laudan's reticulational model is missing rational criteria for when to modify cognitive aims. Laudan offered two criteria for rational change. The newly posited cognitive aim must be:

  1. realizable (Losee questions whether this criterion is reasonable)
  2. consistent with the values guiding theory choice

Doppelt responded that in cases where a cognitive aim clashes with values, scientists may ditch one or the other. Either mutually exclusive choice is rational on Laudan's model.

(p. 249) Laudan continued to maintain that his model was an objective standard of rationality.

Contra Kuhn's and Laudan's relativism, Worrall resurrected the hierarchical model of justification by insisting on three fixed principles of evaluation:

  1. test theories against plausible rivals
  2. prefer non ad hoc accounts to ad hoc accounts
  3. give greater weight to a causal hypothesis where an experiment attempts to shield against other possible causal factors

Worrall likened these three principles to the modus ponens rule of inference in formal logic.

Lauden countered that Worrall's principles are substantive and therefore subject to revision. Lauden dispelled the charge of relativism by maintaining that the rules of justification change only under the rational constraints of realizability and consistency.

Worrall conceded that some methodological principles have changed, but insisted that some principles are not revisable. Otherwise, it makes no sense to say that we learn more about how to conduct scientific enquiry.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Is Kuhn right in thinking that Lakatos's justification of his methodology by appealing to the history of science is circular?
  2. Is Laudan's meta-methodology an improvement on Lakatos's?. If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. Is the 'Strong Programme' in the sociology of science a form of epistemological relativism?
  4. Can social factors account for all of the decisions of scientists about theory choice?
  5. What evaluative principles can you think of that illustrate Neurath's point that evaluative principles are learned on the journey of science?
  6. How useful is Quine's force field analogy? Are there unquestionable foundations in science?
  7. Did Laudan succeed in defending an objectivist account of principles of rationality?
  8. If there are inviolable standards of rationality, what are they?

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