Friday, November 19, 2010

Impeding the progress of science

We were considering the following argument in my Metaphysics class:

  1. Scientific realism impedes the progress of fundamental physics.
  2. If a theory impedes the progress of a science, it's probably false.
  3. Fundamental physics is a science.
  4. Therefore, scientific realism is probably false.
Anyway, after class Alina Beary, one of our grad students, gave a really cool counterexample to (2), and she gave me permission to blog it: The theory that there is such a thing as pain impedes the progress of biology. Just think of the progress we could make if our experimental practices weren't limited by worries about causing pain! Yet, the fact that the existence of pain impedes biological progress does not provide any significant evidence against the existence of pain.

There are other arguments involving (2). For instance, one might (perhaps incorrectly) think that dualism impedes the progress of neuroscience. But (2) is false, so that wouldn't give us significant evidence for the falsity of dualism.

I suppose one might try to distinguish between ways in which a theory can impede the progress of a science, and then some qualified version of (2) would still be true. That would be interesting, but I don't know to do this.


James Bejon said...

I like the counterexample that your student gave. A similar one might be the theory that there are more important things in life than scientific progress.

If someone is sold on (2), however, it might be possible to run a theistic argument from it. For "things' not having a sufficient reason for their being so and not otherwise" is an impediment to scientific progress. Meaning, if someone is committed to (2), they should also be committed to something very PSR-ish.

Anonymous said...

The essay re Reality & the Middle is about Realism (with a capital R) altogether. It can be found at this page.