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Naturalized philosophy of science

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q074-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Naturalized philosophy of science is part of a general programme of naturalism in philosophy. Naturalists reject all forms of supernaturalism, holding that reality, including human life and culture, is exhausted by what exists in the causal order of nature. Naturalists also reject any claims to a priori knowledge, including that of principles of inference, holding instead that all knowledge derives from human interactions with the natural world. Philosophically, naturalists identify most closely with empiricism or pragmatism. David Hume was a naturalist. So was John Dewey. The logical empiricists were naturalists regarding fundamental ontological categories such as space, time and causality, but non-naturalists about scientific inference, which they came to regard as a branch of logic. Most naturalists now dismiss searches for ’philosophical foundations’ of the special sciences, treating the basic principles of any science as part of scientific theory itself.

The main objection to naturalism has been at the level of general methodological principles, particularly those regarding scientific inference. Here non-naturalists object that, being limited to ’describing’ how science is in fact practised, naturalists cannot provide norms for legitimate scientific inferences. And providing such norms is held to be one of the main goals of the philosophy of science. Naturalists reply that the only norms required for science are those connecting specific means with the assumed goals of research. These connections can be established only through further scientific research. And the choice of goals is, for naturalists, not a scientific question but a matter of practical choice guided by an empirical understanding of what can in fact be achieved.

Among naturalists, the main differences concern the relative importance of various aspects of the practice of science. These aspects exist at different levels: neurological, biological, psychological, personal, computational, methodological, social and cultural. Each of these levels has its champions among contemporary naturalists, some insisting that everything ultimately be reduced to their favourite level. Perhaps the wisest approach is to allow that influences at all levels are operative in any scientific context, while admitting that some influences may be more important than others in particular cases, depending on what one seeks to understand. There may be no simple, one-level, naturalistic theory of science.

Citing this article:
Giere, Ronald N.. Naturalized philosophy of science, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q074-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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