New course outline for Philosophy of Science (Draft)


The course is to be built around a discussion of five key questions required for an understanding of science, and how it relates to various traditions.

1. Is science a special form of knowledge? (Or, what is science?)

The common belief that experiment proves a theory. Popper and his criterion of refutability. Astrology as irrefutable. Newton's law of motion as irrefutable. Newton's law of gravitation as irrefutable. Popper on the refutable content of Newtonian physics. Special relativity as an attempt to make Newtonian physics refutable. Kuhn's theory of paradigm shifts. Special relativity as a paradigm shift. General relativity as a paradigm shift. Laplace's derivation of the black-hole radius and its difficulties. Refutable models of “laws of motion” and gravitation as a paradigm shift. Quantum theory as a paradigm shift. Theory of evolution. Is there a “scientific method”? Feyrabend.


Critique of Popper. Is logic and deduction universal? Tautology, contradiction and implication in two-valued logic. Examples of different deduction with multi-valued and non truth-functional logics. Quantum logic, Buddhist logic of catuskoti, Jain logic of syadavada as examples of non truth-functional logics. Logic of natural language. The protracted debates between Buddhists and Naiyayikas in India as an illustration of the non-universality of deduction. How beliefs about logic relate to physical beliefs about time. The physical assumption of mundane time in Popper's criterion of refutability. The conflict of that physical assumption with current physics.


Is there a dichotomy between induction and deduction? Al Ghazali on induction and deduction. The paradox of induction and Popper's claim to have resolved it. What is probability? Can probabilities be ampliative? How probability relates to logic.


Kuhn as critique of Popper. Popper's response to this critique.


Non-Western traditions and how they had an integrated notion of truth, hence no special form of knowledge called science.


Methods of proof and disproof in Indian tradition. How used to settle disputes about both physical theories and philosophical beliefs. Comparison with methods of proof and disproof in present-day science. Example of Aryabhata on earth rotation and the Michelson-Morley experiment.


African/Egyptian beliefs relating geometry to the soul. How used by Pythagoreans, Plato, and in “Neoplatonism”. Relation to equity and justice.


African thought (“Neoplatonism”) as reflected in “theology of Aristotle” used by Islamic thinkers. The soul in the holistic medicinal theories of Ibn Sina and al Razi. Comparison with present-day medicine.


2. Is mathematics a science?


Mathematics and quantitative methods as the basis of science, and the way to differentiate it from social science. The Egyptian belief in mathematics as eternal truth. How carried forward by Greeks like Plato and Proclus. How changed by schoolmen to fit post-Crusade theology. The current formalist philosophy of mathematics as dependent on that reinterpretation. Formalism as metaphysics, biased against all non-Western thought. Is metaphysics a higher form of (infallible) truth compared to empirical science? Empirical induction as less fallible than deduction and inference. Lokayata views.


If mathematics is not infallible, how can science based on mathematics be refuted?


The Indian philosophy of infinity used to sum infinite series contrasted with the views of Descartes, Galileo, Newton's fluxions, and Leibniz's infinitesimals. Berkeley’s criticism of Newton and Leibniz. Infinity in Cantorian and axiomatic set theory. Brief account of sunyavada and its critique of idealism as erroneous. Zeroism and mathematics as an auxiliary physical theory.


Is economics a science? Its imitation of physics. Which social sciences are science? Does the use of quantitative techniques turn a social science into science? Can there be qualitative science?


3. Is science universal?


Do beliefs about who did science influence our account of what science is?


Ptolemy and Copernicus. Kuhn's theory of Copernican revolution as a paradigm shift from Ptolemaic astronomy based on invalid historical beliefs about Ptolemy and Copernicus. The literature on the falsehood of these claims: the non-existence of Ptolemy. Copernicus as a translator of the Maragheh school of astronomy and Ibn Shatir. Arayabhata on heliocentrism. Al Beruni on heliocentrism.


Different accounts of planetary motion in Indian, Arabic, and Chinese tradition. Linear motion, circular motion, and the concept of force. Is straight-line motion refutable? Is force refutable? Why force was abandoned in general relativity. The status of force in quantum mechanics.


Science as based on mathematics. The Western belief in the universality of mathematics as based on erasure of non-Western philosophies of mathematics. If mathematics is not universal, can science based on a specific mathematics be universal? Examples from the theory of shock waves and renormalization in quantum field theory.


Euclid. The formalist philosophy of mathematics. How it is based on controversial historical beliefs about Euclid and the deductive method. Alternative philosophies of mathematics in Egypt, and India. The philosophy of mathematics among Arab and Persian mathematicians. Chinese philosophy of mathematics. Mathematics as a physical theory.


Newton. Theory of paradigm shift in Newtonian revolution based on contested historical beliefs about calculus. The different philosophies of the calculus in India and Europe. The contemporary relevance after the rejection of Newtonian physics.


Special relativity. Poincare's criterion of convenience.


Examples of how bad philosophy and bad history of science go hand in hand.


Examples of racism of Kant, Hegel, Locke based on bad history of science. How this influenced their philosophical beliefs, e.g., about universality of logic and ethics. Their unethical behaviour contrasted with their claims to have invented universal ethical systems. Is suppression of this information ethical?


How altering the philosophy of mathematics alters its history.

4. Is science value free?


Is ethics relevant to science and the philosophy of science?


The belief that science is objective. If science is not universal can it be objective? Did quantum mechanics mark an end to objectivity? Is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics refutable? Is the structured-time interpretation refutable? Time assumptions underlying the criterion of refutability.


If science is not universal, and not objective, can it be value free? What values are incorporated into present day science? Science for war and corporate science for profit vs the image of science for truth.


Examples from physics, economics, biology, and medicine.


The criterion of reputability. The social context of science. Contemporary science and how the criterion of reputability is used to decide the validity of scientific theories in practice. Can a secretive system of refereeing guarantee valid science? How does the criterion of reputability work? Reliance on expert opinion: is this a scientific belief? Specialisation as a cause of scientific illiteracy which promotes the criterion of reputability.


Does reputability actually work? Can the expert opinion of unethical experts be trusted? Can the ethical systems of unethical philosophers be accepted?


Fact value distinction and the claim that facts are irrelevant to ethics. Can ethics be based on science? Relation of ethical systems to time beliefs. Would ethics based on scientifically invalid time beliefs be acceptable?

5. What is non-science?


Bad scientific theories versus wrong scientific theories. Eternal fallibility of science versus science as march towards truth. Does science converge to truth? Is that belief scientific?


Common tricks used to save theories from rejection and refutation.


Piling on the hypotheses. How a bad scientific theory can be indefinitely defended by piling on hypotheses. Examples from astrology. Examples from steady state theory. Irrefutability as an argument against such defence.


Evading the criticism. How a bad theory can be indefinitely defended by ignoring/misrepresenting/suppressing the criticism. Failure to acknowledge or address purva paksa as valid grounds for rejecting the theory. Examples from physics, economics, social science and holistic medicine. Examples from history and philosophy of science.


Using quibbles to adjust meaning. How a bad theory can be indefinitely defended by quibbles. Examples from Christian apologetics about the belief in laws of nature. The Indian theory of substances, dispositions and rta.


The trick of using multiple meanings of a word to switch between meanings. The two meanings of ether. Examples from beliefs about time in physics and philosophy: switching between mundane time and superlinear time.


General ways of settling arguments in classical Indian tradition. Example of arguments by Lalla, Vatesvara and Bhaskara refuting common beliefs about flat earth, eclipses etc.


Evasion of criticism and resort to quibbles as cause to reject an argument. Excess reiteration as a defect. Ignorance of subject matter as a defect.


Can one do philosophy of science without a working knowledge of some science?