Larry Laudan’s well-known paper “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem” has been republished several times in several volumes. The most readily available copy I could find was in “Physics, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis: Essays in Honor of Adolf Grünbaum.” The paper is worth reading for Laudan’s historical analysis of the demarcation problem, but two points in the essay stand out as supremely lackluster, especially for Laudan.
Posts Tagged ‘demarcation problem’
Teacher: Previously, we touched on how non-scientific statements play a bigger role than Popper first acknowledged. Gamma, you said yesterday that you disagreed with Sigma’s description of the scientific process?
Teacher: I will give a quick recap of our last lesson: We discarded the Logical Positivist solution to the demarcation problem as leaving far too many statements in that would qualify as ‘science’ and leaving out strictly universal statements as ‘meaningless’. We moved on to Popper’s original solution to the demarcation problem. It attempts to cleave scientific statements from non-scientific (or pseduo-scientific) statements by proposing that scientific statements are falsifiable, while non-scientific statements are not. Has anyone found a problem with this solution?
The Duhem problem can be expressed as follows:
A physicist disputes a certain law; he calls into doubt a certain theoretical point. How will be justify these doubts? From the proposition under indictment he will derive the prediction of an experimental fact; he will bring into existence the conditions under which this fact should be produced; if the predicted fact is not produced, the proposition which served as the basis of the prediction will be irremediably condemned. (Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, Princeton University Press. Translated from the French by Philip P. Wiener.1954, p. 184)
By means of this mode of inference we falsify the whole system (the theory as well as the initial conditions) which was required for the deduction of the statement p, i.e. of the falsified statement. Thus it cannot be asserted of any one statement of the system that it is, or is not, specifically upset by the falsification. Only if p is independent of some part of the system can we say that this part is not involved in the falsification. (Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 76)
A naive theory of science might say that when testing a theory T, if an observation-statement O is found to agree or disagree with the logical consequences of T, O either supports or refutes T. This can be expressed as follows:
We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismount it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from the best components. (Otto Neurath)
Knowledge isn’t built on a foundation. Deducibility is a transitive relation; the conclusion of a valid argument cannot entail anything that is not also entailed by the premises. Nothing is built, since all that is entailed is the original set of premises. Since the foundation cannot be logically weaker than the set of all it entails, the foundation is the entire building.
The metaphor of construction in epistemology is a cognitive trap. The notion of “building from a foundation” cuts off creativity and diversity, reducing epistemology to unpacking the logical content of a few propositions. What does this achieve? Very little, almost nothing is produced but restatements of common beliefs – ‘I exist,’ ‘there is thinking,’ and so on – and little can come from them without some additional, and quite dubious, assumptions about phenomenal states.
I’m willing to grant that phenomenal states are indubitable to the justificationist out of a sense of leniency. Unfortunately for the justificationist, this does nothing to further their program. One cannot have access the noumenal world that easy. It is as if a man sets out to cross the Grand Canyon with little more than a running start.