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LEXICOGRAPHY AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE William Frawley This paper1 is designed to show how lexicography can come to the aid of a descriptive philosophy of science, a project which doubtless suggests that there is presently something amiss in the philosophy of science. Indeed, there is something wrong. Let begin by demonstrating that the philosophy of science is in need of considerable help. What is the philosophy of science? It is the discipline which seeks to describe the nature, origin, and progress scientific knowledge. Such a systematic and exhaustive cataloguing of scientific knowledge, however, has been realized only sporadically. Harold Brown's pertinent comments point this out: one of the striking aspects . . . that we shall continually encounter is a consistent lack of detailed analysis of actual scientific theories or of examples of scientific research. Rather what we find ... is the analysis of propositional forms, the construction of aritificial languages and calculi, and the occasional illustration of these calculi by reference to simple empirical generalizations such as 'All ravens are black' or 'All sodium salts burn yellow' with the assumption that this will somehow elucidate the structure of science (Brown 1979:29). And while the above indictment is intended to discredit logical philosophy of science, the same problems crop up in the so-called New Philosophy of Science (Kuhn and others), which is beset with vaguenesses, lack of demonstration of the points of argument, and explanation through simple juggling of terms (see Shapere's criticisms [1966] and Masterman's pointed counters [1970]). The discipline's inability to adhere to its premises, however, has become something of a "felix culpa" since philosophers of science have now turned to meta-disputes about how to do such descriptions of scientific knowledge, which consequently has forced them to re-examine the objects long-assumed stable and worthy of description. They have re-examined science and have come to the conclusion that scientific knowledge is not the specification of timeless laws of the structure and interaction of matter. On the contrary, philosophers of science have concluded that their descriptions must be of hypotheticalities and contingencies, and that they must focus not on laws, but on words. Science is decidedly not an absolute heuristic; rather, it is a way of talking. Of course, it has long been known that language is representative of science, that science has a certain technical vocabulary as a vehicle of expression. Leonard Bloomfield, in fact, articulates this quite well in his 1939 monograph, Linguistic Aspects of Science: persons who carry on a specialized activity develop technical terms and locutions . . . . These terminologies contribute to the dialectal differentiation which exists in all fair-sized speech communities. The specialized vocabularies and turns of speech which are used in the various branches of science belong in this same general type; only, as scientific observation reaches beyond the interests of ordinary life, the vocabulary of science becomes very large. From timid neologisms, it grows to a state where some schema of the world stands at the service of every member of the guild (Bloomfield 1939:42). 18 William Frawley19 But the last bit of Bloomfield's observations—that "some schema of the world" lies in the words of science—has been only recently investigated: the technical vocabulary of science is constitutive of science. Or in more common terms, the jargon of science does not represent scientific knowledge; it is scientific knowledge. Richard Rorty, in a recent article on philosophy as a mode of writing, articulates this position as follows: Here is another way of looking at physics: the physicists are men looking for new interpretations of the Book of Nature. After each pedestrian period of normal science, they dream up a new model, a new picture, a new vocabulary, and they announce that the meaning of the Book has been discovered. What makes the physicists is that their writings are commentaries on the writings of earlier interpreters of Nature, not that they are all somehow 'talking about the same thing' (Rorty 1978:141). Similar positions have been taken by numerous philosophers of science. Ernest Hütten (1956) has observed that any change in scientific thinking is actually a modification of the vocabulary of the disciplines involved. Thus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 18-27
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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