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hypotheses, science 'n' stuff



Hi all

just came back to read bits of the thread about science as/as not religion
etc. (This mail is about palaeontology, eventually).

I am unfortunate enough to have a fully paid up philosopher as a brother,
another as an ex-PhD supervisor, and to have ended up teaching the
philosophy of science myself (a grimace accompanies all three admissions).
It is a source of much amusement among philosophers that nearly all
scientists still cling to some version of Karl Popper's critical
rationalism, long after nearly all philosophers have abandoned it
(promising idea, refuted by William Warren Barkley III amongst others, and
never described science as it is actually practiced anyway). WWBIII, for
example, offers convincing arguments to support the thesis that all
approaches to knowledge are irrational. We always have to justify our
belief in any particular epistemological handhold - even logic - with
reference to something else (I believe in x because...). This means that in
justifying our belief in any methodology, we must necessarily enter a state
of infinite regress, constantly justifying our belief in one thing with
reference to a more fundamental thing, or make a leap of faith (I believe
in logic, so there!). A leap of faith is a leap of faith whether the
landing area is logic, maths, or god, so all approaches to knowledge must
be indefensible. WWBIII's reasoning also has the charming feature of
refuting itself,  which just makes it all the more attractive, IMHO.

So, basically, we can do what we like, can't we? Is this a reason to expect
Feyerabendian anarchy? Don't see why. Science has always been indefensible
methodologically, even in the Popper years, yet it has continued to provide
answers satisfying enough to convince those with the money to stump up cash
for research.

The point of all this is that palaeontology has always struggled under
Popperian notions of scientific methodology, because definitive
'refutations' of theories are relatively hard to set up (where do you stick
the thermometer?). The discipline has always sat most comfortably within
William Whewell's philosophy of consilience of induction, the prime mover
and shaker in Darwin's approach to science, for example. Such ideas were
laughed out of scientific circles during the Popper years (as was
palaeontology by some purists), but surely we can now be proud of the way
we go about things, at least in the sense that our necessarily pluralistic
methodology is demonstrably no dafter than anyone else's.

Um. So there.
Best wishes to all
Chris