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  • The Golden Age of Philosophy of Science, 1945 to 2000: Logical Reconstruction, Descriptivism, Normative, Naturalism, and Foundationalism by John Losee
  • Daniel J. McKaughan
John Losee. The Golden Age of Philosophy of Science, 1945 to 2000: Logical Reconstruction, Descriptivism, Normative, Naturalism, and Foundationalism. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Pp. 319. Cloth, $114.00.

Should philosophers of science offer methodological prescriptions about how science ought to be practiced, or should they rest content with describing ways it has actually been practiced over time? Do the standards by which good science is assessed remain stable over time? How should rival philosophies of science be evaluated, and what role ought history of science play in such assessments? This book engages such questions while introducing a range of key ideas and debates by examining the four positions named in its subtitle: Logical Reconstructionism, Descriptivism, Normative Naturalism, and Foundationalism. Why 1945 to 2000? After World War II, as graduate programs and journals were established, philosophy of science developed into a fully professionalized academic field (5). Stopping at the turn of the century is not similarly motivated, and Losee leaves unremarked whether the field's golden age has come to an end.

Chapter 1 introduces the Logical Reconstructionist program and chapter 2 presents central shortcomings that led to its widespread abandonment. These span half the book. Logical Reconstructionism focuses on explicating core concepts like scientific explanation, [End Page 413] laws of nature, theory confirmation and replacement, and approaches this task in a characteristically transhistorical way. After setting the stage for understanding the prevailing orthodoxy in 1945, with brief discussions of logical positivism and work such as Campbell's Foundations of Science (1919) and Bridgman's The Logic of Modern Physics (1927), Losee addresses, among other things, attempts to distinguish sharply between observational and theoretical language, Hempel and Oppenheim's Deductive-Nomological and Inductive-Statistical approaches to explanation, Carnap on confirmation theory and its paradoxes, Popper on falsification and the demarcation between science and pseudo-science, views concerning the nature, structure, and interpretation of theories, and influential books like Nagel's Structure of Science (1951) and Braithwaite's Scientific Explanation (1953). Chapter 2 covers both external critiques of the movement and problems arising from within (e.g. the problematization of the distinction between observation and theory by Feigl, Hesse, Achinstein, Feyerabend, and Quine), along with replies to these challenges. Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) is briefly introduced, as is Feyerabend's incommensurability thesis.

As the project of Logical Reconstructionism fell under the weight of criticism, three broad responses developed. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 introduce Descriptivism, Normative Naturalism, and Foundationalism, respectively, after a brief "interlude" in chapter 3 that classifies the basic positions according to (a) whether they have normative aims and (b) maintain that science is subject to "inviolable" or transhistorical criteria of assessment. Logical Reconstructionism said "yes" to both (a) and (b), as do other more contemporary forms of Foundationalism (views that insist some enduring principles must be accepted as properly basic starting points of any scientific practice). Descriptivism says "no" and "no," aiming only to describe actual evaluative practice, eschewing claims about how science ought to be practiced. Normative Naturalism is the view that, by practicing science, we have come to hold that some evaluative standards are more effective than others for achieving the goals that scientific communities typically have. Its proponents attempt to steer what Losee sees as an uneasy course between Descriptivism and Foundationalism, retaining commitment to (a) while sometimes disagreeing about (b) but typically maintaining that, like theories, aims and evaluative standards remain open to revision.

Chapter 4 distinguishes several versions of Descriptivism, discussing work by Meehl, Holton, Giere, Thagard, Gopnik, and two other trends: comparing long term scientific growth to evolution by natural selection (e.g. Toulmin, Hull, Dawkins, Campbell, Popper, and Ruse), and The Strong Programme in which tracing causal influences of social context on practice threatens to relativize or displace the role of reasoning (e.g. Bloor, Barnes, and Shapin). Chapter 5 considers attempts to develop Normative Naturalism, in Losee's view all ultimately unsuccessful, focusing on Neurath, Quine, Kantorovich, Fine, Burian, Kitcher, Shapere, and Laudan. Chapter 6 discusses Foundationalism and its critics...


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