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9. Philosophy of Science

DAVID PAPINEAU


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631219088.2002.00014.x


Extract

Much recent work in the epistemology of science is a response to the problem of induction. Induction is the process whereby scientists decide, on the basis of various observations or experiments, that some theory is true. At its simplest, chemists may note, say, that on a number of occasions samples of sodium heated on a Bunsen burner have glowed bright orange, and on this basis conclude that in general all heated sodium will glow bright orange. In more complicated cases, scientists may move from the results of a series of complex experiments to the conclusion that some fundamental physical principle is true. What all such inductive inferences have in common, however, is that they start with particular premises about a finite number of past observations, yet end up with a general conclusion about how nature will always behave. And this is where the problem lies. For it is unclear how any finite amount of information about what has happened in the past can guarantee that a natural pattern will continue for all time. After all, what rules out the possibility that the course of nature may change, and that the patterns we have observed so far turn out to be a poor guide to the future? Even if all heated sodium has glowed orange up till now, who is to say it will not start glowing blue sometime in the next century? In this respect induction contrasts with deduction. In deductive ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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