8.1 What is Philosophy of Science?


By the end of this section you will discover:

  • What issues are covered in the philosophy of science.


The Philosophy of Science is a branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth. The philosophy of science focuses on metaphysical, epistemic, and semantic aspects of science.

There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all.

Here are some standard questions for the Philosophy of Science:

  • What exactly is science?
  • What is the scientific method?
  • Is science the best way to know about the world?
  • What is a law of nature?
  • What is a scientific theory?
  • How much evidence and what kinds of evidence do we need before we accept hypotheses?
  • Why do scientists continue to rely on models and theories which they know are at least partially inaccurate?


In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.

While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, modern philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivist movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements’ meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Charles Sanders Peirce and Karl Popper moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology. Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as the steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a “paradigm”, the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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