Perspectives on Science

Perspectives on Science
Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2004

CONTENTS

Articles

    Baltas, Aristeides.
    Machamer, Peter K.
  • Athens-Pittsburgh Symposium in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
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    Subject Headings:
    • Athens-Pittsburgh Symposium in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (4th : 2002 : Delphoi, Greece)
    Kosman, Louis Aryeh.
  • Mechanisms in Ancient Philosophy of Science
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    Subject Headings:
    • Mechanism (Philosophy) -- History.
    • Aristotle -- Contributions in philosophy of science.
    • Philosophy, Ancient.
    Abstract:
      This essay considers the place of mechanisms in ancient theories of science. It might seem therefore to promise a meager discussion, since the importance of mechanisms in contemporary scientific explanation is the product of a revolution in scientific thinking connected with the late Renaissance and its mechanization of nature. Indeed the conception of astronomy as devoted merely to "saving the appearances" without reference to the physics of planetary motion might seem an instance of ancient science vigorously rejecting mechanisms. This fact should suggest to us that there is no simple truth about the role of mechanisms in science that is not relative to a particular strategy or historical moment in the development of a scientific tradition. It should also remind us of a parallel question concerning scientific theory, the question now expressed in the issue of realism and instrumentalism. A discussion of Aristotle's views on scientific explanation in the Posterior Analytics, and particularly his concept of what is prior and better known by nature, shows the ways in which Aristotle resists a crude choice between realism and instrumentalism. Early modern theories of science were committed to realism, and the notion of mechanisms was important to that commitment. Part of the force of mechanisms was that they were thought to reveal the activities by which phenomena are truly brought into being. In this way they often served early philosophers of science by promising a realistic science, able to discover the actual mechanisms by which phenomena were brought about in a universe increasingly viewed as mechanistic. Mechanisms, then, are of critical importance if one is a realist, but of considerably less importance if one is an instrumentalist. Since Aristotle, at least, was neither a realist nor an instrumentalist, his view might be thought to be typically Aristotelian: in some ways they're important, in some not. A glance at some contemporary instances suggests similarly that there can be no general view from a theoretical perspective of the status of mechanisms. Their place is dependent on specific features of specific projects of scientific research and explanation.
    Biener, Zvi.
  • Galileo's First New Science: The Science of Matter
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    Subject Headings:
    • Galilei, Galileo, 1564-1642. Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche.
    • Galilei, Galileo, 1564-1642 -- Contributions in philosophy of science.
    • Galilei, Galileo, 1564-1642 -- Views on matter.
    Abstract:
      Although Galileo's struggle to mathematize the study of nature is well known and oft discussed, less discussed is the form this struggle takes in relation to Galileo's first new science, the science of the second day of the Discorsi. This essay argues that Galileo's first science ought to be understood as the science of matter—not, as it is usually understood, the science of the strength of materials. This understanding sheds light on the convoluted structure of the Discorsi's first day. It suggests that the day's meandering discussions of the continuum, infinity, the vacuum, and condensation and rarefaction establish that a formal treatment of the "eternal and necessary" properties of matter is possible; i.e., that matter as such can be considered mathematically. This would have been a necessary, and indeed revolutionary, preliminary to the mathematical science of the second day because matter itself was thought in the Aristotelian tradition to be responsible for the departure of natural bodies from the unchanging and thus mathematizable character of abstract objects. In addition, the first day establishes that when considered physically, these properties account for matter's force of cohesion and resistance to fracture. This essay closes by showing that this dual style of reasoning accords with the conceptual structure of mixed mathematics.
    Psillos, Stathis, 1965-
  • A Glimpse of the Secret Connexion: Harmonising Mechanisms with Counterfactuals
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    Subject Headings:
    • Causation.
    • Counterfactuals (Logic)
    • Mechanism (Philosophy)
    Abstract:
      Among the current philosophical accounts of causation two are the most prominent. The first is James Woodward's interventionist counterfactual approach; the second is the mechanistic approach advocated by Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden, Carl Craver, Jim Bogen and Stuart Glennan. Thecounterfactual approach takes it that causes make a difference to their effects, where this difference-making is cashed out in terms of actual and counterfactual interventions. The mechanistic approach takes it that two events are causally related if and only if there is a mechanism that connects them. In this paper I examine them both in some detail. After pointing out some important problems that both approaches face, I argue that there is a sense in which the counterfactual approach is more basic than the mechanistic one in that a proper account of mechanisms depends on counterfactuals while counterfactuals need not be supported (or depend on) mechanisms. Nonetheless, I also argue that if both approaches work in tandem in practice, they can offer us a better understanding of aspects of Hume's secret connexion and hence a glimpse of it.
    Dupré, John.
  • Understanding Contemporary Genomics
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    Subject Headings:
    • Genomics.
    • Genetics -- History.
    • Biology -- Philosophy.
    Abstract:
      Recent molecular biology has seen the development of genomics as a successor to traditional genetics. This paper offers an overview of the structure, epistemology, and (very briefly) history of contemporary genomics. A particular focus is on the question to what extent the genome contains, or is composed of, anything that corresponds to traditional conceptions of genes. It is concluded that the only interpretation of genes that has much contemporary scientific relevance is what is described as the "developmental defect" gene concept. However, developmental defect genes typically only correspond to general areas of the genome and not to precise chemical structures (nucleotide sequences). The parts of the genome to be identified for an account of the processes of normal development are highly diverse, little correlated with traditional genes, and act in ways that are highly dependent on the cellular and higher level environment. Despite its historical development out of genetics, genomics represents a radically different kind of scientific project.

Essay Review

    Janiak, Andrew.
  • Kant as Philosopher of Science
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    Subject Headings:
    • Kant, Immanuel, 1724-1804.
    • Kant, Immanuel, 1724-1804 -- Contributions in philosophy of science.
    • Philosophy and science.
    Abstract:
      Michael Friedman's Kant and the Exact Sciences (1992) refocused scholarly attention on Kant's status as a philosopher of the sciences, especially (but not exclusively) of the broadly Newtonian science of the eighteenth century. The last few years have seen a plethora of articles and monographs concerned with characterizing that status. This recent scholarship illuminates Kant's views on a diverse group of topics: science and its relation to metaphysics; dynamics and the theory of matter; causation and Hume's critique of it; and, the limits of mechanism and of mechanical intelligibility. I argue that recent interpretations of Kant's views on these topics should influence our understanding of his principal metaphysical and epistemological arguments and positions.

Contributors




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