Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Review of Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by Peter Godfrey-Smith

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (09/09/2023)

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“Both during these classical discussions and more recently, a problem for empiricism has been a tendency to lapse into skepticism, the idea that we cannot know anything, or can only know much less than is usually supposed, about the world and its workings.  There are many kinds of skepticism, but two are especially important here.  One is external world skepticism, which questions whether we can even know anything about a physical world that might lie behind the flow of sensations we receive.  The second form, made vivid by Hume, is inductive skepticism: why do we have reason to think that the patterns found in past experience will also hold in the future?” – Peter Godfrey-Smith, Chapter 2 Empiricism, Page 35

“”Falsificationism” was the name Popper gave to his solution.  Falsificationism claims that a hypothesis is scientific if and only if it has the potential to be refuted by some possible observation.  To be scientific, a hypothesis has to take a risk, has to “stick its neck out.”  If a theory takes no risks at all, because it is compatible with every possible observation, then it is not scientific.” – Peter Godfrey-Smith, Chapter 4 Popper: Conjecture and Refutation, Page 79

“With a social structure of this kind, the “dialogue between imaginative and critical voices” can become a genuine to-and-fro.  We have social mechanisms in place that reliably bring about the checking and scrutinizing of ideas.  Some rather dogmatic individuals can work within the system and perhaps play a useful role, provided that flexibility and open-mindedness is found in the community as a whole” – Peter Godfrey-Smith, Chapter 14 The Future, Page 300



What defines science, is still in conflict.  How science functions has changed over time, and continues to change.  This is a history to the philosophy of science, the foundational ideas to science.  Questioning how science searches for truths, for patterns.  Empiricism has a skeptical edge, questioning how much can actually be known about how reality functions.  External skepticism questions the patterns that frame the sensations of the world.  Inductive skepticism questions how much the past experience predicts the future. 

Generalizations have limited value because of the problem of induction, for generalizations do not contain all observations.  The not yet observed can provide contradictions to the generalized, with a single contradiction changing the entire value of an idea.  Confirmation of theory, does not mean a theory has been proven.  Confirmation provides partial rather than decisive support for theories.  Theories need to prove themselves by putting themselves to tests that can potentially falsify them.  Theories need to take risks.  Ideas can be logically consistent, but that does not mean empirically valid.

There are those who think that objective facts can be separated from value judgements, are part of descriptive theory.  Others who think that facts and values cannot be separated, are part of normative theory which also raises claims about what should be.  Some ideas might be more objective, but usually there are values attached.  Scientists do not passively receive information.  They actively select information.  Science is about the choices that the scientists make. 



This book was meant for students, with a broader audience in mind.  The results are mixed.  The book can act as a reference book, and be a used as an introduction to the various ideas which are part of science.  But, there are sections that would be better understood under the guidance of an instructor.  Written in a manner that requires someone who already has knowledge about the ideas to understand the ideas further, or be explained in lecture form.  

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 makes science a science? 
•What is the problem with induction?
•What is the difference between normative and descriptive theories?
•What is epistemology?
•What is empiricism?
•How does falsification function?
•Can a theory be proven? 
•Feminism in science? 
•How much to simplify?
•What is Bayesian analysis? 
•What is truth?
•Was there a scientific revolution?
•How did the scientist think about religion? 
•How can facts be manufactures? 
•How to simplify? 
•What is unification theory? 
•Are scientists open-minded? 
•What is the role of math in science? 

Book Details
Edition:                 Second Edition
Publisher:             The University of Chicago Press
Edition ISBN:      9780226771137
Pages to read:       308
Publication:          2021
1st Edition:           2003
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall          2