Feminism and the Philosophy of Science
A Critical Evaluation
This paper is aims to critically evaluate whether feminism helps to provide a good alternative perspective to science. In the modern world, “science” has come to mean the intellectual and practical activity – characterised by observation and experiment – involving the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical or natural world.i However, in the pre-modern age “science” (from Latin, scientia) was simply defined as “knowledge”,ii i.e. understanding of truth and reality, without necessarily any specifications as to the domain of study (e.g., physical or metaphysical) or as to the methodology (e.g., pure intelligence or experience). This study will be mainly concerned with modern science, and we will henceforth simply use the word “science” to designate this. The perspective of science is shaped by its underlying philosophy. The philosophy of science is determined with the underlying foundations, methods and the implications of science. The majority of the participants in the study of the philosophy of science are philosophers and with a lesser number of scientists also involved.iii Important scientists and philosophers that helped shape the foundations and methodology of modern science include Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Isaac Newton (1643-1727), Auguste Comte (1798-1857), and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).iv The philosophy of science can be viewed as a way of understanding and explaining how and why scientific research is carried out. At the centre of the philosophy of science is the debate about reality and theory; whether a theory accepted by science should be regarded as describing reality or not. Whereas it is widely held today, that in the case of the arts “good” or “bad” art, or “true” or “false” art is a matter of personal opinion (i.e. it is subjective), it is equally, if not more, widely held that with modern science it is possible to differentiate between “good” or “bad” science, or “true” or “false” science as a matter of collective opinion (i.e., it is objective). For example, today it is widely held that Newton’s physics of the solar system and universe is “better” or more accurate than Aristotle’s physics.v Fundamentally, the philosophy of science is based on the idea that knowledge should be based on, or verified through, empirical data (phenomena able to be verified by the senses). Science, as it is understood today, is therefore against the idea of pure intelligence (a priori knowledge); that knowledge can be gained through intelligence alone, independently of empirical data.vi Auguste Comte took this study of the physical world a step further and applied it to human collectivities; he thought that through systematic collection and analysis of empirical data (logical positivism or logical empiricism), the nature, formation, and evolution of society and the ideas produced therein could also be understood. Comte was the founding father of the discipline of sociology.vii The most widely held perspectives of psychology also held to, and still largely does hold to, the logical positivist paradigm. The three goals of logical positivism are description (of the empirical observations made), control (of the variables that have a causal impact on the target variable), and prediction (of the target variable in future circumstances).viii Owing to the inconclusive nature of inductive logic (i.e., the inability to form laws based on experimentation), Karl Popper (1902-1994), argued against the method of verifiability (i.e., positive affirmation of a hypothesis based on experimentation; hence logical positivism), and said that it should be replaced with a method of falsifiability (i.e., a hypothesis is tentatively accepted if there are no reasons to reject it; hence logical rationalism).ix...
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