AF Chalmers - What is this thing called Science?

Chapter 0 - Introduction, Problems with science



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The exact identification of the scientific method are seen as fundamentally important

This is an odd statement as exact definitions of terms are not common within philosophy.

This is even more certain for Chalmers and the philosophers that he lend himself against.


What is special with science is perhaps that it is derived from the facts, and not based on personal opinion.

Chalmers tries to create a “story” by using the ambiguous term “fact”.

As we cannot reach a demonstratively certain opinion about our world, it is held within philosophy that we cannot reach “absolutely certain knowledge” about our world. The term “knowledge” is hence inappropriate within theory of knowledge, if a clear definition is not provided.

Also terms related to “absolutely certain knowledge” e.g. “know”, “fact”, “prove”, “true” and “truth”. In everyday speech we use such terms, where they express “extremely high probability”, but without precise definitions they are an alarm for bad philosophy.


We shall see that it is doubtful that the idea that the distinctive feature of scientific knowledge is that it is derived from the facts of experience.

Chalmers tries to strengthen his “story” by using the term “scientific knowledge” instead of “scientific results”. “Knowledge” is, as discussed above, an ambiguous term within philosophy. This is so well known that Chalmers must be aware of it, implying that this is an attempt to manipulate the reader.

Within the sciences the term “scientific result” is used, and scientists are aware of that these do not represent “absolutely certain knowledge”.


We will encounter reasons for doubting that facts acquired by observation and experiment are as straightforward and secure as has traditionally been assumed.

A common rhetoric trick within philosophy is to make references to “traditionally assumed” or a “common understanding”.

Is Chalmers arguing against a peasant during the sixteenth century? Also this peasant could probably have informed him about the experiences that come from repeated observations (induction) that the peasant uses to increase the harvest.

That conclusions from observations may be questioned has been obvious for everybody within philosophy since the Greed antiquity and is the reason for sceptic and anti-dogmatic views within science. This is the reason for that observations in publications should be described in such a careful manner that it may be reproduced.


We will also find that a strong case can be made for the claim that scientific knowledge can neither be conclusively proved.

More rhetoric, see above.

As said above (p.xx) the term “scientific knowledge” is erroneous, and it is within philosophy well known that nothing concerning our world can be definitely proven.


One reaction to the realisation that scientific theories cannot be conclusively proved or disproved and that the reconstructions of philosophers bear little resemblance to what actually goes on in science is to give up altogether the idea that science is a rational activity operating according to some special method.

Scientific thought is extremely sceptic against unjustified theories, and our description and utilisation of our world has developed enormously since the scientific method gained major acceptance.

Therefore a more reasonable reaction is to question if philosophers that claim that science is lacking method and worth really can be taken seriously. This reaction is also expressed by Chalmers a p.172.


science has no special features that render it intrinsically superior to other kinds of knowledge such as ancient myths or voodoo.

This is shared by more recent authors writing from a sociological or so-called postmodernist perspective.

If not the terms “knowledge” and “intrinsically” had been used, which renders the phrase eviscerated, the phrase would seem completely ridiculous when we compare the effect of science in our society with the effect of voodoo .

The plural form indicates that the opinion is shared by more than one recent author. Which?


This kind of response /as the citation above/ to the difficulties with traditional accounts of science and scientific method is resisted in this book.

An attempt is made to accept what is valid in the challenges by Feyerabend and many others, but yet to give an account of science that captures its distinctive and special features in a way that can answer those challenges.

If Chalmers resists the citation, why did he include it in a general introduction?

Chalmers then uses the term “valid”. There is nothing “valid” in the arguments by Feyerabend. In addition he uses the expression “challenges by many others”. At most five persons have during modern times contributed in a manner that have been a “challenge” towards our view on science.

On the other hand many “challenges” towards our view on “knowledge” are "valid". See comment to p.xx.

The scientific method is basically sceptic and anti-dogmatic, and therefore filters off such deliberately deceptive wordings like the examples shown here.




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