AUSTRALASIAN STUDIES IN HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE VOLUME 15 General Editor: R. W. HOME, University of Melbourne
Some of the papers in this volume were initially given at a combined one-day meeting of the Australasian Association for Philosophy and the Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science held in Auckland in July 1997 as part of ‘Phil fest 97’. The organisers thought it would be appropriate to commemorate the three well known philosophers of science who had made a major contribution to theories of scientific method and whose recent departure from the world scene in effect marked the end of an era in the subject. The theme title, which is the first half of the title of this book, reflected the influence that Karl Popper (1902-94), Thomas Kuhn (1922-96) and Paul Feyerabend (1924-94) have had on our conception of scientific method. Also both Popper and Feyerabend had had personal associations with New Zealand owing to the time they had spent in the country as teachers of philosophy. The papers presented at the joint meeting appear in a revised form in this book. Since other papers at the conference were promised elsewhere we also contacted other philosophers who were willing to make a contribution to more recent developments in theories of method in line with the announced conference theme.
Despite their many differences the one thing that Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend had in common was that they rejected inductivist methods in science. To those working in the field of methodology, the most prominent development of the last 20 years or so has been the emergence of Bayesian accounts of scientific method. Though Bayesianism is different in many ways from classical inductivism, it is today’s heir of the inductivism against which Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend developed (in part) their views on method. Thus the negative guideline which constrained the choice of contributions to the book: it would not cover areas in recent approaches to methodology which were either inductivist, or probabilist or Bayesian.There is in any case a readily available burgeoning literature on Bayesian methods in science. From this exclusion it should not be concluded that the contributors to the volume are necessarily anti-Bayesian; as will be seen some are while others are not. Rather there is ongoing research in methodology which does not necessarily take its cue from the probabilistic approach that informs Bayesianism. Since this alternative area of research is quite broad and has many facets, not all of it can be represented in a collection of this sort; what appears here is merely indicative of work in the area.
Some have commented that the title does not reflect adequately the work of others who were also important contributors to the Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend debates. One was Lakatos whose contribution was considerable but was cut short by his untimely death in 1974. In the light of this it has been suggested that we should have entitled the book ‘After Pop-Lak-Kuhn-Abend’, using David Stove’s irreverent name for the quartet of ‘irrationalists’ he liked to lampoon. As tempting as this suggestion was, we have resisted it. Again some have commented that we fail to acknowledge the considerable contribution made by Carl Hempel (who died in November 1997) to philosophy of science, particularly in the areas of confirmation, induction and scientific rationality which are relevant to the book’s theme. But since our project had already been launched earlier in 1997, the first half of the book’s title has remained as originally planned with its imperfect connotations.
In reviewing the original proposal for a book on the announced theme, some on the Editorial Board of the ASHPS series, and others, wondered whether our proposal was more flogging of the well dead horse of scientific method. It is a common view that the heydays of theories of scientific method are truly over and that current conceptions of science leave little, or no, room for a role for methodology. Kuhn and Feyerabend are said, rightly or wrongly, to have played a significant role in methodology’s demise. Methodology, it is commonly thought, has been superseded by sociological studies, or by a post-modernist approach (whatever that might be). Since this is a widespread view, it gave extra urgency to our project which is to show that there is still life to be found in research into methodology despite the sociologists of science and despite a sense of fin de methode engendered by the Pop-Lak-Kuhn-Abend debates. There are issues still to be addressed in their debates, and there is still work to be done in bringing methodological theories into accord with history of science. But more than this, new paths are being struck in research into methodology that have an independence and vitality of their own.