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Defending Science

I am reading Science – Within Reason, by Susan Haack, a Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Law, at the University of Miami. In this book she defends science.

She runs into the problem of skepticism. She describes late philosopher Paul Feyerabend, a former Berkeley professor, as a skeptic who went too far. Feyerabend disliked the bloated talk of truth and objectivity he had heard from some defenders of science. And, he thought, there had been too much assumption about progress, but he was wild, claiming in the words of Haack "that science not superior to, only better entrenched than, astrology."

In my opinion, better entrenched for good reason.

Haack doesn't describe science as finding the Truth. Examining science she pursues a philosophy of science, which believes in the methodology of science and also reason – a big word in philosophy – described by some as "the capacity for consciously making sense of things."

She holds that we are limited, that it would be crazy for even the most learned to assume that they know everything in this interconnected universe. Scientists make generalizations inductively, but they are not so simple as to proclaim that their generalizations are the final word.

The philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book called Black Swan that made a minor splash but was nothing new for those who know what science is about. (Taleb didn't get a mention in Haack's book.) Scientists speak of "experiential evidence." You see a black swan, and it's a new experience. She speaks of observation and theory being inter-dependent. She describes it as "common to empirical inquiry of every kind." On page 23 she writes:

Often, to be sure, only a specialist can judge the weight of evidence or the thoroughness of precautions against experimental error, ect.: for such judgments require a broad and detailed knowledge of background theory, and a familiarity with technical vocabulary, not easily available to the lay person. Nevertheless, respect for evidence, care in weighing it, and persistence in seeking it out, so far from being exclusively scientific desiderata [stuff], are the standards by which we judge all inquirers, detectives, historians, investigative journalists, etc., as well as scientists. In short, the sciences are not epistemologically privileged.


Finally, I like to read what others think about what I'm reading. Often someone expresses it better than I do. I found at Amazon.com the following comment on Haack's book: Someone writes that Haack "makes no attempt to turn science into a branch of logic, and she does not try to hide its messy, unfinished, imperfect nature. Yet she does not assume that since science is imperfect it is therefore wrong, nor that it is permeated by politics. She allows for knowledge and progress without perfection, and for inquiry that is human and limited but not therefore a sham. She considers what evidence is and how it should be evaluated, how sciences progresses, and what is wrong with the critique of science mounted lately by those sociologists and philosophers who think it is some kind of western, patriarchal plot."

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