Philosophy of Science | Definition | Scope & Characteristics

Philosophy of science is defined as the philosophical study of assumptions, foundations, nature and implications of science. According to Kolawole Ogundowole (2003), philosophy of science sums up the experiences in the development of all sciences and social applications of their findings. It deals directly and also indirectly with the subject matter of all sciences.

The field of philosophy of science is said to be defined by an interest in one of a set of “traditional” problems or an interest in central or foundational concerns in science. In addition to these central problems for science as a whole, many philosophers of science consider these problems as they apply to particular science (e.g. philosophy of biology or philosophy of physics etc).

Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to draw philosophical morals. Although most practitioners are philosophers, several prominent scientists have contributed greatly to the field and are still contributing till date.

Thus in philosophy of science the central concepts common to empirical science are examined and clarified. These include: explanation, confirmation, prediction, systematization, empirical significance and the relationship of all these concepts to the structure of scientific theory. Examples may be drawn from both contemporary and historical science, including the social, biological and physical sciences.

History and philosophy of science therefore, is a discipline that deals with the system of science itself. It examines science structure, components, techniques, assumptions, limitations and so forth. History and philosophy of science is an academic discipline that encompasses the philosophy of science and the history of science.

Note that philosophy of science is not a branch of philosophy; rather it belongs to the area of philosophy called special inquiry. It is part of a range of sub discipline known as “philosophy of x” (where X may be filled in or substituted with various special science and social science such as law, sociology, psychology, chemistry physics etc).

Each of the activities for which there is a “philosophy of X” is said to be an investigation into a certain part of the world or a particular type of human activity. Hence when philosophy examines the basic concepts and claims of science we have what is called philosophy of science.

Philosophy of science is understood more by examining its nature, conceptions or how various scientific theories, ideas, claims, analysis or synthesis and school of philosophy came to make their input in the whole are of philosophy of science.

Scope of Philosophy of Science

Like science, philosophy of science embraces and covers a very broad range of activities. It attempts to answer questions such as: what is science? What is the purpose of science? How do we arrive at scientific truth? Thus, the areas or scope of philosophy of science can be found in the subject matter of all sciences.

In other words, philosophy of science deals with all the claims, assumptions and presuppositions of science. Hence philosophy of science is interested in anything science is interested in, but in a critical reflective, rational and philosophical manner.

Characteristics of Philosophy of Science

  • It is not primarily an empirical study of science. As such philosophers of science do not generally engage in empirical research beyond learning something about a few branches of science and their history.
  • It is primarily concerned with conceptual clarification.
  • It is normative in that it asks whether the methods that scientist use and the conclusions that they draw using those methods are proper or justified.
  • It takes a special interest in the concepts other discipline take for granted.
  • It employs a critical, evaluative approach. It aims at explaining why certain methods of analyzing data or the notion of explanation are good ones.
  • It emphasizes on conceptual analysis. For example, explaining what explanation is or in other words, what it means when we say that one thing “explains” another.

The development of Philosophy and Science

The earliest developmental strides and feats achieved in science could be traced to Mesopotamia, Egypt and ancient Greeks. Mesopotamia was the frontline in the areas of science- mathematics, astronomy and engineering, hence the representation in decimal, division of the circle into 360 degrees, divisions of the hour and minutes, etc are attributed to Mesopotamia.

Egypt on the other hand, is the cradle of human civilization. Egypt had a well organized system of religion cum education. It was in Egypt, at the Egyptian mystery system or school that most leading Greek philosophers studied courses like mathematics, geometry, medicine, astronomy, science etc.

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