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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  Science, therefore, is a means of developing approximations and models, a working simulacrum of the physical universe and social world. Science is a remarkably robust and successful means of establishing a working consensus on the most plausible ways to represent the physical and social world (though not on what such representations mean socially, politically, or philosophically, as McGuire and Tuchanska note). The amount of controversy over questions of fact and interpretation within any scientific community, the evolution of understanding as new observations based on new questions and methods become available, underscore the impossibility of regarding an objective universe as fully knowable in any intellectual sense. This perspective is not foreign to all positivist formulations. Mach’s economy of thought (that science provides a set of tools for making predictions, but that there is no independent reality about which these predictions were made) reflects, in part, a comparable perspective, though Mach himself was anti-realist, an idealist, denying the existence of an independent reality, and shared Carnap’s impatience with metaphysics. Positivists were far from unanimous on this score. Schlick began as a materialist, believing that science characterized objective reality; he ended by considering scientific laws as bases for inference, not as definitive characterizations of objective reality. (Actually, he ended murdered by a Nazi student—an instance of one person’s subjective reinterpretation of reality becoming another’s objective, and ugly, reality.) Popper, as Hacking points out, 13 by emphasizing science as falsifiable assertions, also recognized the value of unfalsifiable speculation, if for no other reason than the potential to generate new ideas and directions for empirical inquiry. Carnap dismissed the issue as semantic, consistent with his positivist distaste for metaphysical speculation. Nonetheless, for those who do not entirely share Carnap’s distaste, the problem of science, idealism, and materialism or dualism remains a rich and provocative

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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Science, therefore, is a means of developing approximations and models, a working
simulacrum of the physical universe and social world. Science is a remarkably robust and
successful means of establishing a working consensus on the most plausible ways to
represent the physical and social world (though not on what such representations mean
socially, politically, or philosophically, as McGuire and Tuchanska note). The amount of
controversy over questions of fact and interpretation within any scientific community, the
evolution of understanding as new observations based on new questions and methods
become available, underscore the impossibility of regarding an objective universe as fully
knowable in any intellectual sense.
This perspective is not foreign to all positivist formulations. Mach’s economy of
thought (that science provides a set of tools for making predictions, but that there is no
independent reality about which these predictions were made) reflects, in part, a comparable
perspective, though Mach himself was anti-realist, an idealist, denying the existence of an
independent reality, and shared Carnap’s impatience with metaphysics. Positivists were far
from unanimous on this score. Schlick began as a materialist, believing that science
characterized objective reality; he ended by considering scientific laws as bases for inference,
not as definitive characterizations of objective reality. (Actually, he ended murdered by a
Nazi student—an instance of one person’s subjective reinterpretation of reality becoming
another’s objective, and ugly, reality.) Popper, as Hacking points out,
13
by emphasizing
science as falsifiable assertions, also recognized the value of unfalsifiable speculation, if for
no other reason than the potential to generate new ideas and directions for empirical inquiry.
Carnap dismissed the issue as semantic, consistent with his positivist distaste for
metaphysical speculation. Nonetheless, for those who do not entirely share Carnap’s distaste,
the problem of science, idealism, and materialism or dualism remains a rich and provocative


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