Monthly Archives: September 2013

Vitalism and Nutrition: Distinguishing Science and Philosophy of Science

I have often found it difficult to explain to someone the difference between theoretical science and the philosophy of a special science.  In general, by “someone,” I mean any fairly intelligent human being possessing some modicum of scientific literacy.  The problem is not limited to the communication with intellectuals and general academicians, but also non-specialists in more closely related to the field of history and philosophy of science.  For instance, a preeminent scholar in the philosophy of biology has often told me that she sees biologists and general philosophers having a difficult time delineating theoretical biology and philosophy of biology; for those trained in a traditional philosophy program, it seems what this scholar does is biology, not philosophy; for those trained in biology, especially in departments that are not very philosophical in their science, what she does is philosophy, not a matter for biologists so much.  If demarcation of what a science is has been a problem, then the plight of the historically- and scientifically-knowledgeable philosopher of science is sui generis.  I have found explaining the distinction between philosophy of physics and theoretical physics impossible.  After all, explaining how discretization of space could have implications for symmetry breaking in the special theory of relativity (STR) is just confusing to the technically-untrained intellectual, because, after all, if it could have an impact on physical explanation, why wouldn’t physicists be interested?  Explaining that symmetries in nature are tacitly taken as axiomatic, and that physicists have their own implicit metaphysical assertions when going about their science, is a tall task.  Between the scientific technicalities and thorough philosophical subtleties, it is impractical to explain why it is that physicists don’t want to deal with an issue and express why the issue is sufficiently philosophical for it to not be classified as science properly, at least not yet properly science.  However, an example of where philosophy of science could make a valuable contribution to pragmatic science, even if the philosophy of science does not make a direct contribution to scientific theory.  That is, an example of philosophy of science, in which there is a tangible product in methodology and knowledge, but that does not properly contribute to particulars within scientific, should serve as a satisfactory illustration of the distinction between philosophy of science and science.  Continue reading

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