Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Philosophy Versus Science, and Vice Versa

By Peter Bowditch

Has philosophy outlived its usefulness or does it still provide a framework enabling trust in science?

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I am not a scientist. What I mean by that statement is that I don’t do science for a living. My academic background, however, is in epistemology, philosophy of science and other more mundane areas such as statistics and research methodologies.

I am therefore understandably concerned about statements such as one made recently by Professor Lawrence Krauss, and echoed by others, that philosophy has outlived its usefulness and has nothing more to do with science.

I have to disagree as this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between philosophy and practical science – philosophy is about what science is, not how it is done on a daily basis. It is the way to determine the difference between science, pseudoscience and nonsense, a way of deciding whether what we think we know is related to reality or just an illusion or maybe a mistake.

Part of the problem comes from misrepresentation of what philosophy of science is. I will give as examples the two most popularly recognised thinkers in the area, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.

I am often told that Popper was wrong to talk about falsification because scientists don’t spend their time trying to demonstrate the falsehood of existing, accepted theories. What scientists do is to try to extend the range of knowledge or to investigate anomalous observations that seem in conflict with...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.