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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  positivists (and will survive them). Logical positivism provided a formal structure for describing scientific inquiry. It also sought (at least some flavors, such as those argued by Carnap 3 ) to rule out methods and lines of inquiry that did not avail themselves of those rules for inquiry. Science may be inherently positivist as a method, but that does not mean scientists are positivist philosophically. The key distinction: Positivism as a method demands careful and rigorous evidence-based assertions. Positivism as a philosophy rejects any other method as valid. That is an enormous difference. I, as do many social and physical scientists, embrace the first, and reject the second. Philosophic positivists typically reject attempts to answer metaphysical questions. One might suppose that Carnap and his colleagues seized upon scientific method as a radical solution to the intractable problem of metaphysics, by articulating a set of logical principles which ruled discussion of the intractable and insoluble as out of bounds, meaningless. It is this absolutism, this assertion that scientific method offers the only viable method of thinking about and interpreting the world, that is or should be the primary focus of post- modern critiques. Such a critique attacks a tenet of positivism, not of physical or social science. One can understand the frustration with the Kantian dead ends that led to this radical rejection. Nonetheless, rejection of any form of intellectual inquiry, even into problems that by definition can not be conclusively resolved or even meaningfully evidenced, is inconsistent with the spirit of scientific method. No one is more aware than practicing scientists, in most cases, of the limitations as well as the promise of the method. Not all questions can be addressed through the testing of hypotheses with observable data or mathematical proofs. On what basis do we argue that

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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positivists (and will survive them). Logical positivism provided a formal structure for
describing scientific inquiry. It also sought (at least some flavors, such as those argued by
Carnap
3
) to rule out methods and lines of inquiry that did not avail themselves of those
rules for inquiry. Science may be inherently positivist as a method, but that does not mean
scientists are positivist philosophically. The key distinction: Positivism as a method demands
careful and rigorous evidence-based assertions. Positivism as a philosophy rejects any other
method as valid. That is an enormous difference. I, as do many social and physical
scientists, embrace the first, and
reject the second.
Philosophic positivists typically reject attempts to answer metaphysical questions.
One might suppose that Carnap and his colleagues seized upon scientific method as a radical
solution to the intractable problem of metaphysics, by articulating a set of logical principles
which ruled discussion of the intractable and insoluble as out of bounds, meaningless. It is
this absolutism, this assertion that scientific method offers the only viable method of
thinking about and interpreting the world, that is or should be the primary focus of post-
modern critiques. Such a critique attacks a tenet of positivism, not of physical or social
science.
One can understand the frustration with the Kantian dead ends that led to this
radical rejection. Nonetheless, rejection of any form of intellectual inquiry, even into
problems that by definition can not be conclusively resolved or even meaningfully evidenced,
is inconsistent with the spirit of scientific method.
No one is more aware than practicing scientists, in most cases, of the limitations as
well as the promise of the method. Not all questions can be addressed through the testing
of hypotheses with observable data or mathematical proofs. On what basis do we argue that


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