Philosophy of Science and the Impossibility of Epistemological "Neutrality" and "Objectivity"
(Especially Within Materialist or Logical Positivist Presuppositional Frameworks)

Edited by Dave Armstrong

TABLE OF CONTENTS (hyper-linked)

I. William P. Alston: What Is Naturalism, That We Should Be Mindful of It?
II. Dave Armstrong: Atheist and Christian Presuppositions and "Dogmatism"
III. Dallas Willard: Knowledge and Naturalism
IV. Michael Polanyi: The Structure of Consciousness
V. Michael Polanyi: Transcendence And Self-Transcendence
VI. Michael Polanyi: The Stability Of Beliefs
VII. Michael Polanyi: Philosophy of Science Website Article
VIII. Charles E. Hummel: Michael Polanyi and "Personal Knowledge"
IX. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stephen Thornton): Sir Karl R. Popper
X. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (John Preston): Paul Feyerabend
XI. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (A.D. Irvine): Alfred North Whitehead
XII. John Henry Newman: Christianity and Physical Science
XIII. Thomas S. Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
XIV. Edwin A. Burtt: The Doctrine of Positivism
XV. Thomas S. Kuhn: Scholastic Theology and the Copernican Revolution

I. William P. Alston: What Is Naturalism, That We Should Be Mindful of It?

(Complete article:

"Naturalism" is all the rage in the philosophical world and elsewhere in the culture. The woods are teeming with those who would provide "naturalistic" construals of intentional psychological states, moral and other evaluative facts, epistemic statuses, and much else. Whatever we talk about must be given naturalistic credentials or be consigned to the flames, if, indeed, flames themselves are naturalistically respectable. It requires some bravado, in contemporary American philosophy, to argue that it is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge various facts that cannot be "naturalized".

. . . What could be more natural than beliefs, desires, intentions, and the use and understanding of speech? By this I mean not only that these are everyday, familiar, run-of-the-mill phenomena - not something weird, spooky, paranormal, or occult. More to the point, beliefs, desires, and meaningful use of language belong, in their own right, to what, on any reasonable construal, is to be termed the world of "nature". It is part of our nature, as human beings, to form beliefs, desires, and intentions and to act on them, and to learn and use languages with semantic structures to communicate with our fellows. The idea that such familiar phenomena as these need to be explicated in some specially favored patois in order that their credentials as "natural" be vindicated, is one that must strike any fluent speaker of the language who is not corrupted by contemporary philosophical jargon, as bizarre in the extreme.

. . . Perhaps the naturalized epistemologist's commitment is to science. Epistemology is to become a part of science, or at least to be pursued by "scientific method", if we can figure out what the boundaries of that are. This is Quine's line in his famous essay, "Epistemology Naturalized". Well, on any halfway plausible way of drawing boundaries around "scientific method", the proposal to do epistemology only by scientific method would put virtually all actual epistemologists out of business - Quine included. At this point we might go back to trying to figure out what is allowable in a naturalistic reduction base for epistemological concepts, thus bringing us back to the kind of bafflement we encountered in thinking about naturalistic philosophy of mind. So seeing what naturalists work with when giving "naturalistic" accounts of various entities fails to give us unambiguous guidance to what is supposed to be "natural" . . .

. . . we might try a quite different tack, defining the thrust of naturalism not by the content of science, thereby holding ourselves hostage to whatever future developments there may be in that, but by the method of science. We will take "nature", by definition, to include all and only what is discoverable by the "scientific method", including the incipient beginnings of this in ordinary sensory observation, and reasoning from the results of observation. And let's pretend that we know what is and is not included in the "scientific method". Perhaps this will give us a real criterion for what is properly included in a reduction base for a naturalistic analysis of intentional and semantic concepts, and what is allowable in "naturalized epistemology". If a concept is such that its application can be determined by scientific method, then it is acceptable; if not, not. Perhaps this is what causal relations, (recognized) physical properties, neuro-physiological processes, and spatio-temporal location have in common. To be sure, there is still the possibility that "scientific method" can tell us about beliefs, desires, intentions, and linguistic meanings - without their having been defined in a way that contemporary naturalists would find acceptable. That depends on the details of how we think of scientific method. In any event, my principal concern now is not to clean up the act of the naturalist in philosophy of mind, etc., but to find some kind of naturalism that is interestingly related to religion. And it does look as if, on the present approach, we have a naturalism that is squarely opposed to the supernaturalism that we get in theistic religion. This naturalism turns out to be a form of "scientism". There is nothing other than what can be discovered by the scientific method. Or in other terms, science is our only access to what there is. If it can't be ascertained by science (or its humbler commonsense cousins), is isn't real. Thus we avoid the problem of what stage of science to take as our landmark, for we have brought science in by its method.

. . . Let's say, then, that naturalism is ineluctably incompatible with the deepest convictions of theistic religion, including any of its convictions concerning the existence, nature, purposes, and doings of God. How seriously should we take this? How much of a threat is this to theistic religion? That all depends on what there is to be said for this kind of naturalism. Why should we suppose that there is nothing except what we can learn about from science? What grounds are there for this kind of scientism?

I fear that one will find little real argument for this position in the writings of its proponents. One gets the impression that it is felt to be sufficient to bask in the glow of the prestige of science. We live in a scientific age. Everyone agrees that science has made enormous strides in the last few centuries in widening and deepening our understanding of the internal economy of the cosmos and has thereby made possible technological advances that would have been undreamed of two hundred years ago. With this kind of track record who needs a philosophical argument? Science has proved itself by its achievements. So what's the problem?

The problem is that one can unreservedly acknowledge the stupendous achievements of the scientific method - theoretical and practical - and still wonder whether this is our only cognitive access to the world. One can still wonder whether reality is limited to what science can reveal.

. . . To take an analogy closer to home, suppose that one, dazzled by the dizzying heights to which modern mathematics has ascended, should forthwith conclude that nothing exists except what is disclosed to us by pure mathematics. Pythagoras would have been revived, but to what purpose? Isn't it arbitrary to conclude from the stupendous achievements of one mode of inquiry that no other putative mode of inquiry can tell us anything about the world? And isn't the scientistic naturalist guilty of just this kind of arbitrariness in moving from the spectacular success of science to the conclusion that there is no other way of finding out anything about the world?

At this point the naturalist may turn to her opponent and ask for some reason to think that there is some other procedure that yields real knowledge of the world. Obviously, claims have been made for other modes of access - rational intuition, religious experience, innate ideas, systematic coherence, and so on. But, she will say, what reason is there for supposing that any of them really gives us knowledge of reality? Until solid reasons are produced for taking any of them as serious candidates, she will not worry her head about the possibility that any of them are genuine sources of knowledge.

There are two answers to this. First, we must think carefully about what is possible, in general, by way of validating the claims of a putative source of knowledge. I have argued that none of our basic (putative) sources of knowledge (including "scientific method" and its commonsense roots) can be shown to be a reliable source of belief, or a source of knowledge, without making use of what we take ourselves to have learned from that very source. Any otherwise effective argument for the reliability of such a source is infected with what I call "epistemic circularity" - using outputs of that source to show it to be reliable. (See my The Reliability of Sense Perception and "Epistemic Circularity" in Epistemic Justification.) If that is right, then the naturalist is using epistemically circular arguments to establish the claims of scientific method to be a source of knowledge. And perhaps the advocate of, say, religious experience can mount an effective argument for the reliability of that source if he is allowed to use its outputs in the argument.

Second, in criticizing the pretensions of scientistic naturalism I am not concerned to defend the pretensions of other sources of knowledge. I believe that there are other genuine modes of cognitive access to the world, but that is not the point here. The naturalist I am discussing makes a claim: that scientific method is the only genuine cognitive access to reality. The question is as to whether this claim can be successfully defended. If it cannot, the naturalist position is in big trouble, even if other claimants to knowledge are unsuccessful in defending their claims as well.

. . . we are seduced into forgetting the elementary distinction between sufficient and necessary conditions. That the use of scientific method is sufficient , roughly speaking, for getting truth about the world by no means shows that it is necessary for achieving that.

In fact the case for scientistic naturalism is so weak that the most appropriate reaction to it is one of caricature or ridicule. Fortunately I can draw on a distinguished predecessor in this enterprise, and one that it is especially appropriate to invoke in this place - O.K. Bouwsma, who for many, many years was the sage of the Nebraska prairies. In his wonderful essay, "Naturalism", Bouwsma has some fun at the expense of some of the contributors to a 1944 volume entitled Naturalism and the Human Spirit, many of whom characterized naturalism in the methodologically scientistic way I have been utilizing. For example, he quotes William Dennes as saying: "There is for naturalism no knowledge except of the type ordinarily called scientific", and responds as follows.

Notice first the form of Dennes's sentence. Mr. Ringling might say: "There is for Ringling Brothers no elephant except of the type ordinarily called big." Does Mr. Ringling intend to deny that there are any little elephants? Does he mean that besides Jumbo and Mumbo there is no little Nimblo? I think he means no more than that there is a difference between big elephants and little elephants, and that Mr. Ringling has no use for little elephants. If you tried to sell him one, he wouldn't buy. He can't use any. Or try this sentence: "For all the boys in our alley, there's no girl but pretty Sally." What, have the boys in our alley seen no girl but pretty Sally? Don't be silly. Of course, they know Helen and Ruth and Betty. It's just a way of saying that above all the girls they know, they prefer Sally.

And this is now the way in which we are to understand Mr. Dennes?�In this case�Mr. Dennes might have admitted other types of knowledge too, but would in this instance merely have intended to say: "Well, so long as I have my choice, let mine be scientific"�If Mr. Dennes prefers blondes or gas-heat or lemonade or a hard mattress or scientific knowledge, well, that's all there is to it.

Bouwsma then goes on to scrutinize a formulation of Krikorian.

Before we settle these matters, let us inspect Krikorian's sentence. It is: "For naturalism as a philosophy, the universal applicability of the experimental method is a basic belief." Consider the parallel sentence of the vacuum cleaner salesman: "For vacuumism as a philosophy, the universal applicability of the suction nozzle is a basic belief." He may argue to himself: "If I ever give this up, I'll never sell another vacuum cleaner. It is basic." To the house-wife who asks: "And can you use it to dust books?" he replies: "Of course". And when he shows her and finds that it does not do so well, does he deny the universal applicability of the nozzle? No such thing. He may complain that he himself is not skillful, or that what seems like dust to the house-wife is not dust. The universal applicability of the nozzle is now the touchstone of dust. If the nozzle is applicable, it's dust. If it is not applicable, it is not dust.

There is much more of this in the essay, but that is sufficient to give the general line. Bouwsma is suggesting (but only suggesting) that the scientistic naturalist is only expressing an attitude. He really doesn't have what he would need, in the way of solid backing, to require us to take his claim seriously as a claim as to what there is.

. . . When we are dealing with basic belief forming practices - those that constitute our basic access to a certain realm of reality - there is no alternative to using what we have learned by the exercise of that practice in setting up standards for evaluating particular beliefs so formed. The practice sets its own examinations. It is both examiner and examinee . . .

II. Dave Armstrong: Atheist and Christian Presuppositions and "Dogmatism"

Atheists often critique theists, and specifically Christians, for dogmatism and revelation, which -- so we are told -- intolerably stifle thought and the free exchange of ideas, and intellectual inquiry. But these tendencies also usually obtain in the philosophical and scientific worlds today (as I have long pointed out). There are "orthodoxies" and "dogmas" there too that one mustn't contravene. Materialism and atheism reign in philosophy (e.g., Wayne State Univ. in Detroit, where I attended, had not a single theist in its philosophy dept.); a materialistic brand of Darwinism in biology. If one takes a different view, one's mind and intellect and academic credentials are immediately suspect in the eyes of many of the "elite."

One couldn't even dispute Darwinian gradualism without receiving the ire of the Darwinist establishment, as the late Stephen Jay Gould wrote much about. I could go on and on about this. The bottom line is that religion is not the only arena where there is intense pressure to "toe the line." But at least Christians believe in revelation, which allows much less flexibility; science and philosophy are theoretically much more free and open. But in practice this is often not the case.

I don't see that -- from a very broad epistemological perspective -- being a Christian makes all that much difference in this regard. The findings of modern science,for instance, are not really open to question by philosophers. If indeed science is a distinct field (as it often falsely views itself to be, as if it were not also a brand of philosophy), then this would be a precommitment "from the outside." I don't know of many geocentric philosophers, or those who would deny current Big Bang cosmology (broadly speaking, as opposed to, say, the Steady-State theory).

I would also contend that atheism or materialism are presuppositional forces equally as strong in one's thinking as Christianity/theism. Do atheists really think that someone who became an atheist at age 10 or 15, or was raised in an atheist home, and subsequently majored in philosophy later on, is not profoundly influenced by his prior atheism when he does his philosophy? Of course he is influenced by that, just as a Christian would be biased in his prior Christanity. Some few radically change positions later in life. But not many. That doesn't suggest to me a radical freedom of thought and open-mindedness, as is the supposed ideal.

III. Dallas Willard: Knowledge and Naturalism

(Complete paper:

. . . In this paper I will try to explain why narrower Naturalism or unqualified Physicalism cannot find a place for knowledge, and specifically for three of its essential components: truth, logical relations and noetic unity. At this late date it is hard to say much that will be strictly new on these matters, but, apparently, there is much that needs to be said again. What I shall say about truth and logic is practically identical with what Frege said more than a century ago, though I hold views significantly different from his on how truth and logic fit into the full context of knowing and knowledge. What I shall say about noetic unity adds little to what has already been said by Kant, Lotze and Husserl.

. . . In traditional philosophical terms, Naturalism is a form of Monism. It holds, in some order of interdependence, that reality, knowledge and method each are of only one basic kind. That is, there are not two radically different kinds of reality or knowledge or method. It is fundamentally opposed to Pluralism, and most importantly to Dualism as traditionally understood (Plato, Descartes, Kant).

In its modern forms, Naturalism further specifies its Monism by reference to the empirical or the sense perceptible. The one type of reality admitted by it is that of the sense-perceptible world and its constituents. All knowledge is, for it, reducible to (or in some manner continuous with) sense perception, and all inquiry essentially involves sense perception, directly or indirectly. Currently, "the sense perceptible" is de-emphasized in favor of "the scientific"--the organization of data around empirically underdetermined hypotheses. But this is understood to constitute empirical research and, hopefully, to yield empirical or descriptive knowledge.

This leads directly into the current versions of "naturalized epistemology," where the emphasis is entirely upon the human being as a strictly physical organism acquiring beliefs in its "natural" environment. The question as to whether Naturalism can accommodate knowing and knowledge is then replaced by the question of whether the various normative issues that arise with reference to knowledge and belief formation in the course of human life and scientific endeavors can be replaced by mere descriptions of actual processes of belief formation.

. . . Knowledge itself,then--and, more weakly, justified belief--is simply belief that is produced in a certain way, for example, in ways that are reliable, ways that tend to produce true beliefs in actual as well as counterfactual situations that are relevant alternatives to the actual situation. Quine and others hold that epistemology can be appropriately replaced by psychology. This would yield what is now widely referred to as a "naturalized epistemology." Hilary Putnam, Jaegwon Kim and others hold, by contrast, that the normative (non-descriptive) element cannot be eliminated from epistemology, and therefore that a naturalized epistemology is impossible.

. . . Methodological monism is an enduring aspect of generic Naturalism, and modern Naturalism is often specified simply in terms of an exclusive application of scientific method in all inquiries. But how can this method support claims about the nature of reality as whole. For example, one might state that the only realities are atoms (quarks, strings, etc.) and derivatives thereof. But how is he to support his claim? It certainly cannot be derived from any specific science (physics, chemistry on up) or from any conjunction of specific sciences. And it is not to be derived through any application of experimental techniques within any science.

The Naturalist must then have recourse to that popular but philosophically suspect abstraction, 'science' itself, which says even less than the individual sciences about the nature of reality as a whole, because says nothing at all. It isn't the kind of thing that can say anything, though many individuals--usually, I think, not themselves scientists, and certainly not scientists expressing truths within the competence of their profession--present themselves as speaking for science, and thus as being 'scientific' in some extended but still authoritative sense.

John Searle seems to be in this position. He speaks of "our scientific view of the world," which according to him every informed person with her wits about her now believes to be true. He speaks of a view of the world which includes "all of our generally accepted theories about what sort of place the universe is and how it works." "It includes," he continues, "theories ranging from quantum mechanics and relativity theory to the plate tectonic theory of geology and the DNA theory of hereditary transmission," etc. We might imagine a very long conjunctive sentence--containing the specific theories he has in mind as conjuncts--that would, supposedly, express the "world view" in question.

But this will hardly do what he wants. One thing that will not show up in such a conjunctive sentence is any claim about reality as a whole or knowledge in general. Such specific scientific theories as those just mentioned--and no matter how many of them we may list--cannot provide an ontology. They never even attempt to determine what it is to exist or what existence is, and cannot by the nature of their content provide an exhaustive list of what ultimate sorts of things there are. Their existential claims are always restricted to specific types of entities as indicated in their basic concepts.

We emphasize the point that to suppose that a given scientific theory or conjunction of such theories provides an ontology constitutes a logical mistake, a misreading of what the theories say and imply. Those theories, and the bodies of knowledge wherein they are situated, actually say nothing whatsoever about the universe or about how it--the whole 'thing'--works. This is a merely semantical point about the meaning or logical content of the claims or sentences that make up the sciences. It is to be established or refuted by examining, precisely, those claims and sentences. It turns out that they do not even mention the universe, the totality of all that exists, nor do they say anything about the boundaries of knowledge generally. Such matters simply do not fall within the purview of their methods or findings.

In support of this claim we ask: Could one possibly find the place in some comprehensive and duly accredited scientific text or treatment, or some technical paper, where it is demonstrated or necessarily assumed by the science concerned that all that exists consists of particles or fields or strings--or whatever the proper subject matter of the science is? Would Searle or anyone else be able to mention the name of the physicist who established this as an "obvious fact of physics"? Exactly where in the "atomic theory of matter" is the claim about what "the universe consists entirely of" to be found?

"After all," Searle rhetorically asks, "do we not know from the discoveries of science that there is really nothing in the universe but physical particles and fields of forces acting on physical particles?" The answer, contrary to his assumption, is "No, we do not." Again, could he possibly just point out when, where, how and by whom this "discovery of science" was made. Was it made?

Also, before the philosopher can use "the discoveries of science" he must determine what "science" says. But this is to reify science, to treat it as an entity that issues "results." Science, as already indicated, says nothing at all. Particular scientists do. Unfortunately they also make unscientific statements. How can we tell when an individual scientist is making scientific statements, and "science" is therefore speaking, and when they are not? And can a 'scientific' statement be false or perhaps illicitly derived and still be scientific?

If a scientific statement can be false or based on logical errors, then a scientific statement may be less than knowledge. How, then, could it be required that we accept such statements as a basis or framework for philosophical work? History shows that statements accepted as "scientific" have been both false and based on logical errors. Is the advocate of Naturalism then one who works under an authority that may be and has been wrong? He himself would rarely if ever have the competence to do the scientific work and therefore must be taking the statements of "science" on authority. But blind authority is in fact one of the things we would expect Naturalism to stand against. Historically it has done so, and that has been one of its virtues. How can it avoid resting on it, however, if what Searle says is true? And is a philosopher's statement about science, a scientific theory or scientist to be automatically regarded as itself scientific? What can its status be?

. . . a thinker who would be naturalist would feel pressure to have recourse to some specific apriori analyses to render his ontological specification of Naturalism plausible. Short of that one simply can find no reason why naturalistic monism with respect to reality, knowledge or method should be true: no reason why there should not be radically different kinds of realities with correspondingly radically different kinds of knowledge and inquiry. Why should sciences be "unified"? This lack of reason is, I think, what made A. E. Murphy conclude long ago, in his review of Naturalism and the Human Spirit, "that the naturalists, who have so much that is good to offer, still lack and need a philosophy...."

In addition to the difficulty of coming up with such apriori analyses, however, to turn to such inquiry as might produce them would be to break with the epistemological monism essential to Naturalism and introduce something like a "first philosophy." This would be discontinuous with the empirical methods of the sciences. In showing its right through apriori analysis, Naturalism would simply give up the game.

In specifying what Naturalism is, therefore, one seems to be faced with an inescapable dilemma. Either one must turn to apriori (non-empirical) analyses to establish its monism, which will refute Naturalism's basic claim about knowledge and inquiry, or its claim will have to rest upon a vacuous appeal to "science."

. . . If narrow Naturalism cannot provide for truth, it also cannot provide for logical relations. Yet these too are essential constituents of knowledge. It cannot provide for such relations because they are, precisely, relations with respect to the truth values of propositions. Here we need only consider simple cases such as the relation of contrariety. Two propositions are logical contraries if they can both be false but cannot both be true. For example, Sue's dress is red and Sue's dress is blue. If one of these propositions is true, the other must be false. They cannot both be true. But both can be false--if Sue's dress is white, for example. The relation of contradiction, by contrast, is one that requires two propositions related by it to have opposite truth values, whichever they may be.

These and other logical relations are, like truth itself, objective relations. They obtain or do not obtain between propositions regardless of what any individuals or groups may feel or think about them. Moreover, laws expressing the logical relationships and logical character of propositions have a different sense and character from any laws of physical or psychological fact. They are neither hypothetical nor inductive, and have no existential import for such facts. They remain valid whether or not any such facts obtain. This becomes clearer if one tries to deduce or prove them from physical, psychological or linguistic facts or laws. It is not so much that it is not, in fact, done, or that it cannot be done, as that one cannot even imagine what it would be like to do it. These are points which Frege and Husserl elaborated so effectively in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that they could hardly be raised for discussion until the philosophical turn from thought to language and culture was more or less completed in recent decades. But I think they are points which can be made to stand up independently of the correspondence account of truth; and, if so, they provide a refutation of

. . . We have tried to show why Naturalism must be taken in the form of a "Puritanical" physicalism if it is to be a philosophically significant position, and have presented knowledge as involving at least truth as correspondence, logical relations and noetic unity. We have argued that there is no place for truth or logical relations in a world where the only properties are physical, and therefore that noetic unity is also impossible in such a world. Since it is possible--many things are known and there are people of great knowledge--Naturalism must be false. It cannot accommodate the ontological structure of knowing and knowledge.

IV. Michael Polanyi: The Structure of Consciousness

(Complete paper:

[This essay originally appeared in Brain, Vol. LXXXVIII, (1965), pp. 799-810 (for the Brain home page, see It is put on WWW with kind permission from Brain, Oxford University Press and John C. Polanyi. The essay also was included in Knowing and Being, ed. M. Grene, London: Routledge, 1969, pp. 211-224. The text below follows the Knowing and Being publication which has a modified first paragraph.]

. . . I shall start with an analysis of perception and shall arrive by successive generalizations of the result to a stratified structure of living things, which will include the structure of consciousness in higher animals.

Take a pair of stereoscopic photographs, viewed in the proper way, one eye looking at one, the other eye at the other. The objects appear then distributed in depth, more rounded and real, harder and more tangible. This result is due to slight differences between the two pictures, taken from two points a few inches apart. All the information to be revealed by the stereoscopic viewing is contained in these scarcely perceptible disparities. It should be possible to compute from them the spatial dimensions of the objects and their distribution in depth, and I could imagine cases in which the result of such processing may be of interest. But this would not tell us what the things photographed look like. If you want to remember a family party or identify a criminal, you must integrate the stereo-pictures by looking at them simultaneously with one eye on each.

When looking at the stereo-image, we do see the separate pictures too; for we see the stereo-image only because we have a precise impression of the two pictures which contribute to it. But we must distinguish between the two kinds of seeing: we are focusing our attention on the stereo-image, while we see the two pictures only as they bear on the stereo-image. We don't look at these two in themselves, but see them as clues to their joint appearance in the stereo-image. It is their function to serve as clues.

We may describe the situation by saying that we are focally aware of the stereo-image, by being subsidiarily aware of the two separate pictures. And we may add that the characteristic feature of subsidiary awareness is to have a function, the function of bearing on something at the focus of our attention. Next we may observe that the focal image, into which the two subsidiary pictures are fused, brings out their joint meaning; and thirdly, that this fusion brings about a quality not present in the appearance of the subsidiaries. We may recognize then these three features as parts of a process of knowing a focal object by attending subsidiarily to the clues that bear on it. We meet here the structure of tacit knowing, with its characteristic functional, semantic, and phenomenal aspects.

I have developed this analysis of tacit knowing many times before and have now chosen the example of stereoscopic viewing in order to prevent a recurrent misconception. [2] It is a mistake to identify subsidiary awareness with subconscious or preconscious awareness, or with the fringe of consciousness described by William James. The relation of clues to that which they indicate is a logical relation similar to that which a premise has to the inferences drawn from it, but with the important difference that tacit inferences drawn from clues are not explicit. They are informal, tacit.

[Footnote] [2] Recent publications of the author on which this paper draws: 'Clues to an Under-
standing of Mind and Body', The Scientist Speculates (I. J. Good, ed.), London:
Heinemann, 1962, p. 67; 'Tacit Knowing and Its Bearing on Some Problems of
Philosophy', Reviews of Modern Pbysics, 34 (1962), pp. 601-16; 'Science and Man's Place in the Universe', in Science as a Cultural Force (H.Woolf,ed.), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1964, Oxford University Press, 1965; 'On the Modern Mind', Encounter (May, 1965); 'The Logic of Tacit Inference', Philosophy (Jan. 1966) pp. 1-18; 'The Creative Imagination', Chemical and Engineering News, 44 (1966), pp. 85-93; The Tacit Dimension, Garden C ity: Doubleday, 1966.

Remember that Helmholtz tried to interpret perception as a process of inference, but that this was rejected, because optical illusions are not destroyed by demonstrating their falsity. Tacit inference is like this. The fusion of the two stereoscopic pictures to a single spatial image is not the outcome of an argument; and if its result is illusory, as it can well be, it will not be shaken by argument. The fusion of the clues to the image on which they bear is not a deduction but an integration.

. . . The purpose of this paper is to show that the relation between body and mind has the same logical structure as the relation between clues and the image to which the clues are pointing.
I believe that the paradoxes of the body-mind relation can be traced to this logical structure and their solution be found in the light of this interpretation.

. . . . I shall say that we observe external objects by being subsidiarily aware of the impact they make on our body and of the responses our body makes to them. All our conscious transactions with the world involve our subsidiary use of our body. And our body is the only aggregate of things of which we are aware almost exclusively in such a subsidiary manner.

I am speaking here of active consciousness, which excludes incoherent dreams or pathological bursts of temper. Active consciousness achieves coherence by integrating clues to the things on which they bear or integrating parts to the wholes they form. This brings forth the two levels of awareness: the lower one for the clues, the parts or other subsidiary elements and the higher one for the focally apprehended comprehensive entity to which these elements point. A deliberate act of consciousness has therefore not only an identifiable object as its focal point, but also a set of subsidiary roots which function as clues to its object or as parts of it.

. . . This formulation of tacit knowing, is particularly suited for describing the way we know another person's mind. We know a chess player's mind by dwelling in the stratagems of his games and know another man's pain by dwelling in his face distorted by suffering. And we may conclude that the opposite process, namely of insisting on looking at the parts of an observed behaviour as several objects, must make us lose sight of the mind in control of a person's behaviour.

. . . a behaviourist analysis merely paraphrases mentalist descriptions in terms known to be symptoms of mental states and its meaning consists in its mentalist connotations. The practice of such paraphrasing might be harmless and sometimes even appropriate, but a preference for tangible terms of description will often be restrictive and misleading. The behaviourist analysis of learning, for example, has banned the physiognomies of surprise, puzzlement, and concentrated attention, by which Koehler described the mental efforts of his chimpanzees. It avoids the complex, delicately graded situations which evoke these mental states. The study of learning is thus cut down to its crudest form known as conditioning. And this oversimple paradigm of' learning may then be misdescribed as it was by Pavlov, when he identified eating with an expectation to be fed, because both of these induce the secretion of saliva. Wherever we define mental processes by objectivist circumlocutions, we are apt to stumble into such absurdities.

The actual working of behaviourism therefore confirms my conclusion that strictly isolated pieces of behaviour are meaningless fragments, not identifiable as parts of behaviour. Behaviourist psychology depends on covertly alluding to the mental states which it sets out to eliminate.

. . . we find that machines, purposive actions, grammatical sentences, and games of chess, are all entities subject to dual control.

Such is the stratified structure of comprehensive entities. They embody a combination of two principles, a higher and a lower. Smash up a machine, utter words at random, or make chess moves without a purpose and the corresponding higher principle--that which constitutes the machine, that which makes words into sentences, and that which makes moves of chess into a game--will all vanish and the comprehensive entity which they controlled will cease to exist.

But the lower principles, the boundary conditions of which the now effaced higher principles had controlled, remain in operation. The laws of mechanics, the vocabulary sanctioned by the dictionary, the rules of chess, they will all continue to apply as before. Hence no description of a comprehensive entity in the light of its lower principles can ever reveal the operation of its higher principles. The higher principles which characterize a comprehensive entity cannot be defined in terms of the laws that apply to its parts in themselves.

Tacit knowing integrates the particulars of a comprehensive entity and makes us see them forming the entity. This integration recognizes the higher principle at work on the boundary conditions left open by the lower principle, by mentally performing the workings of the higher principle. It thus materializes the functional structure of tacit knowing. It also makes it clear to us how the comprehensive entity works by revealing the meaning of its parts. We have here the semantic aspect of tacit knowing. And since a comprehensive entity is controlled as a whole by a higher principle than the one which controls its isolated parts, the entity will look different than an aggregate of its parts. Its higher principle will endow it with a stability and power appearing in its shape and motions and usually produce also additional novel features. We have here the phenomenal aspect of tacit knowing.

And finally, we are presented also with an ontological counterpart of the logical disintegration caused by switching our attention from the integrating centre of a comprehensive entity to its particulars. To turn our attention from the actions of the higher principle, which defines the two-levelled entity, and direct it to the lower principle controlling the isolated parts of the entity is to lose sight of the higher principle and indeed of the whole entity controlled by it. This mirrors the destruction of a comprehensive entity when it is pulled to pieces. The logical structure of tacit knowing thus covers in every detail the ontological structure of a combined pair of levels.

. . . The laws of physics and chemistry do not ascribe consciousness to any process controlled by them; the presence of consciousness proves, therefore, that other principles than those of inanimate matter participate in the conscious operations of living things.

. . . Most biologists would declare that both the principles of structure and of organizing fields will be reduced one day to the laws of physics and chemistry. But I am unable to discover the grounds -- or even understand the meaning -- of such assurances, and hence I will disregard them . . .

. . . Living beings consist in a hierarchy of levels, each level having its own structural and organismic principles. On the mental level, explicit inferences represent the operations of fixed mental structures, while in tacit knowing we meet the integrating powers of the mind. In all our conscious thoughts, these two modes mutually rely on each other, and it is plausible to assume that explicit mental operations are based on fixed neural networks, while tacit integrations are grounded mainly in organizing fields. I shall assume also that these two principles are interwoven in the body, as their counterparts are in thought.

. . . (1) No observations of physiology can make us apprehend the operations of the mind. Both the mechanisms and organismic processes of physiology, when observed as such, will always be found to work insentiently.

(2) At the same time, the operations of the mind will never be found to interfere with the principles of physiology, nor with the even lower principles of physics and chemistry on which they rely.

(3) But as the operations of the mind rely on the services of lower bodily principles, the mind can be disturbed by adverse changes in the body, or be offered new opportunities; by favourable changes of its bodily basis.

. . . Many philosophic efforts of our century can be see to have pointed towards such conclusions. A systematic attempt to safe-guard the content of unsophisticated experience against the effects of a destructive analysis was made by Edmund Husserl during the first three decades of this century with far-reaching influence on Continental philosophy.

. . . Many vivid and often subtle phenomenological descriptions are used by Ryle to demonstrate that the mind does not explicitly operate on the body . . . But what actually follows from the fact that mind and body do not interact explicitly is that they interact according to the logic of tacit knowing.

V. Michael Polanyi: Transcendence And Self-Transcendence

[This article originally appeared in Soundings 53: 1 (Spring 1970): 88-94 and is put on WWW with kind permission from Soundings and John C. Polanyi]


Begin by recalling the claims advanced by the founders of the mechanistic world view. Speculatively mooted by Galileo, this program received its fullest elaboration by Laplace. An intelligence which possessed at one moment of time knowledge of the ultimate particles of the universe, their velocities and the forces acting between them, could calculate any future topography of the same particles. Such a topography, he claimed, would give universal knowledge. These are the essential claims as well as the implicit ideal of mechanistic programs; and they are reflected in the current claims of biologists to explain the functions of living beings in terms of physics and chemistry.

But even physics cannot be defined from an atomic topography. We could not, for example, arrive at a principle like that of entropy without introducing some additional principle, such as randomness, to this topography. And the actual achievements of biology are explanations in terms of mechanisms founded on physics and chemistry, which is not the same thing as explanations in terms of physics and chemistry.

. . . No inanimate object is ever fully determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. Laplace in his mechanistic program of universal knowledge had to assume an initial atomic topography which was not derived from atomic data. There are always some initial conditions necessary in order to have any system at all.

. . . the principles governing the elements of a lower level leave open their boundary conditions for control by a higher principle. Consequently, and the consequences reach far beyond the example at hand, the meaning of the higher level cannot be accounted for by reductive analysis of the elements forming the lower levels. No one can derive a machine from the laws of physics and chemistry, a vocabulary from phonetics, a grammar from a vocabulary, a good style from the laws of grammar, or the meaning or content of a composition from stylistic strategies. At each consecutive level there is a state which can be said to be less tangible than the one below it.

The more intangible the matter in the range of these hierarchies, the more meaningful it is. This is my criticism of all redactionist, mechanistic programs founded on the Laplacean ideal which identifies ultimate knowledge with an atomic topography, the lowest level of the universe.

. . . How do we know transcendence in the world? Clearly we cannot support our arguments if our capacities to identify these increasingly intangible levels of experience continue to be reductively undercut by a positivistic empiricism. It is insufficient to show that there is room for living functions and other higher principles in the boundaries left open by the laws governing inanimate nature. We cannot claim the existence of higher levels of control with their accompanying ranges of subtle meanings if our powers for discerning these hierarchies in the world are not accredited.

. . . I look at my hand, another face, or a machine. I recognize its area by its enclosed contours, by the relation between the object itself and its background within my field of vision. While I attend to the object itself I am relying on multiple clues-shapes, colours, extensions, perhaps in changing relations to each other. But I do not focus directly on each aspect of the object in its field. I have awareness of many of these aspects of the whole. In the case of the human face I rely on an awareness of its many features for attending to the characteristic appearance of a particular physiognomy. Attending to the details implicitly while focally addressing myself to the whole, I integrate the features into the cast they jointly form. The act of perception, therefore, comprises two types of awareness. I have subsidiary awareness of multiple facial features while I integrate these aspects into the face as a whole to which I attend focally. I perceive things through the dual activity of subsidiary and focal awareness. This is, in outline, the theory of tacit knowing.

. . . Through indwelling I participate in comprehensive entities, from my own body and the objects I perceive, to the lives of my companions, and the theories we employ to understand inanimate matter and living beings. I partly transform myself in that which I am observing and thereby extend my range of knowing to include knowledge of all the hierarchies--from inanimate matter to the frameworks of our convivial settings and the firmament of obligations which supervene the operations of our intelligence within these frameworks.

This is why a commitment to unbridled lucidity tends to destroy understanding of complex matters. Focus only on the particulars of a comprehensive entity and their joint meaning is effaced. Our conception of the entity is destroyed, leaving us only with bits and pieces scattered about in random meaninglessness . . .

VI. Michael Polanyi: The Stability Of Beliefs


[ This essay originally appeared in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3:11 (November, 1952): 217-232. It is put on WWW with kind permission from British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press and John C. Polanyi. A note on the original publication indicates the essay was first a paper read to the Philosophy of Science Group on 6 March 1952. Polanyi's Personal Knowledge (1958), pp. 286-294 incorporates elements of this essay.]

1. There are two ways of holding beliefs. Some are held by the explicit profession of certain articles of faith, as the Apostles' Creed when recited in the words of the Book of Common Prayer. The other form of belief is held implicitly by reliance on a particular conceptual framework by which all experience is interpreted.

The process of philosophic and scientific enlightenment has shaken the stability of beliefs held explicitly as articles of faith. To assert any belief uncritically has come to be regarded as an offence against reason. We feel in it the danger of obscurantism and the menace of an arbitrary restriction of free thought. Against these evils of dogmatism we protect ourselves by upholding the principle of doubt which rejects any open affirmation of faith. For the past three centuries the principle of doubt has been continuously at work on the elimination of all uncritical affirmations of faith.

. . . Examples of these modern highly doubt-proof beliefs are Marxism and the Freudian doctrine, both of which are especially protected against doubt by the fact that they themselves claim to be embodiments of scepticism.

. . . This is a conscious affront on my part to the critical tradition of modern thought and is bound to shock some readers. It may be proper therefore to define briefly the general grounds on which I stand and mention previous writings in which they are explained.

I hold that the propositions embodied in natural science are not derived by any definite rule from the data of experience, and that they can neither be verified nor falsified by experience according to any definite rule. Discovery, verification and falsification proceed according to certain maxims which cannot be precisely formulated and still less proved or disproved, and the application of which relies in every case on a personal judgment exercised (or accredited) by ourselves. These maxims and the art of interpreting them may be said to constitute the premisses of science but I prefer to call them our scientific beliefs. These premisses or beliefs are embodied in a tradition, the tradition of science. The continued existence of science is an expression of the fact that there exists a group of people (customarily described as scientists) who are agreed in accepting one tradition, and that they trust each other to be informed by this tradition. But for the continued coherence of scientific opinion which governs scientific life, the meaning of such terms as a 'scientific statement' or a 'scientist' would lose most of their present connotations and find their meaning reduced to little or nothing. The whole idiom of science in which its interpretative framework is expressed would lose its character of a living and authoritative language.

. . . This power of a system of implicit beliefs to defeat valid objections one by one is due to the circularity of such systems. By this I mean that the convincing power possessed by the interpretation of any particular new topic in terms of such a conceptual framework is based on past applications of the same framework to a great number of other topics not now under consideration; while if any of these other topics were questioned now, their interpretation in its turn would similarly rely for support on the interpretation of all the others.

. . . To the stabilising power of circularity we may add secondly the capacity of a well developed interpretative framework to supply secondary elaborations to its beliefs which will cover almost any conceivable eventuality, however embarrassing this may appear at first sight. Scientific theories which possess this self-expanding capacity are sometimes described as epicyclical, in allusion to the epicycles that were used in the Ptolomean and Copernican theory to represent planetary motions in terms of uniform circular motions. All major interpretative frameworks have an epicyclical structure which supplies a reserve of subsidiary explanations for difficult situations.

. . . Circularity, combined with a readily available reserve of epicyclical elaborations and the consequent suppression in the germ of any rival conceptual development, lends a degree of stability to a conceptual framework which we may describe as the measure of its completeness. We may speak of the completeness or comprehensiveness of a language and the system of conceptions reflected by it . . . without in any way implying approval of the system as a true belief.

. . . Science and magic are both comprchensive systems of beliefs, possessing a considerable degree of stability, and a comparison of the two systems has shown. that the convincing powers of both are derived from similar logical properties of their conceptual frameworks. Yet the two achievements of stability are not on par, but are mutually exclusive. If you accept one system you cannot hold the other, and we today overwhelmingly accept science. The critical movement of the last 300 years has tried to sanction the acceptance of science while avoiding any explicit declaration of faith, which was contrary to its basic programme. I believe that this attempt has failed because it is logically mistaken, and that, consequently, it can never succeed at all. I hold that we have good reasons for preferring science to magic or astrology, or (what is of greater practical importance) to the perversion of science imposed by Stalinism on the territories under Communist rule. But I suggest that these reasons can never be adequately stated without a personal affirmation of belief on the part of the speaker.

. . . Writers on the nature of science who unquestioningly believe in science and may assume the same of their readers, will find no difficulty in carrying out an analysis of science in objective terms.They may define science as the simplest description of the facts or the most economical survey of sense data; they may pretend that science is not concerned with the truth or that it only makes provisional statements so as to provide stimulus for new experiments. They may say that science is a free creation of the mind, forming part of a conventional game or that its value lies entirely in its usefulness. As long as everybody is tacitly agreed about the nature of science and implicitly accepts the authority of science, it may not become apparent that statements of this kind only refer to certain formal aspects of science which do not account for its authority. The situation is different once a system of beliefs is fundamentally challenged. It must then be defended on its true grounds. I suggest that for this purpose our beliefs, including our belief in science, will have to be declared explicitly, in fiduciary terms.

See also, Polanyi's paper:

"On Body and Mind" (

VII. Michael Polanyi: Philosophy of Science Website Article


Michael Polanyi's Philosophy of Science by Tchafu Mwamba (Problems in Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 49: Edwin Mellen Press) is a book about a profound philosopher, though as a philosopher he is still underestimated by philosophers - possibly because he was by profession a scientist and philosophers are notoriously touchy about incursions from outside into what they see as their (ever-diminishing) personal domain. Perhaps also his refusal, a principled refusal rather than any mere aversion, to engage in the sort of formal games which have been the stock in trade of analytic philosophers for the last more than half a century played a part too.

His name was Michael Polanyi. Born in 1891 in Hungary, he emigrated from there to the United Kingdom in the late nineteen thirties, where he was to enunciate his characteristic philosophy in a stream of published work. As this book compellingly narrates, his relative neglect by the philosophical profession reflects poorly on them rather than him, for his work turned out to be powerfully seminal, to the extent that several of the most influential developments in later twentieth-century philosophy, particularly philosophy of science, embody his central insight that even the most `objective' scientific investigation has an ineliminable `tacit dimension' (a phrase which provides the title of one of his best-known books): we necessarily call on inarticulate and inarticulable elements in our cognizing activity. To quote Polanyi: `our articulate utterances can never altogether supersede but must continue to rely on mute acts of intelligence'.

When Polanyi announced this idea it was virtually anathema to the dominant analytical tradition in Western epistemology, even though it clearly harks back to Kant's own revolutionary idea that human cognition involves a prior synthesizing activity. It was an assumption of the British empiricists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that our factual empirical knowledge is the result of inductive inferences from data given initially by the senses, a view recycled and reinforced by the philosophers and scientists of the Vienna Circle in the nineteen twenties and thirties. Updated and embellished with the help of a good deal of the new logical symbolism invented by Frege and Hilbert it became the mainstream view of Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Where it differed was only in the amount of effort expended in trying to formulate in a suitably precise way the rules according to which higher-level empirical knowledge is supported by observation-statements. Polanyi's philosophy was a radical challenge to all this. For him there was no demarcation between observation and theory: theory is just one more medium through which we assimilate and organize experience, part of a more general body of cognitional apparatus, differing from the rest only by being relatively explicit. But most importantly Polanyi denied that we obtain our knowledge by the application of, if not articulate then articulable, universal canons of objective reasoning, either in the `inductive' or the deductive sciences. In every piece of cognizing activity there is always appeal to an ineliminable host of presuppositions, skills both innate and learned which at first may be conscious but become eventually absorbed into the way we simply see things, cultural influences, etc...

Polanyi's emphasis on the inarticulate and provisional elements in cognition laid the ground for the emergence of later philosophies of science which stressed the role of non-rational, institutional, societal, and even anthropological elements in the supposedly fully objective procedures, and which eventually dislodged the positivistic, quasi-logical view. Their authors, particularly Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos (another Hungarian, and one who knew Polanyi's work thoroughly) and Laudan, can all be seen as developing in their different ways ideas which found their first expression or adumbration in Polanyi's work. As Dr Mwamba points out in his absorbing narrative, in various ways Polanyi's Tacit Framework corresponds to Kuhn's Disciplinary Matrix, to Lakatos's Research Program, and to Laudan's Research Tradition, each of these according to their authors imposing limits on and constraints within the space of possible solutions of scientific problems.

Of all these thinkers, Kuhn is probably the closest to Polanyi.  Kuhn's Polanyian stress on non-rational, Gestalt-like features in scientists' perceptions of the theories they accept became highly influential though his famous book `The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'. Like Polanyi also, Kuhn emphasized the role of the characteristic apprenticeship that scientists undergo, with a corresponding commitment to shared beliefs and practices and their eventual integration into the mature scientist's very way of seeing things. Lakatos frequently mentioned Polanyi in his writings, but as an 'irrationalist' opponent usually more than as an ally. Nevertheless a favorite theme of

Polanyi's emerges as the foundation-stone of Lakatos's methodology of scientific research programs. This is the idea that anomalous observations are not by themselves grounds for rejecting theories. Were they to be, as Polanyi pointed out, and Lakatos repeated in his extensive critique of Popper's ideas, then practically every scientific theory would be abandoned before its virtues could have the opportunity to become apparent. Polanyi would not have endorsed Feyerabend's notorious epistemological anarchism, but he would have recognized familiar elements in Feyerabend's intellectual progress to that position.

Polanyi is one of those thinkers whose contribution is not immediately weighed and packaged. As a mature and reflective scientist he knew more thoroughly and intimately than a professional philosopher could what he was talking about when he discussed the nature of science and scientific knowledge. Because of his own extraordinary powers of perception and reflection his ideas have been and will continue to be seminal, with a strong latency that will continue to be felt through the passage of decades. He is one of the very best of philosophers.

VIII. Charles E. Hummel: Michael Polanyi and "Personal Knowledge"

(From: The Galileo Connection, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 254-256)

Michael Polanyi -- distinguished professor of physical chemistry and philosopher of science -- has convincingly argued that all knowledge is personal. All human knowing takes place within a framework (a faith structure) of unprovable commitments that motivate and guide the knower in acquiring knowledge. A person's faith structure includes a wide range of beliefs, from ultimate presuppositions (the universe is orderly) to a mundane confidence (the sun will rise tomorrow). The former must be assumed; the latter is based on sense perception. Also important is one's "tacit knowledge," unseen and inexpressible, which forms a kind of foundation for all other knowledge. A lack of formal proof (certainty) does not mean that faith has no evidence, in either theology or science. Whether ultimate or mundane, faith is not blind; it arises from and is embedded in evidence assimilated from our experience. The main point is that for everyone, in all fields of study -- including science -- faith is a motivating and unifying component in knowing.

. . . scientific knowledge is intensely personal; research is far from being detached and unemotional . . . A scientist's faith structure is operative at every stage of research. No one can do science without believing that the scientific method and its presuppositions are fundamentally valid and can be unquestioningly accepted. Polanyi concludes:

We have here an instance of the process described epigrammatically by the Christian Church Fathers in the words: fides quaerens intellectum, faith in search of understanding.

(Science, Faith and Society, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964, 45-50)

. . . The two legs on which scientific training progresses are faith in the whole enterprise and commitment to the authority of its leaders . . .

Polanyi draws parallels in law and Christianity. In both there is a community of consciences jointly rooted in the same ideals recognized by all. The community becomes an embodiment of those ideals and a living demonstration of their reality.

IX. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stephen Thornton): Sir Karl R. Popper

(Complete article:

Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. He was also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature, a self-professed �critical-rationalist�, a dedicated opponent of all forms of scepticism, conventionalism, and relativism in science and in human affairs generally, a committed advocate and staunch defender of the �Open Society�, and an implacable critic of totalitarianism in all of its forms. One of the many remarkable features of Popper's thought is the scope of his intellectual influence. In the modern technological and highly-specialised world scientists are rarely aware of the work of philosophers; it is virtually unprecedented to find them queuing up, as they have done in Popper's case, to testify to the enormously practical beneficial impact which that philosophical work has had upon their own.

. . . if a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific. For Popper, however, to assert that a theory is unscientific, is not necessarily to hold that it is unenlightening, still less that it is meaningless, for it sometimes happens that a theory which is unscientific (because it is unfalsifiable) at a given time may become falsifiable, and thus scientific, with the development of technology, or with the further articulation and refinement of the theory. Further, even purely mythogenic explanations have performed a valuable function in the past in expediting our understanding of the nature of reality.

. . . Popper is unusual amongst contemporary philosophers in that he accepts the validity of the Humean critique of induction, and indeed, goes beyond it in arguing that induction is never actually used by the scientist. However, he does not concede that this entails the scepticism which is associated with Hume, and argues that the Baconian/Newtonian insistence on the primacy of �pure� observation, as the initial step in the formation of theories, is completely misguided: all observation is selective and theory-laden - there are no pure or theory-free observations. In this way he destabilises the traditional view that science can be distinguished from non-science on the basis of its inductive methodology; in contradistinction to this, Popper holds that there is no unique methodology specific to science. Science, like virtually every other human, and indeed organic, activity, Popper believes, consists largely of problem-solving.

Popper, then, repudiates induction, and rejects the view that it is the characteristic method of scientific investigation and inference, and substitutes falsifiability in its place. It is easy, he argues, to obtain evidence in favour of virtually any theory, and he consequently holds that such �corroboration�, as he terms it, should count scientifically only if it is the positive result of a genuinely �risky� prediction, which might conceivably have been false. For Popper, a theory is scientific only if it is refutable by a conceivable event. Every genuine test of a scientific theory, then, is logically an attempt to refute or to falsify it, and one genuine counter-instance falsifies the whole theory. In a critical sense, Popper's theory of demarcation is based upon his perception of the logical asymmetry which holds between verification and falsification: it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience (as Hume saw clearly), but a single counter-instance conclusively falsifies the corresponding universal law. In a word, an exception, far from �proving� a rule, conclusively refutes it.

Every genuine scientific theory then, in Popper's view, is prohibitive, in the sense that it forbids, by implication, particular events or occurrences. As such it can be tested and falsified, but never logically verified. Thus Popper stresses that it should not be inferred from the fact that a theory has withstood the most rigorous testing, for however long a period of time, that it has been verified; rather we should recognise that such a theory has received a high measure of corroboration. and may be provisionally retained as the best available theory until it is finally falsified (if indeed it is ever falsified), and/or is superseded by a better theory.

. . . while advocating falsifiability as the criterion of demarcation for science, Popper explicitly allows for the fact that in practice a single conflicting or counter-instance is never sufficient methodologically to falsify a theory, and that scientific theories are often retained even though much of the available evidence conflicts with them, or is anomalous with respect to them. Scientific theories may, and do, arise genetically in many different ways, and the manner in which a particular scientist comes to formulate a particular theory may be of biographical interest, but it is of no consequence as far as the philosophy of science is concerned. Popper stresses in particular that there is no unique way, no single method such as induction, which functions as the route to scientific theory, a view which Einstein personally endorsed with his affirmation that �There is no logical path leading to [the highly universal laws of science]. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience�. Science, in Popper's view, starts with problems rather than with observations - it is, indeed, precisely in the context of grappling with a problem that the scientist makes observations in the first instance: his observations are selectively designed to test the extent to which a given theory functions as a satisfactory solution to a given problem.

. . . For Popper accordingly, the growth of human knowledge proceeds from our problems and from our attempts to solve them. These attempts involve the formulation of theories which, if they are to explain anomalies which exist with respect to earlier theories, must go beyond existing knowledge and therefore require a leap of the imagination. For this reason, Popper places special emphasis on the role played by the independent creative imagination in the formulation of theory. The centrality and priority of problems in Popper's account of science is paramount, and it is this which leads him to characterise scientists as �problem-solvers�. Further, since the scientist begins with problems rather than with observations or �bare facts�, Popper argues that the only logical technique which is an integral part of scientific method is that of the deductive testing of theories which are not themselves the product of any logical operation. In this deductive procedure conclusions are inferred from a tentative hypothesis. These conclusions are then compared with one another and with other relevant statements to determine whether they falsify or corroborate the hypothesis. Such conclusions are not directly compared with the facts, Popper stresses, simply because there are no �pure� facts available; all observation-statements are theory-laden, and are as much a function of purely subjective factors (interests, expectations, wishes, etc.) as they are a function of what is objectively real.

. . . unlike traditional empiricists, Popper holds that experience cannot determine theory (i.e. we do not argue or infer from observation to theory), it rather delimits it: it shows which theories are false, not which theories are true. Moreover, Popper also rejects the empiricist doctrine that empirical observations are, or can be, infallible, in view of the fact that they are themselves theory-laden.

. . . The general picture of Popper's philosophy of science, then is this: Hume's philosophy demonstrates that there is a contradiction implicit in traditional empiricism, which holds both that all knowledge is derived from experience and that universal propositions (including scientific laws) are verifiable by reference to experience. The contradiction, which Hume himself saw clearly, derives from the attempt to show that, notwithstanding the open-ended nature of experience, scientific laws may be construed as empirical generalisations which are in some way finally confirmable by a �positive� experience. Popper eliminates the contradiction by rejecting the first of these principles and removing the demand for empirical verification in favour of empirical falsification in the second. Scientific theories, for him, are not inductively inferred from experience, nor is scientific experimentation carried out with a view to verifying or finally establishing the truth of theories; rather, all knowledge is provisional, conjectural, hypothetical - we can never finally prove our scientific theories, we can merely (provisionally) confirm or (conclusively) refute them . . .

. . . Popper professes to be anti-conventionalist, and his commitment to the correspondence theory of truth places him firmly within the realist's camp. Yet, following Kant, he strongly repudiates the positivist/empiricist view that basic statements (i.e. present-tense observation statements about sense-data) are infallible, and argues convincingly that such basic statements are not mere �reports� of passively registered sensations. Rather they are descriptions of what is observed as interpreted by the observer with reference to a determinate theoretical framework. This is why Popper repeatedly emphasises that basic statements are not infallible, and it indicates what he means when he says that they are �theory laden� - perception itself is an active process, in which the mind assimilates data by reference to an assumed theoretical backdrop. He accordingly asserts that basic statements themselves are open-ended hypotheses: they have a certain causal relationship with experience, but they are not determined by experience, and they cannot be verified or confirmed by experience . . .

X. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (John Preston): Paul Feyerabend

(Complete article:

Paul Feyerabend . . .  made a name for himself both as an expositor and (later) as a critic of Karl Popper's �critical rationalism�, and went on to become one of this century's most famous philosophers of science. An imaginative maverick, he became a critic of philosophy of science itself, particularly of �rationalist� attempts to lay down or discover rules of scientific method . . .

. . . Like Popper, he had very little time for the kind of �analytic� philosophy or �linguistic� philosophy which followed in Wittgenstein's wake, and with which Oxford University dominated the philosophical scene in the 1950s and early 1960s.

. . . in the summer of 1956, along with Alfred Landé, he chaired a successful seminar on philosophical issues in quantum mechanics at Alpbach. A related success was his contribution to the 1957 Colston Research Symposium, where he gave a paper �On the Quantum Theory of Measurement�. Here Feyerabend introduced what was to become a long-running theme in his work: that there is no separate and neutral �observation-language� or �everyday language� against which the theoretical statements of science are tested, but that �the everyday level is part of the theoretical rather then something self-contained and independent� (Philosophical Papers, Volume I, p.217, emphasis added). This was his principal contribution to his central subject, the relation between theory and experience. It constituted not only a decisive break with the positivist conception of theories, but also something of a step beyond Popper's conception.

. . . Around this time [1958], many of Feyerabend's most important early papers were published. In them, under the influence of both Popper and Wittgenstein, Feyerabend initiated a vigourous critique of the then-orthodox philosophies of science provided by descendants of the Vienna Circle, �Logical Empiricist� thinkers such as Rudolph Carnap, Feigl, Nagel, and Hempel. This critique was conducted through a study of the relationship between observation and theory.

In perhaps the most important of these early publications, �An Attempt at a Realistic Interpretation of Experience� (1958), Feyerabend argued against positivism and in favour of a scientific realist account of the relation between theory and experience, largely on grounds familiar from Karl Popper's falsificationist views. Positivist theories of meaning, he complained, have consequences which are �at variance with scientific method and reasonable philosophy� (Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, p.17). In particular, they imply what Feyerabend dubbed the �stability thesis�, that even major changes in theory will not affect the meanings of terms in the scientific observation-language. Against this supposition, Feyerabend defended what he called �Thesis I�, the idea that

the interpretation of an observation-language is determined by the theories which we use to explain what we observe, and it changes as soon as those theories change. (ibid., p.31).

Thesis I reversed the direction of interpretation which the positivists had presupposed. Instead of meaning seeping upwards from the level of experience (or the observation-language), Feyerabend had it trickling down from theory to experience. For him, theory is meaningful independently of experience, rather than vice-versa. The roots of this view clearly lie in his contextual theory of meaning, according to which meaning is conferred on terms by virtue of their participation in theoretical contexts. It seems to imply that there is no principled semantic distinction between theoretical terms and observation terms. And Feyerabend soon followed up this implication with his �Pragmatic Theory of Observation�, according to which what is important about observation-sentences is not their having a special core of empirical meaning, but their causal role in the production and refutation of theories.

. . . Feyerabend argued that the idea, common to positivists, that the interpretation of observation terms doesn't depend upon the status of our theoretical knowledge, has consequences undesirable to positivists. One of these is that "every positivistic observation language is based upon a metaphysical ontology" (Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, p.21). Another follows from the thesis, which he relishes, that the theories we hold influence our language, and maybe even our perceptions. This implies that as long as we use only one empirically adequate theory, we will be unable to imagine alternative accounts of reality. If we also accept the positivist view that our theories are summaries of experience, those theories will be void of empirical content and untestable, and hence there will be a diminution in the critical, argumentative function of our language. Just as purely transcendent metaphysical theories are unfalsifiable, so too what began as an all-embracing scientific theory offering certainty will, under these circumstances, have become an irrefutable dogma, a myth.

. . . Unlike positivism, which conflicts with science by taking experiences as unanalysable building-blocks, realism treats experiences as analysable, explaining them as the result of processes not immediately accessible to observation. Experiences and observation-statements are thus revealed as more complex and structured than positivism had realised.

. . . During the summer of 1966, Feyerabend lectured on church dogma at Berkeley. (�Why church dogma? Because the development of church dogma shares many features with the development of scientific thought� (pp.137-8)). He eventually turned these thoughts into a paper on �Classical Empiricism�, published in 1970, in which he argued that empiricism shared certain problematic features with protestantism. He had already come some way from his 1965 defence of a �disinfected�, �tolerant� form of Empiricism. The publication, in 1969, of the four- page article, �Science Without Experience�, which argued that in principle experience is necessary at no point in the construction, comprehension or testing of empirical scientific theories finally gave notice that Feyerabend was no longer concerned to present himself as any kind of empiricist.

. . . He portrayed Galileo as making full use of rhetoric, propaganda, and various epistemological tricks in order to support the heliocentric position. The Galileo case is crucial for Feyerabend, since the �scientific revolution� is his paradigm of scientific progress and of radical conceptual change, and Galileo is his hero of the scientific revolution. He also sought further to downgrade the importance of empirical arguments by suggesting that aesthetic criteria, personal whims and social factors have a far more decisive role in the history of science than rationalist or empiricist historiography would indicate.

. . . science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits

(Against Method, London: New Left Books, 1975, p.295)

XI. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (A.D. Irvine): Alred North Whitehead


. . . "There persists," says Whitehead,

[a] fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or material, spread through space in a flux of configurations. In itself such a material is senseless, valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external relations which do not spring from the nature of its being. It is this assumption that I call �scientific materialism.� Also it is an assumption which I shall challenge as being entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived.

(Science and the Modern World, New York: Free Press, 1967 [orig. 1925], p. 17)

The assumption of scientific materialism is effective in many contexts, says Whitehead, only because it directs our attention to a certain class of problems that lend themselves to analysis within this framework. However, scientific materialism is less successful when addressing issues of teleology and when trying to develop a comprehensive, intergrated picture of the universe as a whole. According to Whitehead, recognition that the world is organic rather than materialistic is therefore essential, and this change in viewpoint can result as easily from attempts to understand modern physics as from attempts to understand human psychology and teleology. Says Whitehead, "Mathematical physics presumes in the first place an electromagnetic field of activity pervading space and time. The laws which condition this field are nothing else than the conditions observed by the general activity of the flux of the world, as it individualises itself in the events." [ibid., 152-153]

The end result is that Whitehead concludes that "nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process." [ibid., 72]

Whitehead's ultimate attempt to develop a metaphysical unification of space, time, matter, events and teleology has proved to be controversial. In part this may be because of the connections that Whitehead saw between his metaphysics and traditional theism. According to Whitehead, religion is concerned with permanence amid change, and can be found in the ordering we find within nature, something he sometimes called the "primordial nature of God". Thus although not especially influential among contemporary Anglo-American secular philosophers, his metaphysical ideas have had greater influence among many theologians and philosophers of religion.

XII. John Henry Newman: Christianity and Physical Science

(From: The Idea of a University, 1858, Part II, Chapter 7, pp. 429-435)

(Complete chapter:

. . . I propose, then, to discuss the antagonism which is popularly supposed to exist between Physics and Theology; and to show, first, that such antagonism does not really exist, and, next, to account for the circumstance that so groundless an imagination should have got abroad.

I think I am not mistaken in the fact that there exists, both in the educated and half-educated portions of the community, something of a surmise or misgiving, that there really is at bottom a certain contrariety between the declarations of religion and the results of physical inquiry; a suspicion such, that, while it encourages those persons who are not over-religious to anticipate a coming day, when at length the difference will break out into open conflict, to the disadvantage of Revelation, it leads religious minds, on the other hand, who have not had the opportunity of considering accurately the state of the case, to be jealous of the researches, and prejudiced against the discoveries, of Science. The consequence is, on the one side, a certain contempt of Theology; on the other, a disposition to undervalue, to deny, to ridicule, to discourage, and almost to denounce, the labours of the physiological, astronomical, or geological investigator.

I do not suppose that any of those gentlemen who are now honouring me with their presence are exposed to the temptation either of the religious or of the scientific prejudice; but that is no reason why some notice of it may not have its use even in this place. It may lead us to consider the subject itself more carefully and exactly; it may assist us in attaining clearer ideas than before how Physics and Theology stand relatively to each other.

Let us begin with a first approximation to the real state of the case, or a broad view, which, though it may require corrections, will serve at once to illustrate and to start the subject. We may divide knowledge, then, into natural and supernatural. Some knowledge, of course, is both at once; for the moment let us put this circumstance aside, and view these two fields of knowledge in themselves, and as distinct from each other in idea. By nature is meant, I suppose, that vast system of things, taken as a whole, of which we are cognizant by means of our natural powers. By the supernatural world is meant that still more marvellous and awful universe, of which the Creator Himself is the fulness, and which becomes known to us, not through our natural faculties, but by superadded and direct communication from Him. These two great circles of knowledge, as I have said, intersect; first, as far as supernatural knowledge includes truths and facts of the natural world, and secondly, as far as truths and facts of the natural world are on the other hand data for inferences about the supernatural. Still, following this interference to the full, it will be found, on the whole, that the two worlds and the two kinds of knowledge respectively are separated off from each other; and that, therefore, as being separate, they cannot on the whole contradict each other. That is, in other words, a person who has the fullest knowledge of one of these worlds, may be nevertheless, on the whole, as ignorant as the rest of mankind, as unequal to form a judgment, of the facts and truths of the other. He who knows all that can possibly be known about physics, about politics, about geography, ethnology, and ethics, will have made no approximation whatever to decide the question whether or not there are angels, and how many are their orders; and on the other hand, the most learned of dogmatic and mystical divines,�St. Augustine, St. Thomas,�will not on that score know more than a peasant about the laws of motion, or the wealth of nations. I do not mean that there may not be speculations and guesses on this side and that, but I speak of any conclusion which merits to be called, I will not say knowledge, but even opinion. If, then, Theology be the philosophy of the supernatural world, and Science the philosophy of the natural, Theology and Science, whether in their respective ideas, or again in their own actual fields, on the whole, are incommunicable, incapable of collision, and needing, at most to be connected, never to be reconciled.

Now this broad general view of our subject is found to be so far true in fact, in spite of such deductions from it that have to be made in detail, that the recent French editors of one of the works of St. Thomas are able to give it as one of their reasons why that great theologian made an alliance, not with Plato, but with Aristotle, because Aristotle (they say), unlike Plato, confined himself to human science, and therefore was secured from coming into collision with divine.

"Not without reason," they say, "did St. Thomas acknowledge Aristotle as if the Master of human philosophy; for, inasmuch as Aristotle was not a Theologian, he had only treated of logical, physical, psychological, and metaphysical theses, to the exclusion of those which are concerned about the supernatural relations of man to God, that is, religion; which, on the other hand, had been the source of the worst errors of other philosophers, and especially of Plato."

But if there be so substantial a truth even in this very broad statement concerning the independence of the fields of Theology and general Science severally, and the consequent impossibility of collision between them, how much more true is that statement, from the very nature of the case, when we contrast Theology, not with Science generally, but definitely with Physics! In Physics is comprised that family of sciences which is concerned with the sensible world, with the phenomena which we see, hear, and handle, or, in other words, with matter. It is the philosophy of matter. Its basis of operations, what it starts from, what it falls back upon, is the phenomena which meet the senses. Those phenomena it ascertains, catalogues, compares, combines, arranges, and then uses for determining something beyond themselves, viz., the order to which they are subservient, or what we commonly call the laws of nature. It never travels beyond the examination of cause and effect. Its object is to resolve the complexity of phenomena into simple elements and principles; but when it has reached those first elements, principles, and laws, its mission is at an end; it keeps within that material system with which it began, and never ventures beyond the "flammantia m�nia mundi." It may, indeed, if it chooses, feel a doubt of the completeness of its analysis hitherto, and for that reason endeavour to arrive at more simple laws and fewer principles. It may be dissatisfied with its own combinations, hypotheses, systems; and leave Ptolemy for Newton, the alchemists for Lavoisier and Davy;�that is, it may decide that it has not yet touched the bottom of its own subject; but still its aim will be to get to the bottom, and nothing more. With matter it began, with matter it will end; it will never trespass into the province of mind. The Hindoo notion is said to be that the earth stands upon a tortoise; but the physicist, as such, will never ask himself by what influence, external to the universe, the universe is sustained; simply because he is a physicist.

If indeed he be a religious man, he will of course have a very definite view of the subject; but that view of his is private, not professional,�the view, not of a physicist, but of a religious man; and this, not because physical science says any thing different, but simply because it says nothing at all on the subject, nor can do so by the very undertaking with which it set out. The question is simply extra artem. The physical philosopher has nothing whatever to do with final causes, and will get into inextricable confusion, if he introduces them into his investigations. He has to look in one definite direction, not in any other. It is said that in some countries, when a stranger asks his way, he is at once questioned in turn what place he came from: something like this would be the unseasonableness of a physicist, who inquired how the phenomena and laws of the material world primarily came to be, when his simple task is that of ascertaining what they are. Within the limits of those phenomena he may speculate and prove; he may trace the operation of the laws of matter through periods of time; he may penetrate into the past, and anticipate the future; he may recount the changes which they have effected upon matter, and the rise, growth, and decay of phenomena; and so in a certain sense he may write the history of the material world, as far as he can; still he will always advance from phenomena, and conclude upon the internal evidence which they supply. He will not come near the questions, what that ultimate element is, which we call matter, how it came to be, whether it can cease to be, whether it ever was not, whether it will ever come to nought, in what its laws really consist, whether they can cease to be, whether they can be suspended, what causation is, what time is, what the relations of time to cause and effect, and a hundred other questions of a similar character.

Such is Physical Science, and Theology, as is obvious, is just what such Science is not. Theology begins, as its name denotes, not with any sensible facts, phenomena, or results, not with nature at all, but with the Author of nature,�with the one invisible, unapproachable Cause and Source of all things. It begins at the other end of knowledge, and is occupied, not with the finite, but the Infinite. It unfolds and systematizes what He Himself has told us of Himself; of His nature, His attributes, His will, and His acts. As far as it approaches towards Physics, it takes just the counterpart of the questions which occupy the Physical Philosopher. He contemplates facts before him; the Theologian gives the reasons of those facts. The Physicist treats of efficient causes; the Theologian of final. The Physicist tells us of laws; the Theologian of the Author, Maintainer, and Controller of them; of their scope, of their suspension, if so be; of their beginning and their end. This is how the two schools stand related to each other, at that point where they approach the nearest; but for the most part they are absolutely divergent. What Physical Science is engaged in I have already said; as to Theology, it contemplates the world, not of matter, but of mind; the Supreme Intelligence; souls and their destiny; conscience and duty; the past, present, and future dealings of the Creator with the creature.

So far, then, as these remarks have gone, Theology and Physics cannot touch each other, have no intercommunion, have no ground of difference or agreement, of jealousy or of sympathy. As well may musical truths be said to interfere with the doctrines of architectural science; as well may there be a collision between the mechanist and the geologist, the engineer and the grammarian; as well might the British Parliament or the French nation be jealous of some possible belligerent power upon the surface of the moon, as Physics pick a quarrel with Theology . . . 

See also:

Mark A. Kalthoff, "John Henry Newman on Christianity, Science and Intelligent Design"
( Different Voice)

"The Illative Sense," from Grammar of Assent (1870)

XIII. Thomas S. Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

(From: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 1970, 16-17, 44, 46, 94, 126-128, 173, 196)

. . . No natural history can be interpreted in the absence of at least some implicit body of intertwined theoretical and methodological belief that permits selection, evaluation, and criticism. If that body of belief is not already implicit in the collection of facts -- in which case more than "mere facts" are at hand -- it must be externally supplied, perhaps by a current metaphysic, by another science, or by personal and historical accident . . .

. . . the existence of a paradigm  need not even imply  that any full set of rules exist . . . Michael Polanyi has brilliantly developed a very similar theme, arguing that much of the scientist's success depends upon "tacit knowledge," i.e., upon knowledge that is acquired through practice and that cannot be articulated explicitly. See his Personal Knowledge (Chicago, 1958), particularly chaps. v and vi . . .

Scientists . . . never learn concepts, laws, and theories in the abstract and by themselves. Instead, these intellectual tools are from the start encountered in a historically and pedagogically prior unit that displays them with and through their applications . . .

When paradigms enter, as they must, into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm's defense. The resulting circularity does not, of course, make the arguments wrong or even ineffectual . . . Yet, whatever its force, the status of the circular argument is only that of persuasion. It cannot be made logically or even probabilistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle . . . As in political revolutions, so in paradigm choice -- there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community . . .

. . . is sensory experience fixed and neutral? Are theories simply man-made interpretations of given data? The epistemological viewpoint that has most often guided Western philosophy for three centuries dictates an immediate and unequivocal, Yes! In the absence of a developed alternative, I find it impossible to relinquish entirely that viewpoint. Yet it no longer functions effectively, and the attempts to make it do so through the introduction of a neutral language of observations now seem to me hopeless.

The operations and measurements that a scientist undertakes in the laboratory are not "the given" of experience but rather "the collected with difficulty." They are not what the scientist sees . . . Rather, they are concrete indices to the content of more elementary perceptions . . .

As for a pure observation-language, perhaps one will yet be devised. But three centuries after Descartes our hope for such an eventuality still depends exclusively upon a theory of perception and of the mind . . .

No language thus restricted to reporting a world fully known in advance can produce mere neutral and objective reports on "the given." Philosophical investigation has not yet provided even a hint of what a language able to do that would be like . . .

. . . neither scientists nor laymen learn to see the world piecemeal or item by item. Except when all the conceptual and manipulative categories are prepared in advance -- e.g., for the discovery of an additional transuranic element or for catching sight of a new house -- both scientists and laymen sort out whole areas together from the flux of experience . . .

What must nature, including man, be like in order that science be possible at all? Why should scientific communities be able to reach a form consensus unattainable in other fields? Why should consensus endure across one paradigm change after another? And why should paradigm change invariably produce an instrument more perfect in any sense than those known before? . . . That problem -- What must the world be like in order that man may know it? . . . is as old as science itself, and it remains unanswered . . .

XIV. Edwin A. Burtt: The Doctrine of Positivism

(From: The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1954, from 2nd ed., 1932, 227-229)

. . . Newton, we are told, was the first great positivist. Following Galileo and Boyle, but more consistently, he turned his back on metaphysics in favour of a small but growing body of exact knowledge . . .

To begin with, there is no escape from metaphysics, that is, from the final implications of any proposition or set of propositions. The only way to avoid becoming a metaphysician is to say nothing. This can be illustrated by analysing any statement you please; suppose we take the central position of positivism itself as an example. This can perhaps be fairly stated in some such form as the following: It is possible to acquire truths about things without presupposing any theory of their ultimate nature; or, more simply, it is possible to have a correct knowledge of the part without knowing the nature of the whole. Let us look at this position closely . . . The question is not about its truth or falsity, but whether there is metaphysics in it. Well, subject it to a searching analysis, and does it not swarm with metaphysical assumptions? In the first place it bristles with phrases which lack precise definition, such as "ultimate nature", "correct knowledge", "nature of the whole", and assumptions of moment are always lurking in phrases which are thus carelessly used. In the second place, defining these phrases as you will, does not the statement reveal highly interesting and exceedingly important implications about the universe? . . . does it not imply, for example, that the universe is essentially pluralistic (except, of course, for thought and language), that is, that some things happen without any genuine dependence on other happenings; and can therefore be described in universal terms without reference to anything else? . . . the lesson is that even the attempt to escape metaphysics is no sooner put in the form of a proposition than it is seen to involve highly significant metaphysical postulates . . .

For this reason there is an exceedingly subtle and insidious danger in positivism. If you cannot avoid metaphysics, what kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination? Of course it goes without saying that in this case your metaphysics will be held uncrtically because it is unconscious; moreover, it will be passed on to others far more readily than your other notions inasmuch as it will be propagated by insinuation rather than by direct argument. That a serious student of Newton fails to see that his master had a most important metaphysic, is an exceedingly interesting testimony to the pervading influence, throughout modern thought, of the Newtonian first philosophy.

Now the history of mind reveals pretty clearly that the thinker who decries metaphysics will actually hold metaphysical notions of three main types. For one thing, he will share the ideas of his age on ultimate questions, so far as such ideas do not run counter to his interests or awaken his criticism. No one has yet appeared in human history, not evn the most profoundly critical intellect, in whom no important idola theatri can be detected, but the metaphysician will at least be superior to his opponent in this respect, in that he will be constantly on his guard against the surreptitious entrance and unquestioned influence of such notions. In the second place, if he be a man engaged in any important inquiry, he must have a method, and he will be under a strong and constant temptation to make a metaphysics out of his method, that is, to suppose the universe ultimately of such a sort that his method must be appropriate and successful . . .

. . . since human nature demands metaphysics for its full intellectual satisfaction, no great mind can wholly avoid playing with ultimate questions, especially where they are powerfully thrust upon it by considerations arising from its positivistic investigations, or by certain vigorous extra-scientific interests, such as religion. But inasmuch as the positivist mind has failed to school itself in careful metaphysical thinking, its ventures at such points will be apt to appear pitiful, inadequate, or even fantastic.

XV. Thomas S. Kuhn: Scholastic Theology and the Copernican Revolution

(From: The Copernican Revolution, New York: Vintage Books / Random House, 1959, 106, 115-118, 122-123, 127, 135-136, 144, 197)

. . . After the Dark Ages the Church began to support a learned tradition as abstract, subtle, and rigorous as any the world has known . . . The Copernican theory evolved within a learned tradition sponsored and supported by the Church; Copernicus himself was the nephew of a bishop and a canon of the cathedral at Frauenberg . . .

. . . scholastic research . . . extended Aristotle's logic, discovered fallacies in his proofs, and rejected many of his explanations because they failed the test of experience. In the process they forged a number of the concepts and tools that proved essential to the accomplishments of men like Copernicus and Galileo.

Important anticipations of Copernican thought can be found, for example, in the critical commentary on Aristotle's On the Heavens written during the fourteenth century by Nicole Oresme, a member of the important Parisian nominalist school. Oresme's method is typically scholastic . . .

Oresme was, for example, quite critical of Aristotle's principal argument for the earth's uniqueness. Aristotle had said that if there were two earths in space . . . then they would both fall to the center of the universe and coalesce, because earth moves naturally to the center. This proof, says Oresme, is invalid, because it presupposes a theory of motion that is itself unproved . . . On this alternative theory the natural motion of a body is governed, not by its position in an absolute Aristotelian space, but by its position relative to other portions of matter. Some such theory was prerequisite to the new cosmologies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, cosmologies in which the earth was neither unique nor at the center. Similar theories, in various disguises, are common to the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton.

Even more important anticipatins of Copernican arguments emerge when Oresme criticizes Aristotle's refutation of Heraclides, the Pythagorean who had explained the diurnal motion of the stars by positing an eastward axial rotation of the central earth . . . nothing can be concluded from the apparent motion of the stars . . . says Oresme . . . This is the argument from optical relativity that plays such a large part in the writings of Copernicus and Galileo. Oresme does not stop with it, however. His treatise proceeds immediately to the demolition of an even more important Aristotelian argument, the one that concludes for immobility because an object thrown vertically upward always returns to the point on earth from which it departed . . .

. . . the tradition of scholastic criticism was a continuous tradition . . . Though we cannot be sure that Copernicus derived any particular argument in the De Revolutionibus from any particular scholastic critic, we cannot doubt that the critics as a group facilitated the production of those arguments. At the very least they created a climate of opinion in which topics like the earth's motion were legitimate subjects for university discussion. Quite probably a few of Copernicus' key arguments were borrowed from earlier and unacknowledged sources . . .

Some of Galileo's most significant contributions, particularly his work on falling bodies, can appropriately be viewed as a creative reordering  of previously scattered physical and mathematical insights gained with difficulty by medieval scholars . . . one of these insights, the impetus theory of motion, had had an important, if indirect, bearing on astronomical thought . . .

The possibility of the earth's motion and the partial unification of terrestrial and celestial law were the impetus theory's two most direct contributions to the Copernican Revolution . . . Newton's dynamics, even more than Copernicus' astronomy, depended on the prior scholastic analyses of motion . . . impetus dynamics helped to pave the way for Newton's work . . . Buridan and some other impetus theorists declared that, unless resisted, motion too would endure forever, and they thus took a long step toward what we now know as Newton's First Law of Motion . . .

Contributions like these give scholastic science an important role in the evolution of Newtonian dynamics . . . by modern standards the practice of science during the Middle Ages was incredibly inefficient. But how else could science have been reborn in the West? The centuries of scholasticism are the centuries in which the tradition of ancient science and philosophy was simultaneously reconstituted, assimilated, and tested for adequacy. As weak spots were discovered, they immediately became foci for the first effective research in the modern world. The great new scientific theories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries all originate from rents torn by scholastic critics in the fabric of Aristotelian thought. Most of these theories also embody key concepts created by scholastic science. And more important even than these is the attitude that modern scientists inherited from their medieval predecessors: an unbounded faith in the power of human reason to solve the problems of nature. As the late Professor Whitehead remarked,

Faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.

(Science and the Modern World, New York: Macmillan, 1925, p. 19)

. . . Humanism was not principally a scientific movement. The humanists themselves were often bitterly opposed to Aristotle, the scholastics, and the entire tradition of university learning. Their sources were the newly recovered literary classics, and like literary men in other ages, many of them rejected the scientific enterprise as a whole . . . If humanism had been the only intellectual movement of the Renaissance, the Copernican Revolution might have been long postponed. The work of Copernicus and his astronomical contemporaries belongs squarely in that university tradition which the humanists most ridiculed . . .

As a whole the De Revolutionibus stands almost entirely within an ancient astronomical and cosmological tradition . . . its significance can be discovered only by looking simultaneously to its past and to its future, to the tradition from which it derived and to the tradition which derives from it . . .

Copernicus . . . may not, for example, have known of Oresme's contributions, but he had probably at least heard of the very influential treatise in which the fifteenth-century Cardinal, Nicholas of Cusa, derived the motion of the earth from the plurality of worlds in an unbounded Neoplatonic universe . . .

. . . Oresme's fourteenth-century discussion of the earth's diurnal rotation had not ignored the scriptural evidence for the earth's immobility . . . :

To the . . . argument concerning the Holy Scripture which says that the sun revolves, etc., one would say that it is here conforming to the manner of common human speech, just as it is done in several [other] places, e.g., where it is written that God is repentant and that he is angry and pacified and all other things which are not just as they sound. Also appropriate to our question, we read that God covers the heaven with clouds: . . . and yet in reality the heaven covers the clouds.

(Nicole Oresme, Le livre du ciel et du monde, ed. A.D. Menut and A.J. Denomy, in Mediaeval Studies, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1941-1943, IV, 276)

Main Index & Search | Scientific Materialism, Intelligent Design, & the Cosmological Argument | General Christian Apologetics, Worldview, & Philosophy | Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, & Secularism

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 4 April 2003.