- History of scientific method
The history of
scientific methodis inseparable from the history of scienceitself. The development and elaboration of rules for scientific reasoning and investigation has not been straightforward; scientific methodhas been the subject of intense and recurring debate throughout the history of science, and many eminent natural philosophers and scientists have argued for the primacy of one or another approach to establishing scientific knowledge.
Some of the most important debates in the history of scientific method center on:
rationalism, especially as advocated by René Descartes ; inductivism, which rose to particular prominence with Isaac Newtonand his followers; and hypothetico-deductivism, which came to the fore in the early 19th century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a debate over realism vs. antirealismwas central to discussions scientific method as powerful scientific theories extended beyond the realm of the observable, while in the mid-20th century some prominent philosophers argued against any universal rules of science at all. [Peter Achinstein, "General Introduction" (pp. 1-5) to "Science Rules: A Historical Introduction to Scientific Methods". Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-80187943-4]
There are few explicit discussions of scientific methodologies in surviving records from early cultures. The most we can infer about the approaches to undertaking science in this period stems from descriptions of early investigations into nature, in the surviving records. An Egyptian medical textbook, the
Edwin Smith papyrus, (circa 1600 BC), applies the basic components of scientific method: examination, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, to the treatment of disease. [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9032043&query=Edwin%20Smith%20papyrus&ct=] The Ebers papyrus(circa 1550 BC) also contains evidence of traditional empiricism.
However, although the Babylonians and Egyptians developed much technical knowledge, crafts, and mathematics used in practical tasks of divination, as well as a knowledge of medicine (and made lists or various kinds), it is the ancient Greeks who engage in the earliest forms of what we recognize as science. [Yves Gingras, Peter Keating, and Camille Limoges, "Du scribe au savant: Les porteurs du savoir de l'antiquité à la révolution industrielle," Presses universitaires de France, 1998.] Even for the early Greeks, geometry was a practical skill like shoemaking, relegated to what its etymology suggests: geo-metrics, or measuring the earth. That is all Xenophon claims Socrates advises one know about geometry—what is practically needed to measure the land correctly so as to inherit it, divide it, or use it (Memorabilia, VII.4.vii.2). In Plato's Theatetus, Theatetus defines science [épistémé] for Socrates as "what we can learn…geometry and the other sciences you just mentioned like shoemaking, and the techniques of other artisans all together, or considered separately," (Plato 1.146c-d).
Ancient Greece, towards the middle of the 5th century BC, some of the components of a scientific tradition were already heavily established. Plato is an important contributor to this emerging tradition. In "Protagoras" (318d-f), Platomentions the teaching of arithmetic, astronomy and geometry in schools. The philosophical ideas of this time were mostly freed from the constraints of everyday phenomena and common sense. This denial of reality as we experience it reaches an extreme in Parmenideswho argued that the world is one and that change and subdivision do not exist.
Aristotelian science and empiricism
Aristotleprovided another of the ingredients of scientific tradition: empiricism. For Aristotle, universal truths can be known from particular things via induction. To some extent then, Aristotle reconciles abstract thought with observation, although it would be misleading to imply that Aristotelian science is empirical in form. Indeed, Aristotle did not accept that knowledge acquired by induction could rightly be counted as scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, induction was a necessary preliminary to the main business of scientific enquiry, providing the primary premises required for scientific demonstrations.
Aristotle largely ignored inductive reasoning in his treatment of scientific enquiry. To make it clear why this is so, consider his statement in
:"We suppose ourselves to possess unqualified scientific knowledge of a thing, as opposed to knowing it in the accidental way in which the sophist knows, when we think that we know the cause on which the fact depends, as the cause of that fact and of no other, and, further, that the fact could not be other than it is."
It was therefore the work of the philosopher to demonstrate universal truths and to discover their causes. While induction was sufficient for discovering universals by generalization, it did not succeed in identifying causes. The tool Aristotle chose for this was
deductive reasoningin the form of syllogisms. Using the syllogism, scientists could infer new universal truths from those already established.
Aristotle developed a complete normative approach to scientific enquiry involving the syllogism which is discussed at length in his Posterior Analytics. Perhaps most striking today, where the use of mathematics is common place in the physical sciences, would be the admonition that theorems of any one science not be demonstrated by means of another science.
A difficulty with this scheme lay in showing that derived truths have solid primary premises. Aristotle would not allow that demonstrations could be circular; supporting the conclusion by the premises, and the premises by the conclusion. Nor would he allow an infinite number of middle terms between the primary premises and the conclusion. This leads to the question of how the primary premises are arrived at, and as we have already mentioned, Aristotle allowed that induction would be required for this task.
Towards the end of Posterior Analytics, Aristotle discusses knowledge imparted by induction.
:"Thus it is clear that we must get to know the primary premises by induction; for the method by which even sense-perception implants the universal is inductive. […] it follows that there will be no scientific knowledge of the primary premises, and since except intuition nothing can be truer than scientific knowledge, it will be intuition that apprehends the primary premises. […] If, therefore, it is the only other kind of true thinking except scientific knowing, intuition will be the originative source of scientific knowledge."
The account leaves room for doubt regarding the nature and extent of his empiricism. In particular, it seems that Aristotle considers sense-perception only as a vehicle for knowledge through intuition. Induction is not afforded the status of scientific reasoning, and so it is left to intuition to provide a solid foundation for Aristotle’s science. With that said, Aristotle brings us somewhat closer to an empirical science than his predecessors.
Emergence of inductive experimental method
Middle Ages(or Islamic Golden Age), early Islamic philosophydeveloped and was often pivotal in scientific debates. Muslim scientists used experimentand quantificationto distinguish between competing scientific theories, set within a generially empiricalorientation, as can be seen in the works of Geber(721-815)citation|title=Polymer Phase Diagrams: A Textbook|first1=Ronald|last1=Koningsveld|first2=Walter H.|last2=Stockmayer|first3=Erik|last3-Nies|year=2001|publisher= Oxford University Press|isbn=0198556349|pages=xii-xiii] and Alkindus (801-873)Plinio Prioreschi, "Al-Kindi, A Precursor Of The Scientific Revolution", "Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine", 2002 (2): 17-19  .] as early examples. Several scientific methods thus emerged from the medieval Muslim worldby the early 11th century, all of which emphasized experimentation as well as quantification to varying degrees. [David Agar (2001). [http://users.jyu.fi/~daagar/index_files/arabs.html Arabic Studies in Physics and Astronomy During 800 - 1400 AD] . University of Jyväskylä.]
The first of these experimental scientific methods was developed by the prominent
Iraqi Muslim physicist and scientist Ibn al-Haytham(Alhazen), who used experimentation and mathematics to obtain the results in his " Book of Optics" (1021). [Rosanna Gorini (2003), "Al-Haytham the Man of Experience, First Steps in the Science of Vision", "International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine", Institute of Neurosciences, Laboratory of Psychobiology and Psychopharmacology, Rome, Italy:quote|"According to the majority of the historians Ibn al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method. With his book he changed the meaning of the term optics and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field. His investigations are based not on abstract theories, but on experimental evidences and his experiments were systematic and repeatable."] In particular, he combined observations, experiments and rational arguments to support his intromission theory of vision, where rays of lightare emitted from objects rather than from the eyes. He used similar arguments to show that the ancient emission theory of vision supported by Ptolemyand Euclid(where the eyes emit rays of light), and the ancient intromission theory supported by Aristotle(where objects emit physical particles to the eyes), were both wrong. [ D. C. Lindberg, "Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler", (Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1976), pp. 60-7.] Ibn al-Haytham's scientific method was similar to the modern scientific method and consisted of the following procedures: [Bradley Steffens (2006). "Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist", Morgan Reynolds Publishing, ISBN 1599350246. ( cf.Bradley Steffens, "Who Was the First Scientist?", "Ezine Articles".)]
#Explicit statement of a
problem, tied to observationand to proof by experiment
#Testing and/or criticism of a
dataand formulation of a conclusionusing mathematics
publicationof the findings
An aspect associated with Ibn al-Haytham's optical research is related to systemic and methodological reliance on experimentation ("i'tibar") and controlled testing in his scientific inquiries. Moreover, his experimental directives rested on combining classical physics ("'ilm tabi'i") with mathematics ("ta'alim"; geometry in particular) in terms of devising the rudiments of what may be designated as a hypothetico-deductive procedure in scientific research. This mathematical-physical approach to experimental science supported most of his propositions in his "Book of Optics" and grounded his theories of vision, light and colour, as well as his research in catoptrics and dioptrics. His legacy was further advanced through the 'reforming' of his "Optics" by
Kamal al-Din al-Farisi(d. ca. 1320) in the latter's "Kitab Tanqih al-Manazir" ("The Revision of" [Ibn al-Haytham's] "Optics"). [ Nader El-Bizri, "A Philosophical Perspective on Alhazen’s Optics," "Arabic Sciences and Philosophy", Vol. 15, Issue 2 (2005), pp. 189-218 (Cambridge University Press)] [ Nader El-Bizri, "Ibn al-Haytham," in "Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia", eds. Thomas F. Glick, Steven J. Livesey, and Faith Wallis (New York — London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 237-240. ] Bradley Steffens (2006), "Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist", [http://www.ibnalhaytham.net/custom.em?pid=673906 Chapter Five] , Morgan Reynolds Publishing, ISBN 1599350246]
Since Ibn al-Haytham, the emphasis of scientific method has been on seeking
The conjecture that "light travels through transparent bodies in straight lines only", was corroborated by Alhazen only after years of effort. His demonstration of the conjecture was to place a straight stick or a taut thread next to the light beam, [p. 136, as quoted by Shmuel Sambursky (1974) "Physical thought from the Presocratics to the Quantum Physicists" ISBN 0-87663-712-8.] to prove that light travels in a straight line.
Ibn al-Haytham also employed
scientific skepticismand emphasized the role of empiricism. He also explained the role of induction in syllogism, and criticized Aristotlefor his lack of contribution to the method of induction, which Ibn al-Haytham regarded as superior to syllogism, and he considered induction to be the basic requirement for true scientific research. [Citation |last=Plott |first=C. |year=2000 |title=Global History of Philosophy: The Period of Scholasticism |isbn=8120805518 |publisher= Motilal Banarsidass|page=462 ]
The concept of
Ockam's razoris also present in the "Book of Optics". For example, after demonstrating that light is generated by luminous objects and emitted or reflected into the eyes, he states that therefore "the extramission of [visual] rays is superflous and useless." [citation|title=Alhacen's Theory of Visual Perception: A Critical Edition, with English Translation and Commentary of the First Three Books of Alhacen's De Aspectibus, the Medieval Latin Version of Ibn al-Haytham's Kitab al-Manazir|last1=Alhazen|first2=A. Mark|last2=Smith|year=2001|publisher=DIANE Publishing|isbn=0871699141|pages=372 & 408] He was also the first scientist to adopt a form of positivismin his approach, centuries before a term for positivism was coined. He wrote that "we do not go beyond experience, and we cannot be content to use pure concepts in investigating natural phenomena", and that the understanding of these cannot be acquired without mathematics. After assuming that light is a material substance, he does not discuss its nature any further but confines his investigations to the diffusion and propogation of light. The only properties of light he takes into account are that which can be treated by geometry and verified by experiment.Citation |last=Rashed |first=Roshdi |year=2007 |title=The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham |journal=Arabic Sciences and Philosophy |volume=17 |pages=7–55  |publisher= Cambridge University Press|doi=10.1017/S0957423907000355 : quote|"In reforming optics he as it were adopted ‘‘positivism’’ (before the term was invented): we do not go beyond experience, and we cannot be content to use pure concepts in investigating natural phenomena. Understanding of these cannot be acquired without mathematics. Thus, once he has assumed light is a material substance, Ibn al-Haytham does not discuss its nature further, but confines himself to considering its propagation and diffusion. In his optics ‘‘the smallest parts of light’’, as he calls them, retain only properties that can be treated by geometry and verified by experiment; they lack all sensible qualities except energy."]
The Persian scientist
Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnīintroduced early scientific methods for several different fields of inquiryduring the 1020s and 1030s. For example, in his treatise on mineralogy, "Kitab al-Jamahir" ("Book of Precious Stones"), al-Biruni is "the most exact of experimental scientists", while in the introduction to his study of India, he declares that "to execute our project, it has not been possible to follow the geometric method" and develops comparative sociologyas a scientific method in the field.citation|first=Ziauddin|last=Sardar|author-link=Ziauddin Sardar|date=1998|contribution=Science in Islamic philosophy|title=Islamic Philosophy|publisher= Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy|url=http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/H016.htm|accessdate=2008-02-03] He also developed the earliest experimental method for mechanics,Mariam Rozhanskaya and I. S. Levinova (1996), "Statics", p. 642, in Harv|Morelon|Rashed|1996|pp=614-642: quote|"Using a whole body of mathematical methods (not only those inherited from the antique theory of ratios and infinitesimal techniques, but also the methods of the contemporary algebra and fine calculation techniques), Arabic scientists raised statics to a new, higher level. The classical results of Archimedes in the theory of the centre of gravity were generalized and applied to three-dimensional bodies, the theory of ponderable lever was founded and the 'science of gravity' was created and later further developed in medieval Europe. The phenomena of statics were studied by using the dynamic apporach so that two trends - statics and dynamics - turned out to be inter-related withina single science, mechanics. The combination of the dynamic apporach with Archimedean hydrostatics gave birth to a direction in science which may be called medieval hydrodynamics. [...] Numerous fine experimental methods were developed for determining the specific weight, which were based, in particular, on the theory of balances and weighing. The classical works of al-Biruni and al-Khazini can by right be considered as the beginning of the application of experimental methods in medieval science."] and was one of the first to conduct elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena.Dr. A. Zahoor (1997), [http://www.unhas.ac.id/~rhiza/saintis/biruni.html Abu Raihan Muhammad al-Biruni] , Hasanuddin University.]
Al-Biruni's scientific method resembled the modern scientific method in a number of ways, particularly his emphasis on repeated experimentation. Biruni was concerned with how to conceptualize and prevent both
systematic errors and random errors, such as "errors caused by the use of small instruments and errors made by human observers." He argued that if instruments produce random errors because of their imperfections or idiosyncratic qualities, then multiple observations must be taken, analyzed qualitatively, and on this basis, arrive at a "common-sense single value for the constantsought", whether an arithmetic meanor a "reliable estimate." [Harvard reference |last1=Glick |first1=Thomas F. |last2=Livesey |first2=Steven John |last3=Wallis |first3=Faith |year=2005 |title=Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia |publisher= Routledge|isbn=0415969301 |p=89-90] In his scientific method, "universals came out of practical, experimental work" and "theories are formulated after discoveries", like with inductivism.
In the "On Demonstration" section of the "
The Book of Healing" (1027), the Persian philosopher and scientist Avicenna(Ibn Sina) discussed the philosophy of scienceand described an early scientific method of inquiry. He discusses Aristotle's " Posterior Analytics" and significantly diverged from it on several points. Avicenna discussed the issue of a proper methodology for scientific inquiry and the question of "How does one acquire the first principles of a science?" He asked how a scientist would arrive at "the initial axioms or hypotheses of a deductive science without inferring them from some more basic premises?" He explains that the ideal situation is when one grasps that a "relation holds between the terms, which would allow for absolute, universal certainty." Avicenna then adds two further methods for arriving at the first principles: the ancient Aristotelian method of induction ("istiqra"), and the more recent method of examinationand experimentation ("tajriba"). Avicenna criticized Aristotelian induction, arguing that "it does not lead to the absolute, universal, and certain premises that it purports to provide." In its place, he develops "a method of experimentation as a means for scientific inquiry." [citation|last=McGinnis|first=Jon|title=Scientific Methodologies in Medieval Islam|journal=Journal of the History of Philosophy|volume=41|issue=3|date=July 2003|pages=307-327]
Earlier in "
The Canon of Medicine" (1025), Avicenna was also the first to describe the methods of agreement, difference and concomitant variation which are critical to inductive logic and the scientific method.Lenn Evan Goodman (2003), "Islamic Humanism", p. 155, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195135806.] Lenn Evan Goodman (1992), "Avicenna", p. 33, Routledge, ISBN 041501929X.] However, unlike his contemporary al-Biruni's scientific method where "universals came out of practical, experimental work" and "theories are formulated after discoveries", Avicenna developed a scientific method where "general and universal questions came first and led to experimental work."citation|first=Ziauddin|last=Sardar|author-link=Ziauddin Sardar|date=1998|contribution=Science in Islamic philosophy|title=Islamic Philosophy|publisher= Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy|url=http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/H016.htm|accessdate=2008-02-03] Due to differences between their scientific methods, al-Biruni referred to himself as a mathematical scientistand to Avicenna as a philosopher, during a debate between the two scholars.citation|first=Ahmad|last=Dallal|year=2001-2002|title=The Interplay of Science and Theology in the Fourteenth-century Kalam|publisher=From Medieval to Modern in the Islamic World, Sawyer Seminar at the University of Chicago|url=http://humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/institute/sawyer/archive/islam/dallal.html |accessdate=2008-02-02]
During the European
Renaissance of the 12th century, ideas on scientific methodology, including Aristotle's empiricismand the experimental scientific methods of Alhazen and Avicenna, were introduced to medieval Europe through Latin translations of Arabic and Greek texts and commentaries. Robert Grosseteste's commentary on the "Posterior Analytics" places Grosseteste among the first scholastic thinkers in Europe to fully understand Aristotle's vision of the dual path of scientific reasoning. Concluding from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again: from universal laws to prediction of particulars. Grosseteste called this "resolution and composition". Further, Grosseteste said that both paths should be verified through experimentation in order to verify the principles. [A. C. Crombie, "Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700", (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 52-60.]
Roger Baconwas inspired by the writings of Grosseteste who had built upon Aristotle's portrait of induction and the experimental scientific methods of Alhazen and Avicenna. In his enunciation of a method, Bacon described a repeating cycle of " observation", " hypothesis", " experimentation", and the need for independent " verification". He recorded the manner in which he conducted his experiments in precise detail so that others could reproduce and independently test his results.
Sometime about 1256 he joined the
Franciscan Orderand became subect to the Franciscan statute forbidding Friars from publishing books or pamphlets without specific approval. After the accession of Pope Clement IVin 1265, the Pope granted Bacon a special commission to write to him on scientific matters. In eighteen months he completed three large treatises, the "Opus Majus", "Opus Minus", and "Opus Tertium" which he sent to the Pope. [Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon: His Life, Career, and Works," in Hackett, "Roger Bacon and the Sciences," pp. 13-17.] William Whewellhas called "Opus Majus" at once the Encyclopaedia and Organon of the thirteenth century.
*Part I (pp. 1-22) treats of the four causes of error: authority, custom, the opinion of the unskilled many, and the concealment of real ignorance with the pretence of knowledge.
*Part VI (pp. 445-477) treats of experimental science, "domina omnium scientiarum". There are two methods of knowledge: the one by argument, the other by experience. Mere argument is never sufficient; it may decide a question, but gives no satisfaction or certainty to the mind, which can only be convinced by immediate inspection or intuition. Now this is what experience gives.
*Experimental science, which in the "Opus Tertium" (p. 46) is distinguished from the speculative sciences and the operative arts, is said to have three great prerogatives over all sciences:
*#It verifies their conclusions by direct experiment;
*#It discovers truths which they could never reach;
*#It investigates the secrets of nature, and opens to us a knowledge of past and future.
*Roger Bacon then illustrates his method by an investigation into the nature and cause of the
rainbow, as a specimen of inductive research. [" Roger Bacon", " Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition" (R [obert] Ad [amson] ; X.) 1911]
Early modern methodologists
Despite being initially seen as a possible threat to Christian orthodoxy, Aristotle’s ideas became a framework for critical debate beginning with absorption of the Aristotelian texts into the university curriculum in the first half of the thirteenth century. Contributing to this was the success of medieval theologians in reconciling Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology. Within the sciences, medieval philosophers were not afraid of disagreeing with Aristotle on many specific issues, although their disagreements were stated within the language of Aristotelian philosophy. All medieval natural philosophers were Aristotelians, but "Aristotelianism" had become a somewhat broad and flexible concept. With the end of Middle Ages, the
Renaissancerejection of medieval traditions coupled with an extreme reverence for classical sources led to a recovery of other ancient philosophical traditions, especially the teachings of Plato. [Edward Grant, "The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts", (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1996, pp. 164-7.] By the seventeenth century, those who clung dogmatically to Aristotle's teachings were faced with several competing approaches to nature. Francis Bacon(1561-1626) entered Trinity College, Cambridgein April, 1573, where he applied himself diligently to the several sciences as then taught, and came to the conclusion that the methods employed and the results attained were alike erroneous; he learned to despise the current Aristotelian philosophy. Philosophy must be taught its true purpose, and for this purpose a new method must be devised. With the first germs of this great conception in his mind, Bacon left the university. [" Francis Bacon", " Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition" (R [obert] . Ad [amson] ; J [ohn] M [alcolm] M [itchell] ) 1911]
While earlier scientific methods had existed previously,
Galileo Galilei(1564-1642) is considered to be a father of the scientific method. [http://www.batesville.k12.in.us/Physics/PhyNet/AboutScience/Inductive.html The Inductive (Scientific) Method] ] [ [http://www.pantaneto.co.uk/issue2/pietschmann.htm Merits and Limits of Applying the Scientific Method to Human Society] ] During the period of religious conservativism brought about by the Reformationand Counter-Reformation, Galileo Galileiunveiled his new science of motion. Neither the contents of Galileo’s science, nor the methods of study he selected were in keeping with Aristotelian teachings. Whereas Aristotle thought that a science should be demonstrated from first principles, Galileo had used experiments as a research tool. Galileo nevertheless presented his treatise in the form of mathematical demonstrations without reference to experimental results. It is important to understand that this in itself was a bold and innovative step in terms of scientific method. The usefulness of mathematics in obtaining scientific results was far from obvious. [For more about the role of mathematics in science around the time of Galileo see R. Feldhay, "The Cambridge Companion to Galileo: The use and abuse of mathematical entities", (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1998), pp. 80-133.] This is because mathematics did not lend itself to the primary pursuit of Aristotelian science: the discovery of causes.
Whether it is because Galileo was realistic about the acceptability of presenting experimental results as evidence or because he himself had doubts about the epistemological status of experimental findings is not known. Nevertheless, it is not in his
Latintreatise on motion that we find reference to experiments, but in his supplementary dialogues written in the Italian vernacular. In these dialogues experimental results are given, although Galileo may have found them inadequate for persuading his audience. Thought experiments showing logical contradictions in Aristotelian thinking, presented in the skilled rhetoric of Galileo's dialogue were further enticements for the reader.
", Galileo has the characters of the dialogue discuss an experiment involving two free falling objects of differing weight. An outline of the Aristotelian view is offered by the character Simplicio. For this experiment he expects that "a body which is ten times as heavy as another will move ten times as rapidly as the other". The character Salviati, representing Galileo's persona in the dialogue, replies by voicing his doubt that Aristotle ever attempted the experiment. Salviati then asks the two other characters of the dialogue to consider a thought experiment whereby two stones of differing weights are tied together before being released. Following Aristotle, Salviati reasons that "the more rapid one will be partly retarded by the slower, and the slower will be somewhat hastened by the swifter". But this leads to a contradiction, since the two stones together make a heavier object than either stone apart, the heavier object should in fact fall with a speed greater than that of either stone. From this contradiction, Salviati concludes that Aristotle must in fact be wrong and the objects will fall at the same speed regardless of their weight, a conclusion that is borne out by experiment.
Francis Bacon's eliminative induction
If Galileo had shied away from the role of experimenter, the opposite can be said for his English contemporary
Francis Bacon. Bacon attempted to describe a rational procedure for establishing causation between phenomena based on induction. It was, however, a radically different form of induction to that employed by the Aristotelians. As Bacon put it,
: " [A] nother form of induction must be devised than has hitherto been employed, and it must be used for proving and discovering not first principles (as they are called) only, but also the lesser axioms, and the middle, and indeed all. For the induction which proceeds by simple enumeration is childish."
Bacon's method relied on experimental "histories" to eliminate alternative theories. In this sense it is a precursor to Popper's falsificationism. However, Bacon believed his method would produce certain knowledge rather than tentatively justify adherence to knowledge claims. Bacon explains how his method is applied in his "
Novum Organum" (published 1620). In an example he gives on the examination of the nature of heat, Bacon creates two tables, the first of which he names "Table of Essence and Presence", enumerating the many various circumstances under which we find heat. In the other table, labelled "Table of Deviation, or of Absence in Proximity", he lists circumstances which bear resemblance to those of the first table except for the absence of heat. From an analysis of, what he calls, the "natures" (light emitting, heavy, colored etc.) of the items in these lists we are brought to conclusions about the "form nature", or cause, of heat. Those natures which are always present in the first table, but never in the second are deemed to be the cause of heat.
The role experimentation played in this process was twofold. The most laborious job of the scientist would be to gather the facts, or 'histories', required to create the tables of presence and absence. Such histories would document a mixture of common knowledge and experimental results. Secondly, "experiments of light", or, as we might say,
crucial experiments would be needed to resolve any remaining ambiguities over causes.
Bacon showed an uncompromising commitment to
experimentation. Despite this he did not make any great scientific discoveries during his lifetime. This may be because he was not the most able experimenter. [B. Gower, "Scientific Method, An Historical and Philosophical Introduction", (Routledge, 1997), pp. 48-2.] It may also be because hypothesising plays only a small role in Bacon's method compared to modern science. [B. Russell, "History of Western Philosophy", (Routledge, 2000), pp. 529-3.] Hypotheses, in Bacon's method, are supposed to emerge during the process of investigation with little room left for guess work and creativity. Neither did he attribute much importance to mathematical speculation "which ought only to give definiteness to natural philosophy, not to generate or give it birth" ("Novum Organum XCVI").
Descartes' Aristotelian ambitions
1619, René Descartesbegan writing his first major treatise on proper scientific and philosophical thinking, the unfinished " Rules for the Direction of the Mind". His aim was to create a complete science that he hoped would overthrow the Aristotelian system and establish himself as the sole architect [ Descartes compares his work to that of an architect: "there is less perfection in works composed of several separate pieces and by difference masters, than those in which only one person has worked.", "Discourse on Method and The Meditations", (Penguin, 1968), pp. 35. (see too his letter to Mersenne (28. Jan. 1641 [AT III, 297-8] ). ] of a new system of guiding principles for scientific research.
This work was continued and clarified in his
1637treatise, " Discourse on Method" and in his 1641Meditations. Descartes describes the intriguing and disciplined thought experiments he used to arrive at the idea we instantly associate with him: "I think therefore I am" (" cogito ergo sum").
From this foundational thought, Descartes finds proof of the existence of a God who, possessing all possible perfections, will not deceive him provided he resolves " […] never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of methodic doubt." [This is the first of four rules Descartes resolved "never once to fail to observe", "Discourse on Method and The Meditations", (Penguin, 1968), pp. 41.]
This rule allowed Descartes to progress beyond his own thoughts and judge that there exist extended bodies outside of his own thoughts. Descartes published seven sets of objections to the "Meditations" from various sources [René Descartes, "Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies", (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 2nd ed., 1996), pp. 63-107.] along with his replies to them. Despite his apparent departure from the Aristotelian system, a number of his critics felt that Descartes had done little more than replace the primary premises of Aristotle with those of his own. Descartes says as much himself in a letter written in
1647to the translator of Principles of Philosophy,
:"a perfect knowledge [...] must necessarily be deduced from first causes [...] we must try to deduce from these principles knowledge of the things which depend on them, that there be nothing in the whole chain of deductions deriving from them that is not perfectly manifest." [René Descartes, "The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Principles of Philosophy, Preface to French Edition, translated by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, D. Murdoch" (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1985), vol. 1, pp. 179-189.]
And again, some years earlier, speaking of Galileo's physics in a letter to his friend and critic Mersenne from
:"without having considered the first causes of nature, [Galileo] has merely looked for the explanations of a few particular effects, and he has thereby built without foundations." [René Descartes, "Oeuvres De Descartes", edited by Charles Adam and Paul Tannery (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1983), vol. 2, pp. 380.]
Descartes failed to produce scientific results comparable to those of his contemporaries, and so it is not here that we find Descartes' primary contribution to science. His work in
analytic geometryhowever, was a necessary precedent to differential calculusand instrumental in bringing mathematical analysis to bear on scientific matters.
Newton's rules of reasoning
Both Bacon and Descartes wanted to provide a firm foundation for scientific thought that avoided the deceptions of the mind and senses. Bacon envisaged that foundation as essentially empirical, whereas Descartes' provides a metaphysical foundation for knowledge. If there were any doubts about the direction in which scientific method would develop, they were set to rest by the success of
Isaac Newton. Implicitly rejecting Descartes' emphasis on rationalismin favor of Bacon's empirical approach, he outlines his four "rules of reasoning" in the "Principia",
#"We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances."
#"Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes."
#"The qualities of bodies, which admit neither intension nor remission of degrees, and which are found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever."
#"In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions collected by general induction from phænomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, till such time as other phænomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions."
But Newton also left an admonition about a
theory of everything::"To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. 'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, and leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things." [Statement from unpublished notes for the Preface to Opticks (1704) quoted in Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1983) by Richard S. Westfall, p. 643]
Newton's work became a model that other sciences sought to emulate, and his inductive approach formed the basis for much of natural philosophy through the 18th and early nineteenth centuries. His methods of reasoning were later systematized by
Mill's Methods(or Mill's canon), which are five explicit statements of what can be discarded and what can be kept while building a hypothesis. George Booleand William Stanley Jevonsalso wrote on the principles of reasoning.
Integrating deductive and inductive method
Attempts to systematize a scientific method were confronted in the mid-18th century by the
problem of induction, a positivist logic formulation which, in short, asserts that nothing can be known with certainty except what is actually observed. David Humetook empiricism to the skeptical extreme; among his positions was that there is no logical necessity that the future should resemble the past, thus we are unable to justify inductive reasoning itself by appealing to its past success. Hume's arguments, of course, came on the heels of many, many centuries of excessive speculation upon excessive speculation not grounded in empirical observation and testing. Many of Hume's radically skeptical arguments were argued against, but not resolutely refuted, by Immanuel Kant's " Critique of Pure Reason" in the late 18th century, Hume's brilliantly formatted arguments continue to hold a strong lingering influence and certainly on the consciousness of the educated classes for the better part of the 19th century when the argument at the time became the focus on whether or not the inductive method was valid. Hans Christian Ørsted, (Ørsted is the Danish spelling; "Oersted" in other languages) (1777-1851) was heavily influenced by Kant, in particular, Kant's " Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft" ("Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science"). [Karen Jelved, Andrew D. Jackson, and Ole Knudsen, (1997) translators for "Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian Ørsted", ISBN 0-691-04334-5, p. x. The succeeding Ørsted references are contained in this book.] The following sections on Ørsted encapsulate our current, common view of scientific method. His work appeared in Danish, most accessibly in public lectures, which he translated into German, French, English, and occasionally Latin. But some of his views go beyond Kant: :"In order to achieve completeness in our knowledge of nature, we must start from two extremes, from experience and from the intellect itself. ... The former method must conclude with natural laws, which it has abstracted from experience, while the latter must begin with principles, and gradually, as it develops more and more, it becomes ever more detailed. Of course, I speak here about the method as manifested in the process of the human intellect itself, not as found in textbooks, where the laws of nature which have been abstracted from the consequent experiences are placed first because they are required to explain the experiences. When the empiricist in his regression towards general laws of nature meets the metaphysician in his progression, science will reach its perfection." ["Fundamentals of the Metaphysics of Nature Partly According to a New Plan", a special reprint of Hans Christian Ørsted (1799), "Philosophisk Repertorium", printed by Boas Brünnich, Copenhagen, in Danish. Kirstine Meyer's 1920 edition of Ørsted's works, vol.I, pp.33-78. English translation by Karen Jelved, Andrew D. Jackson, and Ole Knudsen, (1997) ISBN 0-691-04334-5 pp. 46-47.] Ørsted's "First Introduction to General Physics" (1811) exemplified the steps of observation, ["The foundation of general physics ... is experience. These ... everyday experiences we do not discover without deliberately directing our attention to them. Collecting information about these is "observation"." -- Hans Christian Ørsted("First Introduction to General Physics" ¶13, part of a series of public lectures at the University of Copenhagen. Copenhagen 1811, in Danish, printed by Johan Frederik Schulz. In Kirstine Meyer's 1920 edition of Ørsted's works, vol.III pp. 151-190. ) "First Introduction to Physics: the Spirit, Meaning, and Goal of Natural Science". Reprinted in German in 1822, Schweigger's "Journal für Chemie und Physik" 36, pp.458-488, ISBN 0-691-04334-5 p. 292] hypothesis, ["When it is not clear under which law of nature an effect or class of effect belongs, we try to fill this gap by means of a guess. Such guesses have been given the name "conjectures" or " hypotheses"."-- Hans Christian Ørsted(1811) "First Introduction to General Physics" ¶18. "Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian Ørsted", ISBN 0-691-04334-5 p.297] deduction["The student of nature ... regards as his property the experiences which the mathematican can only borrow. This is why he deduces theorems directly from the nature of an effect while the mathematician only arrives at them circuitously."-- Hans Christian Ørsted(1811) "First Introduction to General Physics" ¶17. "Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian Ørsted", ISBN 0-691-04334-5 p.297] and experiment. In 1805, based on his researches on electromagnetismØrsted came to believe that electricity is propagated by undulatory action (i.e., fluctuation). By 1820, he felt confident enough in his beliefs that he resolved to demonstrate them in a public lecture, and in fact observed a small magnetic effect from a galvanic circuit (i.e., voltaic circuit), "without rehearsal"; [ Hans Christian Ørsted(1820) ISBN 0-691-04334-5 preface, p.xvii] [ Hans Christian Ørsted(1820) ISBN 0-691-04334-5 1820 and other public experiments, pp.421-445] William Whewell(1794-1866) regarded his "History of the Inductive Sciences, from the Earliest to the Present Time" (1837) to be an introduction to the "Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences" (1840) which analyzes the method exemplified in the formation of ideas. Whewell attempts to follow Bacon's plan for discovery of an effectual art of discovery. He named the hypothetico-deductive method(which "Encyclopædia Britannica" credits to Newton ["Science, Philosophy of", "Encyclopædia Britannica" Fifteenth Ed. (1979) ISBN 0-85229-297-X pp.378-9 ] ); Whewell also coined the term "scientist". Whewell examines ideas and attempts to construct science by uniting ideas to facts. He analyses induction into three steps:
#the selection of the fundamental idea, such as
space, number, cause, or likeness
#a more special modification of those ideas, such as a
circle, a uniform force, etc.
#the determination of magnitudesUpon these follow special techniques applicable for quantity, such as the
method of least squares, curves, means, and special methods depending on resemblance(such as search), the method of gradation, and the method of natural classification (such as cladistics).But no art of discovery, such as Bacon anticipated, follows, for " invention, sagacity, genius" are needed at every step. [" William Whewell", " Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition" 1911] John Stuart Mill(1806–1873) was stimulated to publish "A System of Logic" (1843) upon reading Whewell's "History of the Inductive Sciences". Mill may be regarded as the final exponent of the empirical school of philosophy begun by John Locke, whose fundamental characteristic is the duty incumbent upon all thinkers to investigate for themselves rather than to accept the authority of others. Knowledge must be based on experience. [" John Stuart Mill", " Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition" 1911] William Stanley Jevons' "The Principles of Science: a treatise on logic and scientific method" (1873, 1877) Chapter XII "The Inductive or Inverse Method", Summary of the Theory of Inductive Inference, states "Thus there are but three steps in the process of induction :-
#Framing some hypothesis as to the character of the general law.
#Deducing some consequences of that law.
#Observing whether the consequences agree with the particular tasks under consideration."Jevons then frames those steps in terms of probability, which he then applied to economic laws.
Ernest Nagelnotes that Jevons and Whewell were not the first writers to argue for the centrality of the hypothetico-deductive methodin the logic of science. [William Stanley Jevons (1873, 1877) "The Principles of Science: a treatise on logic and scientific method" Dover edition p.li with a new preface by Ernest Nagel(1958) ]
In the late 19th century,
Charles Sanders Peirceproposed a schema that would turn out to have considerable influence in the further development of scientific method generally. Peirce's work quickly accelerated the progress on several fronts. Firstly, speaking in broader context in "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" (1878), [Charles S. Peirce [http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/bycsp/ideas/id-frame.htm How to Make Our Ideas Clear] , Popular Science Monthly 12 (January 1878), pp. 286-302] Peirce outlined an objectively verifiable method to test the truth of putative knowledge on a way that goes beyond mere foundational alternatives, focusing upon both Deduction and Induction. He thus placed induction and deduction in a complimentary rather than competitive context (the latter of which had been the primary trend at least since David Humea century before). Secondly, and of more direct importance to scientific method, Peirce put forth the basic schema for hypothesis-testing that continues to prevail today. Extracting the theory of inquiry from its raw materials in classical logic, he refined it in parallel with the early development of symbolic logic to address the then-current problems in scientific reasoning. Peirce examined and articulated the three fundamental modes of reasoning that play a role in scientific inquiry today, the processes that are currently known as abductive, deductive, and inductive inference. Thirdly, he played a major role in the progress of symbolic logic itself — indeed this was his primary specialty.
Popper and Kuhn
Karl Popper(1902-1994) is generally credited with providing a context for major improvements in scientific method in the mid-to-late 20th century. In 1934 Popper published "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" which repudiated the classical observationalist-inductivist account of scientific method and advanced empirical falsifiability as the criterion for distinguishing scientific theory from non-science. According to Popper, scientific theory should make predictions (preferably predictions that are not made by a competing theory) which can be tested and the theory rejected if these predictions are shown not to be correct. Following Peirce and others, he argued that science would best progress using deductive reasoning as its primary emphasis, known as critical rationalism. His astute formulations of logical procedure helped to reign in the excessive use of inductive speculation upon inductive speculation, and also helped to strengthen the conceptual foundation for today's peer review procedures.
Critics of Popper, chiefly
Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabendand Imre Lakatos, rejected the idea that there exists a "single" method that applies to all science and could account for its progress. In 1962 Kuhn published the influential book " The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" which suggested that scientists worked in a series of paradigms, and argued that there was little evidence of scientists actually following a falsificationist methodology. As Kuhn put it "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
The consequence of these debates is that there is no single agreed view as to what constitutes "scientific method" [Jerry Wellington, "Secondary Science: Contemprary Issues and Practical Approaches" (Routlege, 1994, p. 41)] . There remain, nonetheless, certain core principles that are the foundation of scientific inquiry today. ("see also: Scientific Method)"
Mention of the topic
The Eleventh Edition of "Encyclopædia Britannica" did not include an article on scientific method; the Thirteenth Edition listed scientific management, but not method. By the Fifteenth Edition, a 1-inch article in the "Micropædia" of Britannica was part of the 1975 printing, while a fuller treatment (extending across multiple articles, and accessible mostly via the index volumes of Britannica) was available in later printings. ["Encyclopædia Britannica", Fifteenth Edition ISBN 0-85229-493-X Index L-Z "scientific method" pp.588-9]
In the past few centuries, some statistical methods have been developed, for reasoning in the face of uncertainty, as an outgrowth of methods for eliminating error. This was an echo of the program of Francis Bacon's "
Novum Organum". Bayesian inferenceacknowledges one's ability to alter one's beliefs in the face of evidence. This has been called belief revision, or defeasible reasoning: the models in play during the phases of scientific method can be reviewed, revisited and revised, in the light of further evidence. This arose from the work of Frank P. Ramsey, [A review and defense of Frank P.Ramsey's formulation can be found in [http://philrsss.anu.edu.au/people-defaults/alanh/papers/scotching.pdf Alan Hájek, "Scotching Dutch Books?" "Philosophical Perspectives" 19] ] John Maynard Keynes, [ John Maynard Keynes(1921) "Treatise on Probability"] and earlier, William Stanley Jevons' work [ William Stanley Jevons(1888) [http://www.econlib.org/Library/YPDBooks/Jevons/jvnPE.html "The Theory of Political Economy"] ] [ William Stanley Jevons(1874), "The Principles of Science", p.267, reprinted by Dover in 1958] in economics.
Later in the 20th century,
methodological naturalismcame to be accepted as central to the scientific method, partly in response to rise of creation science.
cience and pseudoscience
The question of how
scienceoperates and therefore how to distinguish genuine science from pseudosciencehas importance well beyond scientific circles or the academic community. In the judicial systemand in public policycontroversies, for example, a study's deviation from "accepted scientific practice" is grounds for rejecting it as junk scienceor pseudoscience. However, the high public perception of science means that pseuodoscience is widespread. An advertisement in which an actor wears a white coat and product ingredients are given Greek or Latin sounding names is intended to give the impression of scientific endorsement. Richard Feynmanhas likened pseudoscience to cargo cults in which many of the external forms are followed, but the underlying basis is missing. Fringe or alternative theories often present themselves with a pseudoscientific appearance.
Timeline of the history of scientific method
Notes and references
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