Philosophy of Science

Part I: What is science and why do we need it?

In order to answer the running question if the social sciences really are scientific, we need to understand what science is. The Oxford dictionary (2013) defines it as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. If we interpret the physical and natural world as the natural sciences, then the headlining question has been resolved. But a large part of the social science world evidently disagrees (se among others Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009; Fay, 1996), and so the question is not one about semantics but about epistemology as indicated in the introduction. How can we understand naturalism and its outlook?

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The naturalists have a very good argument for their approach, in that scientific knowledge must be certified by causal explanation and ability of prediction. It is a way of showing that what we know is a cause and not accidental, not based on subjective feelings or emotions but really open for others to test and certify themselves. If we were to let go of this certification then everything could be argued as knowledge, there would be nothing to base the claim of knowledge on.

It would entail that all possible interests and agendas could claim their view, perspective, statement, texts was knowledge, for instance journalism could be knowledge. If everything is knowledge, then knowledge is nothing, and science has no value. Well then what is the purpose of science, why do we need it? A world without science would no doubt lead down this just described path, of questioning what we know for a fact, leaving the individual disoriented and surely quite cynic. What would pass for knowledge would be views imposed on people by the winners writing the history, and those strong in political, economic power. What would society and its individuals base their beliefs and opinions on? How would you solve political issues if you have no other guidance than diverging feelings?

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In the end, it would be hard to argue anything but subjective emotions and interests, and could lead to a world where you end up quiet about the persistent social issues and go into a self-absorption since there is not much to learn from others than that they have feelings too. This is a dark picture of the world, but one we can be salvaged from with the help of naturalists, one could argue.

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