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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

14 - The History of Philosophy of Science

from Section Two - Logic, Metaphysics, Science


The philosophy of science in its broadest sense includes all philosophical questions asked about or within the sciences. It overlaps with epistemology because science is taken to be among the best available means of acquiring knowledge, if not the best. It overlaps with metaphysics, and philosophy of mind and language, because scientific theories tell us about the nature and functioning of matter and ourselves. Issues that are now considered core to the philosophy of science, such as the problem of induction and the nature of space and time, played a pivotal role in the development of philosophy from Descartes to Kant through Newton, Leibniz, and Hume, and thence to Russell, Wittgenstein, and the Vienna Circle. Philosophy of science continues to study such old and new questions of knowledge and reality. Furthermore, philosophy of science has also always overlapped with ethics and political philosophy. At the turn of the scientific revolution Francis Bacon envisioned New Atlantis, a society based on communal inquiry and collective action bringing the benefits of technology to its populace. No philosopher of science after 1945 could doubt the social nature of science and the benefits of science and technology, but nor could they doubt its potential for destruction. By the 1990s climate change was reckoned by many scientists to be a threat to much, if not all, human life on Earth. The ideas of the underdetermination of theory by evidence and paradigms were weaponized in political debates that ensued and are charged with a significance that goes way beyond the academic study of the philosophy of science (Oreskes and Conway 2010).