Scientific Though Forming

The arguments about these rival ontological and epistemological
views cannot be safely left or judged without first looking more closely at the
complex relationship between the general analytical interests of philosophers
and the more specific intellectual concerns of working scientists themselves.

For the degree to which each view about the reality of scientific entities and
facts can carry conviction depends substantially on what branches of science are
at issue. As the focus of philosophical attention has shifted historically from
one scientific terrain to another, so, too, have the relative degrees of
plausibility of these rival positions varied. The formal structures of science:

Scientific enterprise will be considered that which has dominated recent debate
in the philosophy of science, viz., the formal structures of scientific theory
and the processes of conceptual change. It will soon be clear that the
philosophical problems to which these two aspects, respectively, give rise are
correlative and complementary--the one being static, the other being dynamic.

Since 1920, most analytical philosophers of science have explicitly based their
program on a presupposition inherited from Descartes and Plato, viz., that the
intellectual content of any natural science can be expressed in a formal
propositional system, having a definite, essential logical structure--what a
leading American philosopher of science, Ernest Nagel, concisely called
"the structure of science" in his book of that title (1961). One
immediate inspiration of this program was the work of David Hilbert, a late

19th-century mathematician. To make the methods of mathematical proof more
explicit and more perspicuous and thus more rigorous, Hilbert employed the
techniques of formalization, a reduction to relations while disregarding the
nature of the relata, and axiomatization, a tracing of entailments back to
accepted axioms. The same techniques were taken over into the philosophy of
mathematics by a pioneer German logician, Gottlob Frege, and into symbolic logic
by Bertrand Russell and his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead; and, from 1920
on, the Viennese Positivists and their successors attempted to employ them in
the philosophy of science also, hoping to demonstrate the validity of formal
patterns of scientific inference by the straightforward extension of methods
already familiar in deductive logic. According to the resulting program, the
primary task for the philosophy of science was to repeat in quite general terms
the kind of analysis by which, in the science of mechanics, Heinrich Hertz, the
formulator of electromagnetic wave theory, had already sorted out the formal
aspects of science from its empirical aspects. The program was founded on the
expectation that it would be possible, first, to demonstrate the existence of
formal structures that were essential to any science, properly so-called, and
second, to identify the nature of scientific laws, principles, hypotheses, and
observations by their characteristic logical functions. Once this had been done,
rigorous formal definitions could then be given of validity, probability, degree
of confirmation, and all of the other evidential relations involved in the
judgment of scientific arguments. Looking beyond the internal structure of
inductive logic, the dubious equation of scientific laws with empirical
generalizations has also been criticized on the ground that it treats the
content of those laws as matters of happenstance, far more accidental or
contingent than those expressed in any genuine law of nature. In the opposing
view, the explanatory force of, say, the physicist's law of inertia is totally
different from that of such a generalizing statement as "All swans are
white"; and one can learn nothing about the validity of actual physical
arguments unless his philosophical analysis respects that crucial difference. It
has not proved easy, however, to analyze the formal structure of the sciences in
any less abstract manner than that of the Viennese Positivists or to give a true
representation of the working language and arguments of science. In his Essay on

Metaphysics (1940), R.G. Collingwood, a British philosopher and historian, made
one striking attempt, in which the formal structure of intellectual systems was
explained in terms not of direct entailments between more or less universal
propositions but rather of mutual presuppositions between more or less general
concepts. In this account, the principle of inertia was not the most universally
true assertion in dynamics but was, rather, the most generally applicable
presupposition, or principle of interpretation. Such an account has the merit of
explaining why, within a particular science, certain formal patterns of argument
carry the apparent necessity that they do; but at the same time it lays itself
open to the charge of yielding too much to relativism and so of destroying the
objectivity of scientific knowledge by giving the impression that the conceptual
structures of science are imposed on phenomena by the arbitrary choice of the
scientific theorist himself. Processes