Thursday, August 25, 2011

Week 2 Reading & Questions: Creativity and Methodology

We’ll continue talking about scientific methodology next week, spending a bit more time on what French calls “the Romantic view” of scientific discovery and then talking in more detail about the context of justification. It seems fairly clear that French is a bit skeptical of this view. But as he makes clear, it really is a very common way for scientists to characterize what they do — and we need to take that seriously at least as a starting point. On Thursday, we will read a classic exhibition of the Hypothetico-Deductive model of scientific inquiry by Carl Hempel. Though very readable, there are several instances of logical argument schema like this (see p. 7):

If H is true, then so is I.
But (as the evidence shows) I is not true.
H is not true.
You may not be familiar with this notational convention. The line is indicating that this is an argument. The sentence that comes after the line is the conclusion; the sentences above the line are premises (that is, reasons or justifications for believing the conclusion). I’ll say a bit more on Tuesday about some of these logical concepts to get us ready to talk about the H-D model in detail. Here’s the reading assignment along with some questions/prompts to think about and write on. Remember: I’m asking you to respond to just one set each week — your choice which day, but I’d like the papers pertaining to a given day’s class before that class. Let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to leave a comment on the blog, if others might profit from hearing the answer.

Tuesday (8/30)
French, Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy, pp. 1–17 [In the future, I'll list this book as just 'French’.].

Questions: Respond to two of the following prompts in less than a page (e.g., a short paragraph or two/each should be plenty).
  1. French discusses in the Introduction a few ways for figuring out “how science works”: listening to the scientists and observing scientific practice (pp. 2–3). How do his comments on these two strategies relate to his remarks on the “Romantic view” of scientific discovery.
  2. Do you think creativity needs to be “irrational”? Must it be connected with genius?
  3. If French is cautious about the Romantic view of creativity, Feyerabend clearly hates it. Explain why French does not think Feyerabend’s argument against it is very good. (Can it be improved?)
  4. Consider French’s (apparent) suggestion that the Romantic view is “a bit of a myth” (15). What reasons does French offer for thinking this? Do they seem compelling to you? Why or why not?
Thursday (9/1)
Hempel, "Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test" [PDF]
Note: the PDF links should take you directly to the article, provided that you are logged into Moodle. If that doesn't work, you can simply find the articles on our Moodle page
French, pp. 17–23

Questions: (respond to two)
  1. Does Hempel’s discussion of Semmelweis’s discovery of the causes of puerperal fever fit naturally with the Romantic view of discovery? Does it suggest any modifications to Romanticism?
  2. Hempel makes the point that “the fact that a test implication inferred from a hypothesis is found to be true, does not prove the hypothesis to be true” (8). Compare this point with the discussion of the swans in French.
  3. Do you think that the Inductive Account of discovery offers a reasonable replacement for the Romantic view? Explain.
  4. Toward the end of Ch. 2, French considers an argument for the conclusion that “science proceeds by making observations and using induction” (21). But something worries him (even setting aside his claim about their being counter-examples). Explain this worry clearly.

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