Monday, February 6, 2023

Review of The Arch of Knowledge: An Introductory Study of the History of the Philosophy and Methodology of Science by David Oldroyd

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Intriguing Connections = What Makes Science A Science?

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“A knowledge of the history of ideas concerning the nature and methods of science is a valuable component of philosophical education.  By the same token, knowledge of the history of general philosophy can assist greatly towards an understanding of the ways in which scientific inquiries are carried out and the kind of thinking that is characteristically employed by scientists in their investigations.” – David Oldroyd, Preface, Page 3

“The information that we can acquire through our sense organs – knowledge of appearances – is deceptive and illusory, according to Plato.  Also, though one may happen to form a ‘true judgment’ correctly, this can be fortuitous.  So merely being ‘right’ about something doesn’t mean that one has knowledge.  To have knowledge, Plato argued, one much apprehend the forms or Ideas of things.” – David Oldroyd, Chapter 1: The Ancient Tradition, Page 8

“Positivists generally unite in their desire to eliminate ‘essences’ from science, and they take the nominalist view of language.  Moreover, they believe it possible to distinguish between facts and values, and maintain that values should be kept out of science.  They usually repudiate the claims of traditional theology and hold that there is no transcendent world of value.” – David Oldroyd, Chapter 5: Nineteenth-Century Positivism, Page 169



Science has a history, and a philosophy.  From philosophical origins of logic, categorization, and abstract mathematical language, to systematic methodological experimentation.  Those who would attempt to improve an understanding, utilized scientific tools and ideas, but they also came across their limitations.  Knowing epistemology, knowing how knowledge is acquired, means knowing the relationships between the ideas and nature of reality.  Knowing the history of philosophy and methodology of science means becoming a better judge of how scientific inquiry is carried out and how scientists think about their investigations. 

Knowing the limitations of science means being able to find ways to potentially overcome the limitations.  Limitations such as the deceptive ways of how information is acquired, the problem of induction, the scientists’ prior ideas, the social interaction of the ideas, and that all knowledge is subject to doubt.  This is a book about the individuals who developed the scientific foundations.  Developed when trying to apply prior concepts to obtain an understanding.  


Philosophy and Science:

Within the ancient tradition, abstract math was meant to train the mind.  An understanding of abstract math that would result in the production of practice knowledge.  Even during this era there was a distinction between practical and theoretical knowledge, but with a different meaning.  The free individual would consider the theoretic aspects of a problem, while the slave would be doing the practical aspect of measurements. 

Science depends on logical statements, on syllogistic logic.  Which is concerned with forms of arguments, the validity of an argument.  Syllogistic logic is not concerned with whether the premises and conclusions are true or false. 

Science depends on induction, but induction is a logically invalid method.  Induction is how general claims are made from particular knowledge.  Deductive method is an application of general statements to the particular claims.  Deduction required testing the claims.  With new science philosophy seeking knowledge through experimentation.  Trying to falsify the theories made.  A scientific philosophy of positivism even claims to be able to separate facts and values.  That values could be kept out of science.  As more empirical claims are made, the claims require less empirical evidence and become true by convention. 



This book is very difficult to read.  Frequently focusing on the technical science, the ideas produced, rather than the method and process of science.  Although the book is meant to be an introduction to epistemology, the book is more valuable to those who already have an understanding of epistemology, and have background information on the various philosophers and scientists discussed.  For those with an interest in epistemology, the book can be a source reference.

The philosopher and scientist represented are primarily European, and American.  This is problematic because much of science was developed elsewhere, such as the Middle-East. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is epistemology?
•Why try to understand the philosophical aspects of science?
•What is science?
•How did philosophy shape science?
•What are the limitations of science?
•How was math used in ancient societies?
•What is syllogistic logic?
•What is the induction?
•Why experiment?
•What is scientific positivism?

Book Details
Publisher:             Methuen
Edition ISBN:      0416013414
Pages to read:       371
Publication:          1986
1st Edition:           1986
Format:                 Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    1
Content          2
Overall          1