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Discovery, logic of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q026-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

Article Summary

Bacon, Descartes, Newton and other makers of the Scientific Revolution claimed to have found and even used powerful logics or methods of discovery, step-by-step procedures for systematically generating new truths in mathematics and the natural sciences. Method of discovery was also the prime method of justification: generation by correct method was something akin to logical derivation and thus the strongest justification a claim could have. The ’logic’ of these methods was deductive, inductive or both. By the mid-nineteenth century, logic of discovery was yielding to the more flexible and theory-tolerant method of hypothesis as the ’official’ method of science. In the twentieth century, Karl Popper and most logical positivists completed the methodological reversal from generativism to consequentialism by setting their hypothetico-deductive method against logic of discovery. What is epistemologically important, they said, is not how new claims are generated but how they fare in empirical tests of their predictive consequences. They demoted discovery to the status of historical anecdote and psychological process. Since the late 1950s, however, there has been a revival of interest in methodology of discovery on two fronts – logical and historical. An earlier explosion of work in symbolic logic had led to automata theory, computers, and then artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, a maturing history of science was furnishing information on science as a process, on how historical actors and communities actually discovered or constructed their claims and practices. Now, in the 1980s and 1990s, liberal epistemologists once again admit discovery as a legitimate topic for philosophy of science. Yet attempts to both naturalize and to socialize inquiry pose new challenges to the possibility of logics of discovery. Its strong associations with ’the’ method of science makes logic of discovery a target of postmodernist attack, but a more flexible construal is defensible.

Citing this article:
Nickles, Thomas. Discovery, logic of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q026-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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