What is The Philosophy of Science?

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  • 0:01 What Does Science Look Like?
  • 0:45 Karl Popper
  • 2:20 Thomas Kuhn
  • 3:18 Paul Feyerabend
  • 3:55 Helen Longino
  • 5:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, consider what it means for knowledge to be based on science. You'll learn how four key philosophers describe science and how a few question the value of the scientific method.

What Does Science Look Like?

When you imagine science, what do you visualize in your minds? Perhaps you think of people working in a lab with test tubes and beakers. Or maybe you think of students dissecting frogs in a biology class or a physicist performing calculations.

This lesson looks at how philosophers define science and how they differ in their views of what it really is. We'll hear from the perspectives of four influential thinkers. By the end of our lesson, you'll better understand what is meant by the philosophy of science, an approach that looks at how we define science, how science works, and how we build scientific knowledge.

Karl Popper

First up is Karl Popper. Popper would want you to know the meaning of the term falsifiable. This refers to the possibility of proving a statement to be false. Popper argues that scientific knowledge must be falsifiable, meaning that there must be at least the potential to disprove a theory with an observation that would contradict it.

Let's look at this more closely with an example. First, consider the claim, 'There is no Big Foot living in the Pacific Northwest.' There is the potential to prove it false if we were able to obtain new information, such as capturing Big Foot. So this can be considered a scientific claim.

Now consider the claim, 'Big Foot lives in the Pacific Northwest.' There is no real way to disprove this, to determine it is 100% false. We could comb the region looking for Big Foot in an exhaustive search, but we can't say without a doubt that the statement is false. Therefore, the claim that Big Foot exists is not in the realm of science from Popper's point of view.

According to his philosophy, science can only ever be about topics that have the potential to be proven wrong. Everything else is not science at all. This is a clear-cut rule that can be used to see the difference, he says. You can remember Popper's name by thinking of how he saw it as important to be able to pop the bubble of belief in a claim, to have the potential to prove it wrong.

Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn is up next. He's more of a historian of science, looking at how science has developed over time. A key term to know for Kuhn is the phrase paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts occur when old scientific theories are questioned by a revolutionary new approach, and a new framework is developed for assessing scientific knowledge.

For example, consider a time when people thought the earth was the center of the universe. During this period of time, science was based on certain standards and ideas, while later, these concepts had to be completely revised to adjust to the new understanding of the sun being at the center of our solar system. You can remember Kuhn's name by thinking of the word cool. In a way, Kuhn recognized that sometimes cool new ideas would completely change the nature of how we think about science.

Paul Feyerabend

Now, let's turn to Paul Feyerabend, who is definitely not convinced that there is any one standard approach that can get to the truth. He proposes that science, as we know it, is not as objective as it presents itself to be. He argues that the scientific method is not particularly valuable at all.

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