Demarcation

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Question Title: What is the problem of Demarcation? State the problem, say whether you think it is important, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of an attempt to solve it.

Word Count: 1,601

Science is generally considered to be the acquisition of knowledge guided by natural laws. The scientific method uses a number of logical steps in order to make inferences about universal truths that follow the method of Induction, an empirical enterprise utilised to establish truth about the universe. These inferences refer to hypotheses and theories made by scientists through observations and experiments (Popper 1963, p.426). This empirical system separated science from other belief systems and human opinions of the world that revolved around religion, superstition and philosophy. Today, beliefs relating to those areas, or any belief that happens to fall outside of the canons of science is considered pseudoscientific. These are usually tradition-bound, superstitious or dogmatic in nature and fail to progress with discovery of new evidence. These fields of knowledge rarely carry out any respectable scientific research and have little or no universally formed hypotheses (Bunge 1984, p.40). This however does not stop these beliefs from gaining a large amount of following and popularity like Creationism and astrology. Lakatos stated that even the most plausible statements can be pseudoscientific whilst the most unbelievable can be scientifically valid, the scientific value of a theory is independent of the impact upon the human mind (1977, p.20). Conversely, not all beliefs or areas of knowledge fall into either science or pseudoscience, some fall into a category of non-science, as knowledge is not entirely black and white, making it difficult to differentiate between what deserves a high scientific status and what should be considered purely theoretical. This is called the ‘Problem of Demarcation’. In this essay I will discuss the attempts that philosophers have made to solve this problem and the formulation of a demarcation criteria. I will highlight the reasons why defining scientific theories is important and how doing so might actually cause more problems in the future.

Demarcation is the attempt to distinguish one thing from something else, or at least to provide boundaries around it for example, what constitutes science from pseudoscience? This is exactly what Karl Popper decided to answer by forming and proposing a set of demarcation criteria. In contrast with the Logical Positivists, who believed that a statement only had to be verifiable by empirical observations to be valid, Popper came up with the idea that the level of ‘refutability’ or ‘falsifiability’ of a theory is what determines its scientific validity. He believed that confirmation (or verification) for a theory could be found very easily if one was looking for it and anyone could find evidence to support a belief if there was no way of falsifying it. For example, astrologers make very vague predictions and interpretations which are able to be applied to any future event. Popper believed that this was their way of making their theories unfalsifiable and ultimately, untestable (1963, p.8). The distinction between science and pseudoscience, according to Popper, comes down to the falsifiability of the theory - its scientific value rests on how ‘exposed’ the theory is to refutability. That which can not be empirically tested, does not qualify as a science.

The problem of demarcation between what constitutes science and non-science is crucial for the development of scientific thought and the advancement of knowledge about the world and the distinction holds a great practical significance in our everyday lives (Hansson, 2008). It is obvious that our personal beliefs about the universe influence the way in which we interact with the world around us, whether it be people or with nature and science is dedicated entirely to this pursuit of...
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