In an earlier post, I complained about one case of scientific theorizing taking place in a philosophical vacuum. There’s a lot of philosophy of science out there if only scientists knew to look for it.
If you are interested in the conditions for knowledge, you should know that philosophers have thought about this already. A lot. Their arguments will inform your work, and since a lot of modern philosophy of science is undertaken by philosophers with scientific training you can’t use man-on-the-mountain stereotypes as an excuse to ignore them.
If you are searching for a jumping-off point, an approachable overview of the history, themes and important works can be found in:
- John Losee. A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. 4 edition (Oxford University Press, 2001).
Coverage of recent developments, usually with a topically arranged collection of selected writings, can be found in any good introductory philosophy of science text or syllabus. One such is…
- Janet Kourany. Scientific Knowledge, 2nd edition (Wadsworth Publishing, 1997)
One of the big questions that scientists like to think about is, what makes scientific knowledge different from unscientific claptrap? And yes, philosophers have beat you to it. So stretch yourself beyond the criterion of falsifiability – yes, that’s no longer being taken seriously as a sufficient point of demarcation – and read up on more recent work.
To help researchers understand the demarcation problem, I’ve culled a short list from my graduate thesis project which examined the scientific status of cosmology. You might also enjoy listening to audio of Imre Lakatos’ lecture on Science and Pseudoscience.
The following are keystone texts.
- Larry Laudan. ‘The Demise of the Demarcation Problem’ in Michael Ruse, ed. But Is It Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1988) 337.
- Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave, eds. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965 ,Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).
- Paul Feyerabend. Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (London: Verso, 1975).
- Karl Popper. Science, Pseudo-Science, and Falsifiability in Conjectures and Refutations : the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Routledge, London, 1963).
- Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
The persistence of Creation Science and Intelligent Design in American culture introduced the demarcation problem to US courtrooms. As might be expected, philosophers couldn’t stay away from this in their commentary…
- Susan Haack. Trial and Error: The Supreme Courts Philosophy of Science. American Journal of Public Health 95:S1 (July 2005) S66.
- Philip Kitcher. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1982).
More amazingly, philosopher Michael Ruse appeared as a witness in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1981). It led to a debate between Michael Ruse and Larry Laudan, among others, that ranged from the question of demarcation to the wisdom of putting philosophers on the witness stand. Much of this is collected in:
- Michael Ruse, ed. But Is It Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1988) 337.
Important contributions include:
- Michael Ruse. “Creation Science is Not a Science” Science, Technology, & Human Values, 7:40 (Summer, 1982) 72.
- Larry Laudan. “Commentary: Science at the Bar – Causes for Concern” Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 7, No. 41 (Autumn, 1982) 16.
- Michael Ruse. “Response to the Commentary: Pro Judice” Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 7, No. 41 (Autumn, 1982) 19.
- Philip L. Quinn. ‘The philosopher of science as an expert witness’ in Michael Ruse, ed. But Is It Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1988) 367.
A more recent, -if somewhat weighty – coverage can be found here:
- Gary Edmond & David Mercer. ‘Conjectures and Exhumations: Citations of History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science in US Federal Courts’. Law and Literature 14:2 (Summer, 2002) 309.
For a range of commentary on pseudosciences, be they occult, superstition, or parapsychology…
- Marie-Catherine Mousseau, ‘Parapsychology: Science or Pseudo-Science?’ Journal of Scientific Exploration, 17:2 (2003) 271.
- George A. Reisch. ‘Pluralism, Logical Empiricism, and the Problem of Pseudoscience’ Philosophy of Science, 65:2 (June 1998) 333.
- Paul Churchland. ‘How Parapsychology could become a science’ Inquiry 30:3 (Sept. 1987) 227.
- Daniel Rothbart. ‘Demarcating Genuine Science from Pseudo-Science,’ in Patrick Grim, ed., Philosophy of Science and the Occult (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1982) 94.
- Paul Thagard, ‘Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience‘ in Peter D. Asquith and Ian Hacking, eds, Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Vol. 1978, Volume One: Contributed Papers (1978) 223.
With all that available as a good starting point for further reading, I’ll leave you with this – a claim that reflects my own opinion on the epistemic merits of insulating science from pseudoscience.
Rather than asking, Is this pseudoscience or genuine science? we should ask, What arguments and evidence support this clinical claim? We should be concerned with belief-worthiness, epistemic warrant, evidential basis, empirical support (pick your favorite locution), rather than attempting to determine whether the theory or practice falls on the proper side of a demarcation criterion that separates science from pseudoscience.
- McNally RJ. Is the pseudoscience concept useful for clinical psychology? SRMHP Vol 2 Number 2 (Fall/Winter 2003).