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Review: Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction
I had low expectations for this book. It was assigned for some humanities class im taking (Studium generale). However, the book is a quite decent introduction to the field. Happily surprised.
The first two statements are called the premisses of the inference,
while the third statement is called the conclusion. This is a
deductive inference because it has the following property: if the
premisses are true, then the conclusion must be true too. In other
words, if it’s true th at all Frenchman like red wine, and if it’s true
th at Pierre is a Frenchman, it follows th at Pierre does indeed like
red wine. This is sometimes expressed by saying th at the
premisses of the inference entail the conclusion. Of course, the
premisses of this inference are almost certainly not true - there
are bound to be Frenchmen who do not like red wine. But that is
not the point. What makes the inference deductive is the
existence of an appropriate relation between premisses and
conclusion, namely th at if the premisses are true, the conclusion
must be true too. Whether the premisses are actually true is a
different matter, which doesn’t affect the status of the inference as
This distinction is not a good idea. In that case, the existence of a deductive and invalid argument is impossible. I wrote about this area years ago, but apparently never finished my essay, or published it. It is still on my desktop.
Philosophers of science are interested in probability for two main
reasons. The first is th at in many branches of science, especially
physics and biology, we find laws and theories th at are formulated
using the notion of probability. Consider, for example, the theory
known as Mendelian genetics, which deals with the transmission
of genes from one generation to another in sexually reproducing
populations. One of the most important principles of Mendelian
genetics is that every gene in an organism has a 50% chance of
making it into any one of the organism’s gametes (sperm or egg
cells). Hence there is a 50% chance th at any gene found in your
mother will also be in you, and likewise for the genes in your
father. Using this principle and others, geneticists can provide
detailed explanations for why particular characteristics (e.g. eye
colour) are distributed across the generations of a family in the
way that they are. Now ‘chance’ is ju st another word for
probability, so it is obvious th at our Mendelian principle makes
essential use of the concept of probability. Many other examples
could be given of scientific laws and principles th at are expressed
in terms of probability. The need to understand these laws and
principles is an important motivation for the philosophical study of
Author forgot about sex-linked genes, which complicate matters.
Modern science can explain a great deal about the world we live in.
But there are also numerous facts th at have not been explained by
science, or at least not explained fully. The origin of life is one such
example. We know that about 4 billion years ago, molecules with
the ability to make copies of themselves appeared in the primeval
soup, and life evolved from there. But we do not understand how
these self-replicating molecules got there in the first place. Another
example is the fact th at autistic children tend to have very good
memories. Numerous studies of autistic children have confirmed
this fact, but as yet nobody has succeeded in explaining it.
Wiki seems to be of the exact opposite opinion.
Since the realism/anti-realism debate concerns the aim of science,
one might think it could be resolved by simply asking the scientists
themselves. Why not do a straw poll of scientists asking them about
their aims? But this suggestion misses the point - it takes the
expression ‘the aim of science’ too literally. When we ask what the
aim of science is, we are not asking about the aims of individual
scientists. Rather, we are asking how best to make sense of what
scientists say and do - how to interpret the scientific enterprise.
Realists think we should interpret all scientific theories as
attempted descriptions of reality; anti-realists think this
interpretation is inappropriate for theories th at talk about
unobservable entities and processes. While it would certainly be
interesting to discover scientists’ own views on the realism/anti-
realism debate, the issue is ultimately a philosophical one.
Good idea. Is that a case for expertimental filosofy?
Cudnt find any data from a quick google.
Cladists argue th at their way of classifying is ‘objective’ while th at of
the pheneticists is not. There is certainly some tru th in this charge.
For pheneticists base their classifications on the similarities
between species, and judgements of similarity are invariably partly
subjective. Any two species are going to be similar to each other in
some respects, but not in others. For example, two species of insect
might be anatomically quite similar, but very diverse in their
feeding habits. So which ‘respects’ do we single out, in order to
make judgements of similarity? Pheneticists hoped to avoid this
problem by defining a measure o f ‘overall similarity’, which would
take into account all of a species’ characteristics, thus permitting
fully objective classifications to be constructed. But though this idea
sounds nice, it did not work, not least because there is no obvious
way to count characteristics. Most people today believe that the very
idea o f ‘overall similarity’ is philosophically suspect. Phenetic
classifications do exist, and are used in practice, but they are not
fully objective. Different similarity judgements lead to different
phenetic classifications, and there is no obvious way to choose
Surely someone has tried factor analysis to find this overall similarity factor, if there is one? It's not that hard to find out. Make a huge list of things to measure to species. Measure it all in say, 1000 species, and then factor analyze it. Is there an overall factor similar to g? If not, then the hypothesis is disconfirmed.
I checked. Yes, someone did this. http://ib.berkeley.edu/courses/ib200a/lect/ib200a_lect09_Lindberg_phenetics.pdf
Seems to be common practice. So this can avoid the charge of arbitrary classifications.
A similar issue arises regarding the relation between the natural
sciences and the social sciences. Ju st as philosophers sometimes
complain o f ‘science worship’ in their discipline, so social scientists
sometimes complain o f ‘natural science worship’ in theirs. There is
no denying that the natural sciences - physics, chemistry, biology,
etc. - are in a more advanced state than the social sciences -
economics, sociology, anthropology, etc. A number of people have
wondered why this is so. It can hardly be because natural scientists
are smarter than social scientists. One possible answer is that the
methodsof the natural sciences are superior to those of the social
sciences. If this is correct, then what the social sciences need to do
to catch up is to ape the methods of the natural sciences. And to
some extent, this has actually happened. The increasing use of
mathematics in the social sciences may be partly a result of this
attitude. Physics made a great leap forward when Galileo took the
step of applying mathematical language to the description of
motion; so it is tempting to think that a comparable leap forward
might be achievable in the social sciences, if a comparable way of
‘mathematicizing’ their subject matter can be found.
Ofc it can! All data confirm this, ex. http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/?p=3925
Social science has the triple disadvantage of having 1) less smart researchers, 2) a more complex field, 3) fewer experimental options (due to ethical and monetary problems).
To be fair to the creation scientists, they do olfer arguments th at are
specific to the theory of evolution. One of their favourite arguments
is that the fossil record is extremely patchy, particularly when it
comes to the supposed ancestors of Homo sapiens.There is some
truth in this charge. Evolutionists have long puzzled over the gaps
in the fossil record. One persistent puzzle is why there are so few
‘transition fossils’ - fossils of creatures intermediate between two
species. If later species evolved from earlier ones as Darwin’s theory
asserts, surely we would expect transition fossils to be very \
common? Creationists take puzzles of this sort to show that
Darwin’s theory is ju st wrong. But the creationist arguments are
uncompelling, notwithstanding the real difficulties in
understanding the fossil record. For fossils are not the only or even
the main source of evidence for the theory of evolution, as
creationists would know if they had read The Origin o f Species.
Comparative anatomy is another important source of evidence, as
are embryology biogeography, and genetics. Consider, for example,
the fact that humans and chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA.
This and thousands of similar facts make perfect sense if the theory
of evolution is true, and thus constitute excellent evidence for the
theory. Of course, creation scientists can explain such facts too.
They can claim th at God decided to make humans and chimpanzees
genetically similar, for reasons of His own. But the possibility of
giving ‘explanations’ o f this sort really ju st points to the fact that
Darwin’s theory is not logically entailed by the data. As we have
seen, the same is true o f every scientific theory. The creationists
have merely highlighted the general methodological point th at data
can always be explained in a multitude of ways. This point is true,
but shows nothing special about Darwinism.
The author is confused about transitional fossils. All fossils are transitionary. There is no point at which
Human sociobiologists (henceforth simply ‘sociobiologists’) believe
th at many behavioural traits in humans can be given adaptationist
explanations. One of their favourite examples is incest-avoidance.
Incest - or sexual relations between members of the same family -
is regarded as taboo in virtually every human society, and subject to
legal and moral sanctions in most. This fact is quite striking, given
th at sexual mores are otherwise quite diverse across human
societies. Why the prohibition on incest? Sociobiologists offer the
following explanation. Children born of incestuous relationships
often have serious genetic defects. So in the past, those who
practised incest would have tended to leave fewer viable offspring
than those who didn’t. Assuming th at the incest-avoiding behaviour
was genetically based, and thus transmitted from parents to their
offspring, over a number of generations it would have spread
through the population. This explains why incest is so rarely found
in human societies today.
If this response is correct, it means we should sharply distinguish
the ‘scientific’ objections to sociobiology from the ‘ideological’
objections. Reasonable though this sounds, there is one point it
doesn’t address: advocates of sociobiology have tended to be
politically right-wing, while its critics have tended to come from the
political left. There are many exceptions to this generalization,
especially to the first half of it, b ut few would deny the trend
altogether. I f sociobiology is simply an impartial enquiry into the
facts, what explains the trend? Why should there be any correlation
at all between political opinions and attitudes towards
sociobiology? This is a tricky question to answer. For though some
sociobiologists may have had hidden political agendas, and though
some of sociobiology’s critics have had opposing agendas of their
own, the correlation extends even to those who debate the issue in
apparently scientific terms. This suggests, though does not prove,
th at the ‘ideological’ and ‘scientific’ issues may not be quite so easy
to separate after all. So the question of whether sociobiology is a
value-free science is less easy to answer than might have been
This typical claim has been found to be wrong. And it also doesnt fit with other facts, like that Wilson is a socialist. The father of sociobiology! Dawkins has also expressed leftist beliefs.
Critics of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology have advanced an adaptationists-as-right-wing-conspirators (ARC) hypothesis, suggesting that adaptationists use their research to support a right-wing political agenda. We report the first quantitative test of the ARC hypothesis based on an online survey of political and scientific attitudes among 168 US psychology Ph.D. students, 31 of whom self-identified as adaptationists and 137 others who identified with another non-adaptationist meta-theory. Results indicate that adaptationists are much less politically conservative than typical US citizens and no more politically conservative than non-adaptationist graduate students. Also, contrary to the “adaptationists-as-pseudo-scientists” stereotype, adaptationists endorse more rigorous, progressive, quantitative scientific methods in the study of human behavior than non-adaptationists.