Review: Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction

I had low expectations for this book. It was assigned for some humanities class im taking (Studium generale). However, the book is a quite decent introduction to the field. Happily surprised.



The first two statements are called the premisses of the inference,

while the third statement is called the conclusion. This is a

deductive inference because it has the following property: if the

premisses are true, then the conclusion must be true too. In other

words, if it’s true th at all Frenchman like red wine, and if it’s true

th at Pierre is a Frenchman, it follows th at Pierre does indeed like

red wine. This is sometimes expressed by saying th at the

premisses of the inference entail the conclusion. Of course, the

premisses of this inference are almost certainly not true – there

are bound to be Frenchmen who do not like red wine. But that is

not the point. What makes the inference deductive is the

existence of an appropriate relation between premisses and

conclusion, namely th at if the premisses are true, the conclusion

must be true too. Whether the premisses are actually true is a

different matter, which doesn’t affect the status of the inference as



This distinction is not a good idea. In that case, the existence of a deductive and invalid argument is impossible. I wrote about this area years ago, but apparently never finished my essay, or published it. It is still on my desktop.



Philosophers of science are interested in probability for two main

reasons. The first is th at in many branches of science, especially

physics and biology, we find laws and theories th at are formulated

using the notion of probability. Consider, for example, the theory

known as Mendelian genetics, which deals with the transmission

of genes from one generation to another in sexually reproducing

populations. One of the most important principles of Mendelian

genetics is that every gene in an organism has a 50% chance of

making it into any one of the organism’s gametes (sperm or egg

cells). Hence there is a 50% chance th at any gene found in your

mother will also be in you, and likewise for the genes in your

father. Using this principle and others, geneticists can provide

detailed explanations for why particular characteristics (e.g. eye

colour) are distributed across the generations of a family in the

way that they are. Now ‘chance’ is ju st another word for

probability, so it is obvious th at our Mendelian principle makes

essential use of the concept of probability. Many other examples

could be given of scientific laws and principles th at are expressed

in terms of probability. The need to understand these laws and

principles is an important motivation for the philosophical study of



Author forgot about sex-linked genes, which complicate matters.



Modern science can explain a great deal about the world we live in.

But there are also numerous facts th at have not been explained by

science, or at least not explained fully. The origin of life is one such

example. We know that about 4 billion years ago, molecules with

the ability to make copies of themselves appeared in the primeval

soup, and life evolved from there. But we do not understand how

these self-replicating molecules got there in the first place. Another

example is the fact th at autistic children tend to have very good

memories. Numerous studies of autistic children have confirmed

this fact, but as yet nobody has succeeded in explaining it.


Wiki seems to be of the exact opposite opinion.



Since the realism/anti-realism debate concerns the aim of science,

one might think it could be resolved by simply asking the scientists

themselves. Why not do a straw poll of scientists asking them about

their aims? But this suggestion misses the point – it takes the

expression ‘the aim of science’ too literally. When we ask what the

aim of science is, we are not asking about the aims of individual

scientists. Rather, we are asking how best to make sense of what

scientists say and do – how to interpret the scientific enterprise.

Realists think we should interpret all scientific theories as

attempted descriptions of reality; anti-realists think this

interpretation is inappropriate for theories th at talk about

unobservable entities and processes. While it would certainly be

interesting to discover scientists’ own views on the realism/anti-

realism debate, the issue is ultimately a philosophical one.


Good idea. Is that a case for expertimental filosofy?


Cudnt find any data from a quick google.



Cladists argue th at their way of classifying is ‘objective’ while th at of

the pheneticists is not. There is certainly some tru th in this charge.

For pheneticists base their classifications on the similarities

between species, and judgements of similarity are invariably partly

subjective. Any two species are going to be similar to each other in

some respects, but not in others. For example, two species of insect

might be anatomically quite similar, but very diverse in their

feeding habits. So which ‘respects’ do we single out, in order to

make judgements of similarity? Pheneticists hoped to avoid this

problem by defining a measure o f ‘overall similarity’, which would

take into account all of a species’ characteristics, thus permitting

fully objective classifications to be constructed. But though this idea

sounds nice, it did not work, not least because there is no obvious

way to count characteristics. Most people today believe that the very

idea o f ‘overall similarity’ is philosophically suspect. Phenetic

classifications do exist, and are used in practice, but they are not

fully objective. Different similarity judgements lead to different

phenetic classifications, and there is no obvious way to choose

between them.


Surely someone has tried factor analysis to find this overall similarity factor, if there is one? It’s not that hard to find out. Make a huge list of things to measure to species. Measure it all in say, 1000 species, and then factor analyze it. Is there an overall factor similar to g? If not, then the hypothesis is disconfirmed.


I checked. Yes, someone did this.


Seems to be common practice. So this can avoid the charge of arbitrary classifications.



A similar issue arises regarding the relation between the natural

sciences and the social sciences. Ju st as philosophers sometimes

complain o f ‘science worship’ in their discipline, so social scientists

sometimes complain o f ‘natural science worship’ in theirs. There is

no denying that the natural sciences – physics, chemistry, biology,

etc. – are in a more advanced state than the social sciences –

economics, sociology, anthropology, etc. A number of people have

wondered why this is so. It can hardly be because natural scientists

are smarter than social scientists. One possible answer is that the

methodsof the natural sciences are superior to those of the social

sciences. If this is correct, then what the social sciences need to do

to catch up is to ape the methods of the natural sciences. And to

some extent, this has actually happened. The increasing use of

mathematics in the social sciences may be partly a result of this

attitude. Physics made a great leap forward when Galileo took the

step of applying mathematical language to the description of

motion; so it is tempting to think that a comparable leap forward

might be achievable in the social sciences, if a comparable way of

‘mathematicizing’ their subject matter can be found.


Ofc it can! All data confirm this, ex.


Social science has the triple disadvantage of having 1) less smart researchers, 2) a more complex field, 3) fewer experimental options (due to ethical and monetary problems).



To be fair to the creation scientists, they do olfer arguments th at are

specific to the theory of evolution. One of their favourite arguments

is that the fossil record is extremely patchy, particularly when it

comes to the supposed ancestors of Homo sapiens.There is some

truth in this charge. Evolutionists have long puzzled over the gaps

in the fossil record. One persistent puzzle is why there are so few

‘transition fossils’ – fossils of creatures intermediate between two

species. If later species evolved from earlier ones as Darwin’s theory

asserts, surely we would expect transition fossils to be very \

common? Creationists take puzzles of this sort to show that

Darwin’s theory is ju st wrong. But the creationist arguments are

uncompelling, notwithstanding the real difficulties in

understanding the fossil record. For fossils are not the only or even

the main source of evidence for the theory of evolution, as

creationists would know if they had read The Origin o f Species.

Comparative anatomy is another important source of evidence, as

are embryology biogeography, and genetics. Consider, for example,

the fact that humans and chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA.

This and thousands of similar facts make perfect sense if the theory

of evolution is true, and thus constitute excellent evidence for the

theory. Of course, creation scientists can explain such facts too.

They can claim th at God decided to make humans and chimpanzees

genetically similar, for reasons of His own. But the possibility of

giving ‘explanations’ o f this sort really ju st points to the fact that

Darwin’s theory is not logically entailed by the data. As we have

seen, the same is true o f every scientific theory. The creationists

have merely highlighted the general methodological point th at data

can always be explained in a multitude of ways. This point is true,

but shows nothing special about Darwinism.


The author is confused about transitional fossils. All fossils are transitionary. There is no point at which



Human sociobiologists (henceforth simply ‘sociobiologists’) believe

th at many behavioural traits in humans can be given adaptationist

explanations. One of their favourite examples is incest-avoidance.

Incest – or sexual relations between members of the same family –

is regarded as taboo in virtually every human society, and subject to

legal and moral sanctions in most. This fact is quite striking, given

th at sexual mores are otherwise quite diverse across human

societies. Why the prohibition on incest? Sociobiologists offer the

following explanation. Children born of incestuous relationships

often have serious genetic defects. So in the past, those who

practised incest would have tended to leave fewer viable offspring

than those who didn’t. Assuming th at the incest-avoiding behaviour

was genetically based, and thus transmitted from parents to their

offspring, over a number of generations it would have spread

through the population. This explains why incest is so rarely found

in human societies today.





If this response is correct, it means we should sharply distinguish

the ‘scientific’ objections to sociobiology from the ‘ideological’

objections. Reasonable though this sounds, there is one point it

doesn’t address: advocates of sociobiology have tended to be

politically right-wing, while its critics have tended to come from the

political left. There are many exceptions to this generalization,

especially to the first half of it, b ut few would deny the trend

altogether. I f sociobiology is simply an impartial enquiry into the

facts, what explains the trend? Why should there be any correlation

at all between political opinions and attitudes towards

sociobiology? This is a tricky question to answer. For though some

sociobiologists may have had hidden political agendas, and though

some of sociobiology’s critics have had opposing agendas of their

own, the correlation extends even to those who debate the issue in

apparently scientific terms. This suggests, though does not prove,

th at the ‘ideological’ and ‘scientific’ issues may not be quite so easy

to separate after all. So the question of whether sociobiology is a

value-free science is less easy to answer than might have been



This typical claim has been found to be wrong. And it also doesnt fit with other facts, like that Wilson is a socialist. The father of sociobiology! Dawkins has also expressed leftist beliefs.


Critics of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology have advanced an adaptationists-as-right-wing-conspirators (ARC) hypothesis, suggesting that adaptationists use their research to support a right-wing political agenda. We report the first quantitative test of the ARC hypothesis based on an online survey of political and scientific attitudes among 168 US psychology Ph.D. students, 31 of whom self-identified as adaptationists and 137 others who identified with another non-adaptationist meta-theory. Results indicate that adaptationists are much less politically conservative than typical US citizens and no more politically conservative than non-adaptationist graduate students. Also, contrary to the “adaptationists-as-pseudo-scientists” stereotype, adaptationists endorse more rigorous, progressive, quantitative scientific methods in the study of human behavior than non-adaptationists.