Category Archives: Philosophy of Science & Technology

Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science



          Much of the debate around the value of science in philosophy has been stimulated by the works of Thomas Kuhn; particularly his controversial book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Its controversy was based in its fundamental rejection of many ‘paradigms’ (sorry for the nerd pun) surrounding science in the early half of the twentieth century. He left both his contemporaries and predecessors aside in proposing that “reason and evidence can play only a limited role in determining the outcome of scientific revolutions”. [1]

          Because of this, Kuhn faced harsh criticisms by philosophers in the wake of his book being published. They deplored his disregard for scientific realism and for claiming that scientific revolutions are largely “a matter for mob psychology”. [2] Nonetheless, Kuhn addressed his critics responses in a lecture in 1973 titled, Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice (article on this lecture upcoming). He argued for a shared set of values between scientists who hold competing theories and from this shared value set he can support a notion of rational scientific revolutions. He, however, did not relinquish his objections to scientific realism and continued to hold the belief that science functions as a set of tools used for solving puzzles, rather than a system of literal descriptions of reality.


          The following articles in this series will look at Khuns position in more depth as well as the arguments proposed by his most ardent critics. I hope that you enjoy these series of philosophy of science articles and I look forward to engaging with you in the comment section below. If you have any article request that you would like me to look at and write an article on please feel free to contact me via The Leather Library Contact Page.

[1] – Curd, Martin, et al. “Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science .” In Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues.              pg. 75

[2] – Curd, Martin, et al. “Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science .” In Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues.              pg. 76

Works Cited

Curd, Martin, J.A. Cover, and Christopher Pincock. “Rationality, Objectivity & Values in Science .” In Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Second Edition ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013.


By: Steven Umbrello – Owner & Executive Editor

Philosophy of Science Series


          Over the last year I have been providing all of you content on the history and philosophy of science. However, as you would have noticed, I have slowed down this series. Currently, The Leather Library has produced posts regarding Science vs. Pseudoscience and thought experiments, however, I want continue the series of articles by writing them on other areas of philosophy of science. These topics will include:

Rationality, Objectivity, and Values in Science

The Duhem-Quine Thesis and Underdetermination

Induction, Prediction, and Evidence

Confirmation and Relevance: Bayesian Approaches

Models of Explanation

Laws of Nature

Intertheoretic Reduction

Empiricism and Scientific Realism

          The articles that will be written will be based off of the articles found by prominent philosophers of science in an anthology volume titled, Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues.  I hope that you enjoy the posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

By: Steven Umbrello

Science & Philosophy: The Divide


          One of the main focuses here in The Diogenes Society is to look at things critically, and with a cynical eye. Most of you who keep up with science and philosophy would have heard the outcry from the philosophical community in response to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s dismissal of philosophy. Thats being said please take a look at the article below (Originally published on BigThink):

What’s the Latest?



Neil deGrasse Tyson recently joined the ranks of Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, and Lawrence Krauss when he called philosophy “distracting” and criticized it for not offering the kinds of tangible gains of science. In general, there are three main arguments that physicists have leveled at philosophers: “there’s the argument that philosophers don’t really gather data or do experiments, there’s the argument that practicing physicists don’t really use any philosophy in their work, and there’s the refrain that philosophers concern themselves too much with unobservables.”



What’s the Big Idea?



The distinctions that these questions posit between philosophy and science are ultimately untenable, says Ashutosh Jogalekar, a chemist and biotech worker at a startup in Cambridge, MA. Looking back on history, early scientists were often called “natural philosophers” because their thinking concerned the true state of nature. Even modern thinkers like Bohr and Heisenberg realized “that they simply could not talk about these far flung implications of physics without speaking philosophically.” Science is not a rote investigation that excludes the creativity and originality of philosophy, and philosophy often steps in to fill the gaps at the edges of scientific progress.



Read more at Scientific American



New_big_think_image by ORION D. JONES

This idea that philosophy has somehow become obsolete is a purveying idea that floats around a large portion of the scientific community…but not all! (See Sean Carroll’s defence of philosophy) The most disturbing part of all this is that the idea is held by very popular scientists, who hold the sway over the minds of many. I know this because I also am a big fan of scientists like Feynman, Tyson, Krauss and Hawking.

          I cant help but pity these public intellectuals. For such intelligent individuals to utter such statements is a clear indication that they lack any formal philosophical education. If they knew the benefits of philosophy of science, and how it asks the questions that leads science to search for the answers then perhaps they may change their positions. However, it seems that they have such a disdain for philosophy that they would not even be open to the idea… This is a sad state of affairs, and I think that it will only get worse.
          I love science, it is a passion of mine and it will always be. Since I was small I wanted to be a physicist, and now I am a student of philosophy of science. I chose that path because how important I felt philosophical inquiry was to science. I think that they are the same thing, but they ask different questions. Science without philosophy would feel shallow, and philosophy without science would feel futile!
Photo credit: Shutterstock

By: Steven Umbrello



            Aristotle said that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies. If you were to drop a cannon ball and a musket ball from a tower then the cannon ball would hit the ground first. Galileo contradicted Aristotle’s claim using a thought experiment. Imagine that we tied together the heavier body to the lighter body and then dropped them. According to Aristotle’s theory, the compound ball is going to fall faster than either ball individually because it weighs more. But since they are tied together the musket ball would retard the speed of the cannon ball, making this compound ball fall slower than the cannonball. Intuitively, this is an absurdity. So Galileo concludes that Aristotle’s theory must be wrong.

             The only possibility left was that heavier bodies fall at the same rate as lighter bodies because the opposite of Aristotle’s theory is also absurd. What is fascinating about this thought experiment is it seems to give us knowledge about the world and how bodies fall, without presenting us with any facts or new information. And yet it seems like we can come away from the act of imagining with a new piece of knowledge. The philosophical questions surrounding thought experiments is how this is possible.

             If thought experiments didn’t give us knowledge then both philosophers and scientists would be out of a job. Because of this they want to say that thought experiments do give us knowledge. Nevertheless, those who accept them are divided. They argue between whether or not the knowledge is a priori or a posteriori. This is the Epistemological Puzzle of Thought Experiments. It asks: Where does this new knowledge come from?

            Execution: The way the thought experiment is executed in our minds and how we come to be convinced by the conclusions of the thought experiments. John Norton says that this is a psychological issue. The other issue has to do with the Justification that thought experiments seem to provide.

             Is the justification that we think we get ultimately based in experience or something else? Is the knowledge that we seem to get from some thought experiments a priori or a posteriori?


Brown on Thought Experiments

            Brown thinks that at least some thought experiments are a priori. This is because he thinks that the knowledge that we get from them cannot be got from experience alone, as in the example of Galileo’s cannon ball and musket ball. He says there are Extensive Properties in thought experiments and these have to do with the matter in an object, like mass, weight, height and volume. These properties he calls additive. The opposite are Intensive properties and don’t have to do with the amount of matter in an object(s) like temperature or density. These properties are not additive.

            Brown says to substitute extensive properties for weight in the original thought experiment, imagining that one ball is higher then the other, or has greater volume, then imagine how it will fall and you will derive the same contradiction in the original thought experiment. This shows that the rate at which objects fall is independent of all extensive properties. Brown says that we are not justified in believing this on the experience of the world. We have not observed objects of different mass, height, volume falling. He says we know this a priori.

            How can we have a priori knowledge about the way nature works? Brown’s answer rests on what he and Norton call the Platonic View of Laws of Nature, which state that laws of nature are not just correlations or constant conjunctions between physical things, they are actually relations between universal abstract properties. They are properties that exist independently of us, outside time and space.

Ex. Ideal gas law: Gas expands when heated. According to the Platonic view, if ideal gas law is a law of nature, it is because you have the abstract universal property of being a gas, and you have the property of expanding when heated, and if this is a law of nature there is a relation of nomic necessity. Every actual gas (every physical instantiations of the abstract property) in the world does in fact expand when heated.

             We can come to know laws through empirical observation, but the laws of nature do not just consist in observed correlation or physical connection. It is something more then that. Brown wants to say that we think of the laws of nature the same way we think in math—intuitively.

Norton on Thought Experiments 

            Norton, unlike Brown, is an empiricist, which means he thinks that all knowledge of the world comes from justification from experience and observation. He wants an account of thought experiments that is consistent with his empirical view. That is his first criterion. The second is that thought experiments must explain why some are not reliable while others are. Brown does not emphasize this point but Norton thinks it’s important. Norton thinks that while not all thought experiments have anti-thought experiments which contradict them, many do.

Ex. Imagine a helicopter that has infinitely long blade, will it fly? NO! The amount of lift that a helicopter generates is a function of the speed at which the propeller pushes down the air as well as the mass of air under the rooter. The mass of air is a function of how long the propeller is. The velocity is a function of how fast the rooter turns. In this case if you were to slow down the rooter you could generate the same amount of lift simply my lengthening the rooter.

            Imagine doubling the length of the rooter. Doing this more than doubles the amount of air under it. By doing this you will have the speed that it is needed to lift the copter. You can continue doubling the length. At one point you will have an infinitely long rooter that does not need to move at all to generate lift.

            This cannot be considered to be a reliable thought experiment. Thought experiments have to help us decide between them and their anti-thought experiments. To satisfy his two criteria, Norton thinks thought experiments are disguised arguments. This is a claim about both the execution and justification of thought experiments. Norton claims that all thought experiments can be reconstructed as arguments, and we are justified in accepting the conclusion of a thought experiment in so far as the argument that is built into it is a good one. All thought experiments can be reconstructed as arguments.

            Norton says that these thought experiments are reduction ad absurdum. An example would be Aristotle’s view on the two balls:


1. Assumption: Heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones.

2. Cannonball is heavier than a musketball.

3. If we combine heavier and lighter object, heavier object will speed up lighter object & lighter object will slow down heavier object.

4. If we combine the cannonball and musketball, the composite will fall slower then the cannonball.

5. The composite will be heavier than the cannonball.

6. The composite will fall faster than the cannonball. 

4 & 6 contradict, so 

1 must be false.

            We come to be convinced of the conclusions of thought experiments because, according to Norton, we have reconstructed the argument and have seen that it is a good argument.

            The challenge for the empiricist is, how we can get new empirical information from a thought experiment without putting any in? Norton says that if thought experiments are arguments, then like all arguments they take as premises knowledge or information that you already posses and they transform that knowledge. That new knowledge is implicit in that old knowledge. Therefore, if thought experiments are arguments then they are essentially doing the same thing. This is how Norton meets the first criterion.

            Norton says that if thought experiments are just arguments then the obvious explanation for why some TEs are good and some are bad is that some arguments are good, and some are not. Some may have bad premises or that they draw illegitimate inferences. Others will be good because the premises are justified and the conclusions follow logically from the premises.

Norton vs. Brown

             Norton says that his view explains why some TEs go awry and tells which are trustworthy and which are not. Norton thinks that Brown’s view can’t do those things. Brown says TEs go awry because our intellectual perception is fallible and sometimes wrong. Norton doesn’t consider this a good explanation, not unless Brown can tell us more about how intellectual perception works and how it fails. But Brown doesn’t seem to have any of this information, he doesn’t have a theory for how the intellectual perception works and no rules to determine when it is reliable and when it is not. So Norton believes that this is where his view is better.

            Another point of disagreement: Can all thought experiments be reconstructed into arguments? And should they be? Norton is able to draw out arguments from all of Brown’s thought experiments. Brown says that this does not show much however. Just because an argument can be drawn out doesn’t mean that this is what is happening in our minds. TEs are not justified because they can be transformed into arguments. Norton argues that is it not a bizarre coincidence that all thought experiments are able to be constructed as arguments—because they are in fact arguments.

 By: Steven Umbrello – Originally posted on The Leather Library Blog 

Scientific Explanations & Thought Experiments


          Here at The Leather Library we have been having a lot of fun writing articles on the philosophy of science. There have been numerous articles outlining the basic tenets of the history of science, the demarcation criterion, scientific explanations and thought experiments. This post will summarize and document all of the articles that have been previously published on this site regarding scientific explanation by Hempel and Kitcher, as well as the nature of thought experiments. I hope that this comprehensive document is informative and fun to read!


By: Steven Umbrello – Originally Posted on The Leather Library Blog