Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Scientific Explanations as Narrative

Scientific Explanations as Narrative?

Some thoughts on the question of whether science is some sort of a story roughly equivalent myth to other stories.

This is a touchy subject because of the politics involved in the so-called “science wars.” If you take it seriously rather than just dismissing all externalist philosophy or sociology of science as “postmodernism” out of hand, this one is even trickier than the mind/body problem, because it is more abstract. At least the mind/body problem can be reduced to empirical questions if you assume a materialist framework. This one actually questions the way we explain things in any framework in general, if we rely on “scientific thinking,” which most people today consider roughly the same thing as so-called hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Where is truth, if different explanations might be supported by the same evidence, as implied by the underdeterminism thesis?

What exactly do wemean by science (processes, methods, institutions, traditions, etc.) and committing to that definition; does it really rely on narrative exposition in some sense? Why? Is narrative exposition helpful or essential?
If it does depend on narrative, then how do you distinguish the narrative(s) underlying science narrative from others?
In what way is it possible, if it is possible, to translate propositions in the context of one story into propositions in the context of another? Is it possible for something to be true for one person and false for another … under what conditions, and under what conditions would that NOT apply?

In addition to the usual philosophy of science sources, a valuable source for this is “Rationalism and Relativism,” edited by Hollis and Lukes. Lots of useful examples of different ways of distinguishing “one sort of reasoning” or one “conceptual frame” from another.

Also I recently found some interesting ideas in this paper:

This one is near and dear to my heart, since it asks the questions about the nature of reasoning that I care about most, in addition to planting a stake in the issue of the nature and justification of scientific knowledge.

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