Scientific Knowledge

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For some people science is the supreme form of all knowledge. Is this view reasonable or does it involve a misunderstanding of science or of knowledge?

For many persons science is considered the supreme form of all knowledge, as science is based on facts and theories and it reaches its results through an approved scientific method. Consequently, it seems to be objective and thus more truthful and reliable. However, other persons argue that this is a misunderstanding of science. Hence, one should question what science and knowledge entail. Can there actually be some form of knowledge that overrules all other types of human knowledge? Is scientific knowledge actually always objective? Are there other types of knowledge of equal worth? This essay will discuss the views presented mainly using examples from biology and history and comparing them to the different ways of knowing, i.e. perception, reasoning, emotion and language to try and reach a conclusion on whether scientific knowledge really is a higher form of knowledge.

Firstly, before attempting to discuss the topic at hand, it is important to define the terms "knowledge", "science" and "supreme". According to Webster's Encyclopaedic Dictionary "knowledge" is defined as "the acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles gained by sight, experience, or investigation"1. "Science" is a branch of knowledge that has purpose to "describe, explain, understand, investigate, predict, and control"2. The term "supreme" is defined as "the highest in rank, authority, and/or quality"3. Now, to put these definitions in context, one must recognise that scientific knowledge, to have the status of the highest in authority and quality, it has to be reliable and consistent with reality. And since scientific knowledge is based upon investigations and observations of the environment around us (i.e. reality), it must be supreme. However, what can be questioned is the degree of supremacy within different types of sciences, and in this essay the comparison will be limited to one natural science (biology) and one social science (history).

Biology could be considered the supreme form of knowledge, as a large proportion of what we know is based upon observations and investigations of the world around us, thus inductive reasoning. Let's consider the example of organs in living organisms; it's a scientific fact that most living organisms have organs. When dissecting a frog, people have seen that it has a brain, stomach, liver, intestines, etc. Thus, perception, in this case could be considered an important factor that makes a piece of knowledge supreme. One could then deduce that frogs have these organs and that most multi-cellular animals also have these organs, after having looked and compared a large sample. This is where reasoning, as a way of knowing, comes into use to make generalisations. And one can be quite sure that this fact is true since it has been seen, and at any moment in time, if someone dissects a frog, he/she will see these organs. In this example, there is very little room for human emotions/ bias to affect the perception, since one cannot argue that what's inside the frog's body is something other than its organs.

On the other hand, there are other parts in the field of biology that are less supreme. Consider the example of a field study where a scientist is to investigate if leaves closer to the trunk of oak trees in Scania are larger than those being further away from the trunk. The biologist will make a plan on how to conduct the experiment, and since he cannot measure all leaves in all trees existing in Scania, the biologist will have to carry out the field study on a sample, which raises the question: what could be an appropriate sample? Most scientists agree that the best way to conduct a field study is being as random as possible. But how does one go about being random? Scientist may have different ways of reasoning on what would make an...
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