Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 11, number 32, August 1979
¿Qué hacer en filosofía de la ciencia? Una alternativa en catorce puntos
C. Ulises Moulines
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to present a more fruitful, flexible and realistic program than some other current programs, for doing the philosophy of science. A little metaphilosophical thought on such a theme is now appropriate mainly because some Latin-American countries show a growing interest in the philosophy of science and also because, generally speaking, there is a great deal of confusion concerning its methods, its basic problems and the solutions we are to expect from it.
1. Philosophy of science consists in the construction of some interpretative schemes, philosophical in nature, which enable us to understand scientific theories. It can be characterized as a theoretization on theoretizations, as an interpretation of reality’s interpretations. Thus, it is a second level intellectual activity whose subject matter is itself, the result of a previous similar activity. The philosophy of science, then, is a typical product of human beings’ recursive capacity, the ability they have to reflect upon their own activity’s results.
In order to know which type of intellectual activity the philosophy of science belongs to, it is necessary to characterize both the notions of theoretization and that of interpretation. The approach here will be merely intuitive. Theoretization is the deliberate production of some entities called “theories”. These are interpretative, conceptual schemes which, supposedly, let us comprehend things “happening there”. Clearly, interpretation is a key concept for the philosophy of science.
2. Tentatively, an interpretation of some given domain of knowledge’s objects can be “defined” as the conscious and deliberated “incrustation” in that domain, of a previously built conceptual apparatus by means of which some of its aspects can be reconstructed. So, we assert that there is a third semantical category which we can call “interpretation”. As used here, this notion arises after the confrontation with a widely accepted dogma of the philosophy of language: the so-called dogma of the descriptive-prescriptive, or the descriptive-evaluative dichotomy, according to which any concept, statement or system of statements has descriptive or prescriptive meaning, and is analysable into elements of one of these categories, never of both, for they are mutually exclusive. Nonetheless this dichotomy, being artificial and misleading, distorts not only the nature of the philosophy of science, but the nature of science as well. It is very often applied ad hoc to many parts of human discourse —especially to those called “theoretical”.
3. Scientific theories are the philosophy of science’s subject matter. We will consider, at the moment, that “scientific theories” refers to the group of some kind of theories, showing an obvious “family air”, which are taught, disseminated and used in universities and research institutes.
4. Philosophy of science belongs to the “sciences of culture” or “humanities” because scientific theories, being a subset of the set of theories about reality, are like these last a cultural phenomenon or human activity that always appear within some given socio-cultural forms. Thus scientific theories must be studied as cultural products. Nevertheless, philosophy of science must not be confounded with sociology or psychology of science, and it will use, whenever possible, the formal tools of logic and mathematics in order to seek the greatest precision.
5. Scientific theories are viewed by the philosophy of science as spaceless and timeless abstract structures. Hence, they are a case of abstract, cultural entities.
6. On the other hand, the philosopher of science must not use an abstract method (an aprioristic one). On the contrary, he will rely on the concrete data given to us by the scientific corpus. His procedures will be concrete. In other words, philosophy of science will deal with identifiable, real existent theories.
Textbooks (in general, systematic ones) are especially important to the philosophy of science. They are the concrete objects which best transmit scientific theories. So, then, one of the philosopher of science’s main tasks is to analyze critically and to reconstruct logically scientific disciplines’ standard works.
7. The philosopher of science’s objective is to identify theories’ conceptual structures and to reconstruct them. That is why he pays attention not only to the very recent scientific theories, but also to the classical ones. Philosophy of science’s intention is not constrained, as many people believe, by that of popularizing the latest scientific developments.
8. Because the philosopher of science wants to discover and to identify scientific theories’ underlying structures, his activity must not be restricted to describe, neutrally, those theories’ content. Instead, he is to interpret or to reconstruct scientific works, framing his objects of study into some presupposed formal categories.
9. According to this program of the logical reconstruction of science, the philosopher’s task is twofold: 1) he will make explicit the structure of the individual theories that constitute his objects of investigation, and 2) he will examine the relations between theories.
Methodologically, the best thing to do is to work only in one of the two directions at a time. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that any theory’s complete identification is possible only if we know the kind of inter-theoretic relations it holds with other theories. And conversely, the particular kind of inter-theoretic relations’ cannot be properly explicated if we do not know how these inter-related theories’ structures are in fact.
10. In order to identify and to reconstruct individual theories, first an identity criterion is needed, which in turn presupposes an explicit concept of theory. The concept of theory has changed, and its development is important to the philosophy of science. Some of its main stages are the following:
a) “Classic” philosophy of science equals the concept of theory and the concept of an axiomatic system. It considers that any theory is a set of statements, some of them being axioms (basic, a priori valid propositions) and others being theorems (logical consequences of axioms). This is a formal and syntactic approach that emphasizes the need to express theories, in a formal language. It considers that the philosopher of science’s method to identify particular theories is the very same axiomatic method: he must find out what a theory’s basic statements are and how they can be used as axioms as starting points allowing all other things (within the theory) to be logically derived.
The “classical” approach (represented among others by R. Carnap) introduced a great precision in the philosophy of science, which was undoubtedly good, but, at the final score, it hindered more than promoted the philosophy of science’s development because the complete formalization of complex theories is, actually, very difficult.
b) The concept of a theory, as proposed by P. Suppes and his team, assumes that the structure of every theory can be given within a standard set theory. It represents a set theoretical approach, and it reconstructs scientific theories axiomatizating them directly by means of the so-called “intuitive” set theory. It delivers a method, as rigorous as the formal one, but far more feasible and fruitful. Its limitation lies in the fact that the concept of theory it handles is too simplistic, for it ignores the pragmatic aspects involved in all empirical sciences.
11. Recent approaches (Sneed, Stegmuller, Ludwig, Van Fraassen and the Polish Group) consider that the concept of theory must include the syntactic and semantic aspects of scientific theories, and also their changing pragmatic ones. They must include the concrete “external” applications viewed when constructed.
Those semantic and pragmatic aspects (which we call their “external” justification) can be summed up by the key notion of a theory’s applications. So a proper concept of theory will include, realistically, the notion of application. Regarding the method, it is unacceptable to set apart the task of reconstructing particular theories from the task of elucidating the concept of application. The concrete uses intended for a theory are inseparable from its structure. Therefore, they are included conceptually as well.
A basic characteristic of this new concept of a theory is that a theory is not conceived, any more, to be a set of statements or propositions. It is better thought of as a complex conceptual structure, whose unities are, in their turn, elementary structures sometimes called “models”, sometimes “applications”. These structures of models or applications are analysed from a functional point of view and not from an epistemological one. Besides, they are always relativized to a given theory. They include two types of concepts: the ones that, being specific for each theory, have no sense outside it, and the concepts that presuppose some previous theories and constitute, so to say, the theory’s confirmatory base.
Theories have become, in this approach, open multiplicities of models or applications systematizing different fragments of reality into each theory’s conceptual frame. They are entities, essentially determined not only by their structure and their reference, but also by their use. The result is an identity criterion for theories more difficult to handle but, at the same time, more proper and realistic.
12. An identity criterion for groups of theories is also needed because any scientific theory’s careful logical analysis reveals some more comprehensive structures than the sole theories. It must not be forgotten that there are different kinds of individual theories occupying different hierarchical levels, and that there are also different kinds of relations connecting them. Theories can be grouped according to some logical, methodological and semantic criteria, constituting in this way families of theories. The term “frame of theories” (introduced in an early work) refers to the comprehensive structures that include a complete family of theories. Those structures can be identified, and their analysis would open a new, promising field to the philosophy of science.
13. In order to form frames of theories starting from individual theories, it is necessary to identify, beforehand, the different and complex inter-theoretical relations.
Besides logical implication and the concept of reduction of theories there are other kinds of inter-theoretic relations, i.e.: approximation or approximative incrustation; theorizating between theories whose concepts belong to different methodological levels, and presupposition, between theories having different epistemological priorities within the scientific corpus. 14. For a better understanding of what is called science, scientific theories must be studies from the diachronic (dynamic) point of view as well as from the synchronic (static) one. There is no contradiction in this. On the contrary, both points of view complement each other. Thus, philosophy of science’s method must combine historical analysis and formal reconstructions.

Margarita Ponce

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