Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 25, number 74, agosto 1993
Método, evolución y progreso en la ciencia (2a. parte)
[Method, Evolution and Progress in Science (2nd Part)]
Sergio Martínez
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


In this paper I address the problem of characterizing a notion of scientific or cognitive progress. I show that there is a close connection between the different characterizations of scientific method and notions of progress. Until the early sixties, a very common (often implicit) assumption was that progress could be understood as a by-product of the use of the scientific method. The work of Thomas Kuhn made clear that such a simple minded characterization of progress could not be right. I examine a series of attempts aiming to spell out a notion of scientific progress, and argue that an underlying assumption of these proposals is an assumption about the underlying methodological unity of science.

I claim that it is important for the correct formulations of a series of problems in the philosophy of science, and for the problem of characterizing progress in particular, to draw a distinction among different sorts of traditions in science. Each tradition articulates different explanatory aims, methods and notions of progress. In this paper I spell out a notion of cognitive progress that is implicit in experimental traditions. In future work I will discuss the notions of progress associated with other traditions.

In experimental traditions progress is understood in terms of the stabilization of phenomena and their entrenchment. A phenomenon gets entrenched when it is used for the construction of other phenomena. In order to understand the epistemological significance of the entrenchment of phenomena it is necessary to show that the traditional understanding of laws of nature in theoretical traditions, and in most philosophical accounts, is not suitable to understand the sense in which experimentalists talk of the “manipulation of laws of nature”. I provide a series of examples in order to clarify to concepts of phenomenon and entrenchment of phenomena which are important in experimental traditions. I suggest that the process of entrenchment of phenomena can be understood as a generalized evolutionary process. In that way, the analogy between progress and evolution, a topic of heated discussions for over a century, can help to elucidate the dynamics of experimental traditions in science.


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