Metaphysics and epistemology of science

Tomislav asked:

Are metaphysics and epistemology keys to interdisciplinary approach in science?

This is my line of reasoning. Science does experiments and experiments generate data. Data itself has no value, in the sense that to gain knowledge we need to interpret that data and see how it ‘fits’ in the existing knowledge. Also, to make an experiment we need to make some assumptions, both metaphysical and epistemological.

For example, to investigate the nature of subatomic particles, we need to make a metaphysical assumption that ‘the outer world’ exists and that such particles exist. Furthermore, we need to make an epistemological assumption that ‘the outer world’ is knowable and that experiments are a knowledge-generating method. So, philosophy can act (or acts?) as the first and the last step in scientific method.

Since philosophy can engage itself into answering a question from multiple perspectives (read multiple science disciplines) and philosophical assumptions are needed to do science can philosophy act as a glue that enables interdisciplinary approach? Also, is philosophy inherently interdisciplinary? Can we use this for better understanding of interdisciplinary?

Answer by Danny Krämer

As always I am trying to answer this question from my naturalist perspective. I think, you have first to distinguish two different stances towards the relationship between science and philosophy. First, there is the view I will call the ‘Foundation View’. If you hold this position you try to deliver a extra scientific justificatory foundation for the scientific method. The foundation cannot be got by scientific method itself because that would be circular. For example, you are haunted by sceptical objections to science and you want to find some common ground by a priori investigation. You use your philosophical methods to establish the foundation. It is a two step: First you do philosophy and then you can do science. You can have these theories both anti-naturalistic or naturalistic.

On the other hand there is the view that I will call ‘Proper Naturalism’. As a Proper Naturalist you cannot see any method to come to true theories that is outside of science. So you also see no method to establish any foundation for the scientific method. All you have are the good old methods that are reliable and take you to true believes and these are the same as science uses. To be clear: There is just no philosophical method. So is the proper naturalist a sceptic? And should we just stop doing philosophy? Neither. Where the sceptic wants a justification of our ordinary methods to come to true believes that is extra scientific and more certain than this methods, the proper naturalist admits that he cannot deliver such a justification. But he also sees no need for that. He knows a scientific story how we come, for example, to perceptional knowledge but he cannot give a extra scientific story why this story is true. All he can do is tell another scientific story.

What is left to do for the proper naturalistic philosopher? A lot! He can do exactly what you are talking about. The data of science do not come with their interpretation on their sleeves. Even though the naturalist does not see any reason or motivation to answer question like ‘Does the external world exist?’ she wants to know what the nature of our physical world is and how this fits with common sense objects or with the mind. So for the proper naturalist there is no hard line between common sense, science and philosophy. Science is prolonged common sense and philosophy is prolonged science.

So if you mean by ‘interdisciplinary’ that philosophers need to know physical theory if they want to know what the nature of the physical world is, then you are right. If you want to do philosophy of physics you need to know physics. If you want to do philosophy of mind you need to know Cognitive Science. But do scientists need philosophy? There are a lot of scientists that deny that. But I think they are wrong. Philosophy can and does help to form a bigger picture and to ask the right questions. Philosophy can bring an informed perspective from outside a specific field of scientific inquiry and can so help to improve the inquiry in question.


One thought on “Metaphysics and epistemology of science

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.