Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 17, number 51, diciembre 1985
Consideraciones sobre una semiología de la ciencia
[Remarks on a Semiology of Science]
Javier Echeverría
Universidad del País Vasco


One of the main deficiencies of the twentieth century philosophy of science, in spite of evident achievements in the logical analysis and reconstruction of scientific theories, is the separation between formal sciences and those sciences with empirical contents. This distinction derives from Carnap and it was generally admitted by the Vienna Circle since the publication of “Formalwissenschaft und Realwissenschaft” in Erkenntnis in 1935. Later philosophy of science, in spite of other criticism of the neopositivist programme, has maintained this separation. It can be claimed that Realwissenschaften, physics in particular, have determined the development of later philosophy of science. Analyses of scientific theories most of the time refer to physical theories, and occasionally to biological ones. There is still a lot to be done in the field of mathematics and logic, in order to analyse and reconstruct their theories.

But even if this task is undertaken, and some progress has been done lately, there is still a lot of work to do before a general theory of science can be proposed which transcends such a division between formal and empirical sciences, let alone the human or social sciences. This paper is intended as a contribution to supersede the first dichotomy between formal and physical sciences.

One of the main problems in order to make some progress along these lines is that since its origins logical positivism had a deficient theory of knowledge, and the same happened with analytical philosophy developed immediately afterwards. This paper thus criticises examples of such a type of theory of knowledge, as expressed in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and Russell’s Philosophy of Logical Atomism. The core argument is as follows: these theorizations are inadequate for scientific knowledge; this type of knowledge, particularly the notion of ‘sign’ cannot be adapted to the simple scheme proposed in those works.

The criticism here undertaken is developed from a rationalist point of view, in a sense which is closer to Leibniz and Saussure, than to recent philosophers fascinated with the word ‘reason’. Some new proposals are put forward, necessarily provisional, which justify the term, which in turn could be perfectly substituted by another, of Semiology of Science.


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