Log in / Register
Home arrow History arrow Integrated History and Philosophy of Science: Problems, Perspectives, and Case Studies

The Unity of Science

First, I will review what our contemporaries have imagined Carnap was saying, and then I will turn to the tradition Carnap rejects and to Carnap’s response.

If many contemporary metaphysicians are annoyed by Carnap’s apparent rejection of their whole field, his views on the unity of science provoke less annoyance than indifference from today’s philosophers including philosophers of science. There was a brief flurry of activity a few years ago extolling the “disunity of science”, but little of that had to do with Carnap (Gallison and Stump 1996 and also Creath 1996) The result of this indifference is that contemporary writers have often just attributed to Carnap whatever they imagine he might have meant.

Sometimes it is thought that unity requires that all the truths of all the sciences be logically derivable from those of physics. Carnap does consider such a possibility but says that it is not part of the unity he is claiming for science. That is a matter that should be decided by the evidence that is not yet in. Sometimes it is suggested that Carnap is claiming that science is unified ontologically, that all the objects of science are all physical or that they are all phenomenal. Such ontological interpretations undoubtedly stem from Quine’s influential writings (Quine 1951, 1971), but more recent scholarship shows that ontological parsimony is far from Carnap’s central concerns (Friedman 1987; Richardson 1998) Alternatively, since Carnap did talk about the unity of the language of science, some have thought that he could be refuted by showing that the various sciences have different technical vocabularies. (Suppes 1978) But this is just a serious misunderstanding of what Carnap means by ‘unity of the language’. Finally, some would interpret the unity of science methodologically. Some such interpretation is correct, but it is also easy to seize on the wrong methodological features. It is easy to think that the day-to-day practices in all sciences must copy those in physics or, worse, copy some one method that is thought to be the method of physics. Sometime the imagined unity of method is silly: If physics is a lab science then so must be sociology. If physics does not use public opinion surveys then sociology must not either. Such is the picture of the unity of science foisted on Carnap by others. These various interpretations: logical, ontological, linguistic, and methodological, all miss the mark or are prone to do so. But the best way to avoid being misled is to see what is really going on.

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
Business & Finance
Computer Science
Language & Literature
Political science