AF Chalmers - What is this thing called Science?

Chapter 11 - Methodical changes in method



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Chapter 11 - Methodical changes in method



If history of Galileo is corrected according to Chalmers’ opinion … /it/ poses problems for standard accounts of science and the scientific method.

Rhetoric. A philosopher is obviously not a historian.


Feyerabend's case tells against the claim that there is a universal, ahistorical method of science that contains standards that all sciences should live up to if they are to be worthy of the title "science" is reasonable according to Chalmers.

Se above.

There is a method and it is called the scientific method. It has been generally accepted since the 18th century.


Senses should be our guide in philosophizing.

Chalmers repeats his erroneous arguments from chapter 1 that reading from reliable instruments should not represent sensory experience, and hence stand in opposition to Chalmers’ definition of science.

See comments to p.4 and 5.


The web of aims, methods, standards, theories and observational facts that constitute a science at a particular time can be progressively changed,

An observation is not altered with time, but it may of course have been performed erroneously when viewed in the light of additional experiences.

If the details of the observation are carefully described it is possible to estimate the probability that the observation is in accordance with our perceived reality.

Purposes, methods, instruments and hypotheses are often gradually developed with time.


Chalmers discusses a “universal” scientific method according to common sense:

"take argument and the available evidence seriously and do not aim for a kind of knowledge or a level of  confirmation that is beyond the reach of available methods".

What Chalmers calls “universal” method becomes a result of the accepted scientific method, implying demands of detailed descriptions of how observations and inferences were accomplished.

One weakness in the statement is the term “available”. Does it imply total lack of requirements (“internet was not available”) or does it imply “within the area known methods”?


If the commonsense universal method is correct and adequate, it puts /philosophers of science/ …, and myself, out of business, because it is hardly the kind of thing that it takes a professional philosopher to formulate, appreciate or defend.

Is this a reason for these fruitless discussions? Is the purpose with the odd statements in chapters 1-10, all of which have been shown to be erroneous, only attempts to justify a philosophers club for mutual admiration?

Is this the reason for that Chalmers has avoided mentioning details of the scientific method, not formulated by academy philosophers but by scientists in opposition to such philosophers, and that has been shown to function satisfactory during about 300 years?


Once we demand more details concerning what counts as evidence and confirmation, and precisely what kind of claims can be defended and how, then those details will vary from science to science and from historical context to historical context.

Therefore the scientific method according to commonsense is not “universal”

The application of the scientific method, implying requirements of detailed description of how observations and reasoning are performed, varies to some respect between various sciences.


Chalmers suggests that if there are academic movements that fly in the face of this commonsense (s.171), then those in possession of such sense should demand that those movements be starved of funds.


Chalmers suggests that scientists that adhere to the (modified) scientific method should demand that most “sociologists of science and postmodernists” should not get funds. See however modification of this statement on p.254.

In the light of the content in the introduction and chapters 1-4, in addition to the uncritical treatment of the theses I chapters 5-10, this was a completely unexpected opinion.

Is Chalmers unaware of the rather small differences in attitude between “sociologists of science and postmodernists” and philosophers of science?


Traditional philosophers of science have themselves contributed to the manufacturing of a situation that opens a space for sociologists of science and postmodernists.

They have presumed that a distinction between science and other kinds of knowledge can only be achieved with the aid of some philosophically articulated account of universal method.

When those attempts fail, the way seems open for the sociologists of science and postmodernists to move in.

Traditional philosophers of science have missed the point, i.e. the scientific method that implies demands of careful descriptions of how observations and reasoning are performed.

It seems obvious that the method described above will not fill meters of shelves filled with thick books to be expressed.


The description above was from about 1984.

Two important movements that have developed since then: Adaption of probability theory and a closer look at experiment.

“Recently developed” philosophies will enter where earlier philosophers have failed.

The content of the two presented areas has been known since the 18th century. It is well known that the probability arguments are not strictly working, while the importance of experiments is well known within science.




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