EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY: MAIN TRENDS AND ENDS. (Ýïèñòåìîëîãèÿ è Ìåòîäîëîãèÿ)
ICEF, GROUP 3,
ENGLISH GROUP 1.
ESSAY IN PHILOSOPHY
EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY: MAIN TRENDS AND ENDS.
Ìåæäóíàðîäíûé Èíñòèòóò Ýêîíîìèêè è Ôèíàíñîâ, 1 êóðñ,
Âûñøàÿ øêîëà ýêîíîìèêè.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
3. Epistemology as a discipline
4. TWO EPISTEMOLOGICAL PROBLEMS
7. Some Mental Activities Common to All Methods.
8. Observation and Experiment.
9. Analysis and Synthesis.
10. Imagination, Supposition and Idealisation.
12. Comparison and Analogy.
14. Inductive and deductive methods.
15. The Deductive-inductive Method.
16. RELATION OF EPISTEMOLOGY TO OTHER BRANCHES OF PHILOSOPHY
Epistemology is one of the main branches of philosophy; its subject
matter concerns the nature, origin, scope, and limits of human knowledge.
The name is derived from the Greek terms episteme (knowledge) and logos
(theory), and accordingly this branch of philosophy is also referred to as
the theory of knowledge.
It is the branch of philosophy that investigates the basic nature of
knowledge, including its sources and validation. Epistemology is concerned
with the basic relationship between man’s mind and reality, and with the
basic operations of human reason. It therefore sets the standards for the
validation of all knowledge; it is the fundamental arbiter of cognitive
Epistemology as a term in philosophy was probably first applied, by J.
F. Ferrier, to that department of thought whose subject matter is the
nature and validity of knowledge (Gr. epistimum, knowledge, and logos,
theory, account; Ger. Erkenntnistheorie). It is thus contrasted with
metaphysics, which considers the nature of reality, and with psychology,
which deals with the objective part of cognition, and, as Prof. James Ward
said, "is essentially genetic in its method." Epistemology is concerned
rather with the possibility of knowledge in the abstract. In the evolution
of thought epistemological inquiry succeeded the speculations of the early
thinkers, who concerned themselves primarily with attempts to explain
existence. The differences of opinion, which arose on this problem
naturally, led to the inquiry as to whether any universally valid statement
was possible. The Sophists and the Sceptics, Plato and Aristotle, the
Stoics and the Epicureans took up the question and from the time of Locke
and Kant it has been prominent in modern philosophy. It is extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to draw a hard and fast line between
epistemology and other branches of philosophy. If, for example, philosophy
is divided into the theory of knowing and the theory of being, it is
impossible entirely to separate the latter (Ontology) from the analysis of
knowledge (Epistemology), so close is the connection 'between the two.
Again, the relation between logic in its widest sense and the theory of
knowledge is extremely close. Some thinkers have identified the two, while
others regard Epistemology as a subdivision of logic; others demarcate
their relative spheres by confining logic to the science of the laws of
thought, i.e., to formal logic. An attempt has been made by some
philosophers to substitute "Gnosiology" for "Epistemology" as a special
term for that part of Epistemology which is confined to "systematic
analysis of the conceptions employed by ordinary and scientific thought in
interpreting the world, and including an investigation of the art of
knowledge, or the nature of knowledge as such." "Epistemology" would thus
be reserved for the broad questions of "the origin, nature and limits of
knowledge". The term Gnosiology has not come into general use.
Epistemological issues have been discussed throughout the history of
philosophy. Among the ancient Greeks, questions of knowledge were raised by
Plato and Aristotle, as well as by the Sophists and the Sceptics, and many
of the chief issues, positions and arguments were explored at this time. In
the systems of Plato and Aristotle, however, epistemological questions were
largely subordinated to metaphysical ones, and epistemology did not emerge
as a distinct area of inquiry.
The scholastics of the late medieval period were especially concerned
with two epistemological questions: the relationship between reason and
faith, and the nature of concepts and universals. The major positions on
the latter issue—realism, nominalism, and conceptualism—were defined during
The Reformation and the rise of modern science raised questions about
cognitive methodology, and gave rise to a rebirth of sceptical doctrines,
trends that culminated in the writings of Rene Descartes (1596-1650).
During the modern period, from Descartes to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804),
epistemological concerns were at the forefront of philosophy, as thinkers
attempted to understand the implications of the new science. They also
attempted, unsuccessfully, to deal with sceptical attacks on the validity
of sense perception, concepts, and induction. In the 19th and 20th
centuries, epistemological issues continued to receive attention from
philosophers of various schools, including Idealism, Logical Positivism,
and Linguistic Analysis.
A familiarity with the history of philosophy provides the best
introduction to epistemology. The following works are of special importance
Aristotle, Posterior Analytics
Rene Descartes, Meditations
John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding
David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
Epistemology as a discipline.
Why should there be such a subject as epistemology? Aristotle provided
the answer when he said that philosophy begins in wonder, in a kind of
puzzlement about things. Nearly all human beings wish to comprehend the
world they live in, a world that includes the individual as well as other
persons, and most people construct hypotheses of varying degrees of
sophistication to help them make sense of that world. No conjectures would
be necessary if the world were simple; but its features and events defy
easy explanation. The ordinary person is likely to give up somewhere in the
process of trying to develop a coherent account of things and to rest
content with whatever degree of understanding he has managed to achieve.
Philosophers, in contrast, are struck by, even obsessed by, matters that
are not immediately comprehensible. Philosophers are, of course, ordinary
persons in all respects except perhaps one. They aim to construct theories
about the world and its inhabitants that are consistent, synoptic, true to
the facts and that possess explanatory power. They thus carry the process
of inquiry further than people generally tend to do, and this is what
saying that they have developed a philosophy about these matters means.
Epistemologists, in particular, are philosophers whose theories deal with
puzzles about the nature, scope, and limits of human knowledge.
Like ordinary persons, epistemologists usually start from the assumption
that they have plenty of knowledge about the world and its multifarious
features. Yet, as they reflect upon what is presumably known,
epistemologists begin to discover that commonly accepted convictions are
less secure than originally assumed and that many of man's firmest beliefs
are dubious or possibly even chimerical. Anomalous features of the world
that most people notice but tend to minimise or ignore cause such doubts
and hesitations. Epistemologists notice these things too, but, in wondering
about them, they come to realise that they provide profound challenges to
the knowledge claims that most individuals blithely and unreflectingly
accept as true.
What then are these puzzling issues? While there is a vast array of
anomalies and perplexities, two of these issues will be briefly described
in order to illustrate why such difficulties call into question common
claims to have knowledge about the world.
TWO EPISTEMOLOGICAL PROBLEMS
"Our knowledge of the external world".
Most people have noticed that vision can play tricks on them. A straight
stick put in water looks bent to them, but they know it is not; railroad
tracks are seen to be converging in the distance, yet one knows that they
are not; the wheels of wagons on a movie screen appear to be going
backward, but one knows that they are not; and the pages of English-
language books reflected in mirrors cannot be read from left to right, yet
one knows that they were printed to be read that way. Each of these
phenomena is thus misleading in some way. If human beings were to accept
the world as being exactly as it looks, they would be mistaken about how
things really are. They would think the stick in water really to be bent,
the railway tracks really to be convergent, and the writing on pages really
to be reversed. These are visual anomalies, and they produce the sorts of
epistemological disquietudes referred to above. Though they may seem to the
ordinary person to be simple problems, not worth serious notice, for those
who ponder them they pose difficult questions. For instance, human beings
claim to know that the stick is not really bent and the tracks not really
convergent. But how do they know that these things are so?
Suppose one says that this is known because, when the stick is removed
from the water, one can see that it is not bent. But does seeing a straight
stick out of water provide a good reason for thinking that it is not bent
when seen in water? How does one know that, when the stick is put into the
water, it does not bend? Suppose one says that the tracks do not really
converge because the train passes over them at that point. How does one
know that the wheels on the train do not happen to converge at that point?
What justifies opposing some beliefs to others, especially when all of them
are based upon what is seen? One sees that the stick in water is bent and
also that the stick out of the water is not bent. Why is the stick declared
really to be straight; why in effect is priority given to one perception
One possible response to these queries is that vision is not sufficient
to give knowledge of how things are. One needs to correct vision in some
other way in order to arrive at the judgement that the stick is really
straight and not bent. Suppose a person asserts that his reason for
believing the stick in water is not bent is that he can feel it with his
hands to be straight when it is in the water. Feeling or touching is a mode
of sense perception, although different from vision. What, however,
justifies accepting one mode of perception as more accurate than another?
After all, there are good reasons for believing that the tactile sense
gives rise to misperception in just the way that vision does. If a person
chills one hand and warms the other, for example, and inserts both into a
tub of water having a uniform medium temperature, the same water will feel
warm to the cold hand and cold to the warm hand. Thus, the tactile sense
cannot be trusted either and surely cannot by itself be counted on to
resolve these difficulties.
Another possible response is that no mode of perception is sufficient to
guarantee that one can discover how things are. Thus, it might be affirmed
that one needs to correct all modes of perception by some other form of
awareness in order to arrive at the judgement, say, that the stick is
really straight. Perhaps that other way is the use of reason. But why
should reason be accepted as infallible? It also suffers from various
liabilities, such as forgetting, misestimating, or jumping to conclusions.
And why should one trust reason if its conclusions run counter to those
gained through perception, since it is obvious that much of what is known
about the world derives from perception?
Clearly there is a network of difficulties here, and one will have to
think hard in order to arrive at a clear and defensible explanation of the
apparently simple claim that the stick is really straight. A person who
accepts the challenge will, in effect, be developing a theory for grappling
with the famous problem called "our knowledge of the external world." That
problem turns on two issues, namely, whether there is a reality that exists
independently of the individual's perception of it--in other words, if the
evidence one has for the existence of anything is what one perceives, how
can one know that anything exists unperceived?--and, second, how one can
know what anything is really like, if the perceptual evidence one has is
The "other minds" problem."
The second problem also involves seeing but in a somewhat unusual way. It
deals with that which one cannot see, namely the mind of another. Suppose a
woman is scheduled to have an operation on her right knee and her surgeon
tells her that when she wakes up she will feel a sharp pain in her knee.
When she wakes up, she does feel the pain the surgeon alluded to. He can
hear her groaning and see certain contortions on her face. But he cannot
feel what she is feeling. There is thus a sense in which he cannot know
what she knows. What he claims to know, he knows because of what others who
have undergone operations tell him they have experienced. But, unless he
has had a similar operation, he cannot know what it is that she feels.
Indeed, the situation is still more complicated; for, even if the doctor
has had such a surgical intervention, he cannot know that what he is
feeling after his operation is exactly the same sensation that the woman is
feeling. Because each person's sensation is private, the surgeon cannot
really know that what the woman is describing as a pain and what he is
describing as a pain are really the same thing. For all he knows, she could
be referring to a sensation that is wholly different from the one to which
he is alluding.
In short, though another person can perceive the physical manifestations
the woman exhibits, such as facial grimaces and various sorts of behaviour,
it seems that only she can have knowledge of the contents of her mind. If
this assessment of the situation is correct, it follows that it is
impossible for one person to know what is going on in another person's
mind. One can conjecture that a person is experiencing a certain sensation,
but one cannot, in a strict sense of the term, know it to be the case.
If this analysis is correct, one can conclude that each human being is
inevitably and even in principle cut off from having knowledge of the mind
of another. Most people, conditioned by the great advances of modern
technology, believe that in principle there is nothing in the world of fact
about which science cannot obtain knowledge. But the "other-minds problem"
suggests the contrary--namely, that there is a whole domain of private
human experience that is resistant to any sort of external inquiry. Thus,
one is faced with a profound puzzle, one of whose implications is that
there can never be a science of the human mind.
These two problems resemble each other in certain ways and differ in
others, but both have important implications for epistemology.
First, as the divergent perceptions about the stick indicate, things cannot
just be, as they appear to be. People believe that the stick, which looks
bent when it is in the water, is really straight, and they also believe
that the stick, which looks straight when it is out of the water, is really
straight. But, if the belief that the stick in water is really straight is
correct, then it follows that the perception human beings have when they
see the stick in water cannot be correct. That particular perception is
misleading with respect to the real shape of the stick. Hence, one has to
conclude that things are not always, as they appear to be.
It is possible to derive a similar conclusion with respect to the mind
of another. A person can exhibit all the signs of being in pain, but he may
not be. He may be pretending. On the basis of what can be observed, it
cannot be known with certitude that he is or that he is not in pain. The
way he appears to be may be misleading with respect to the way he actually
is. Once again vision can be misleading.
Both problems thus force one to distinguish between the way things
appear and the way they really are. This is the famous philosophical
distinction between appearance and reality. But, once that distinction is
drawn, profound difficulties arise about how to distinguish reality from
mere appearance. As will be shown, innumerable theories have been presented
by philosophers attempting to answer this question since time immemorial.
Second, there is the question of what is meant by "knowledge." People claim
to know that the stick is really straight even when it is half-submerged in
water. But, as indicated earlier, if this claim is correct, then knowledge
cannot simply be identical with perception. For whatever theory about the
nature of knowledge one develops, the theory cannot have as a consequence
that knowing something to be the case can sometimes be mistaken or
Third, even if knowledge is not simply to be identified with perception,
there nevertheless must be some important relationship between knowledge
and perception. After all, how could one know that the stick is really
straight unless under some conditions it looked straight? And sometimes a
person who is in pain exhibits that pain by his behaviour; thus there are
conditions that genuinely involve the behaviour of pain. But what are those
conditions? It seems evident that the knowledge that a stick is straight or
that one is in great pain must come from what is seen in certain
circumstances: perception must somehow be a fundamental element in the
knowledge human beings have. It is evident that one needs a theory to
explain what the relationship is--and a theory of this sort, as the history
of the subject all too well indicates, is extraordinarily difficult to
The two problems also differ in certain respects. The problem of man's
knowledge of the external world raises a unique difficulty that some of the
best philosophical minds of the 20th century (among them, Bertrand Russell,
H.H. Price, C.D. Broad, and G.E. Moore) spent their careers trying to
solve. The perplexity arises with respect to the status of the entity one
sees when one sees a bent stick in water. In such a case, there exists an
entity--a bent stick in water--that one perceives and that appears to be
exactly where the genuinely straight stick is. But clearly it cannot be;
for the entity that exists exactly where the straight stick is is the stick
itself, an entity that is not bent. Thus, the question arises as to what
kind of a thing this bent-stick-in-water is and where it exists.
The responses to these questions have been innumerable, and nearly all of
them raise further difficulties. Some theorists have denied that what one
sees in such a case is an existent entity at all but have found it
difficult to explain why one seems to see such an entity. Still others have
suggested that the image seen in such a case is in one's mind and not
really in space. But then what is it for something to be in one's mind,
where in the mind is it, and why, if it is in the mind, does it appear to
be "out there," in space where the stick is? And above all, how does one
decide these questions? The various questions posed above only suggest the
vast network of difficulties, and in order to straighten out its tangles it
becomes indispensable to develop theories.
In accordance with a proposal made above, epistemology, or the logic of
scientific discovery, -should be identified with the theory of scientific
method. The theory of method, in so far as it goes beyond the purely
logical analysis of the relations between scientific statements, is
concerned with the choice of methods—with decisions about the way in which
scientific statements are to be dealt with. These decisions will of course
depend in their turn upon the aim, which we choose from among a number of
Methodology or a scientific method is a collective term denoting the
various processes by the aid of which the sciences are built up. In a wide
sense, any mode of investigation by which scientific or other impartial and
systematic knowledge is acquired is called a scientific method.
What are the rules of scientific method, and why do we need them? Can
there be a theory of such rules, a methodology? The way in which one
answers these questions will largely depend upon one’s attitude to science.
The way in which one answers these questions will largely depend upon one's
attitude to science. Those who, like the positivists, see empirical science
as a system of statements, which satisfy certain logical criteria, such as
meaningfulness or verifiability, will give one-answer. A very different
answer will be given by those who tend to see the distinguishing
characteristic of empirical statements in their susceptibility to
revision—in the fact that they can be criticised,-and superseded by better
ones; and who regard it as their task to analyse the characteristic ability
of science to advance, and the characteristic manner in which a choice is
made, in crucial cases, between conflicting systems of theories.
Such methods, as it was mentioned above, are of two principal types—
technical and logical. A technical or technological method is a method of
manipulating the phenomena under investigation, measuring them with
precision, and determining the conditions under which they occur, so as to
be able to observe them in a favourable and fruitful manner. A logical
method is a method of reasoning about the phenomena investigated, a
method of drawing inferences from the conditions under which they occur, so
as to interpret them as accurately as possible. The term "scientific
method" in the first instance probably suggests to most minds the technical
methods of manipulation and measurement. These technical methods are very
numerous and they are different in the different sciences. Few men ever
master the technical methods of more than one science or one group of
closely connected sciences. An account of the most important technical
methods is usually given in connection with the several sciences. It would
be impossible, even if it were desirable, to give a useful survey of all,
or even of the most important, technical methods of science. It is
different with the logical methods of science. These methods of reasoning
from the available evidence are not really numerous, and are essentially
the same in all the sciences. It is both possible and desirable to survey
them in outline. Moreover, these logical methods of science are in a very
real sense the soul of the technical methods.
In pure science the technical methods are not regarded as an end in
themselves, but merely as a means to the discovery of the nature of the
phenomena under investigation. This is done by drawing conclusions from the
observations and experiments, which the technical methods render possible.
Sometimes the technical methods make it possible for the expert
investigator to observe and measure certain phenomena, which otherwise
could either not be observed and measured at all, or not so accurately.
Sometimes they enable him so to determine the conditions of their
occurrence that he can draw reliable conclusions about them, instead of
having to be content with unverified conjectures. The highly speculative,
mainly conjectural character of early science was no doubt due entirely to
the lack of suitable technical methods and scientific instruments. In a
sense; therefore, it may be said that the technical methods of science are
auxiliary to the logical methods, or methods of reasoning. And it is these
methods that are to be considered in the present article. The technical
methods of science, as ought to be clear from the preceding remarks, are of
first rate importance, 'and we have not the remotest desire to underrate
them; but it would be futile to attempt to survey them here.
Some Mental Activities Common to All Methods.
There are certain mental activities, which are so absolutely
indispensable to science that they are practically always employed in
scientific investigations, however much these may vary in other respects.
In a wide sense these mental activities might consequently be called
methods of science, and they are frequently so called. But this practice is
objectionable, because it leads to cross division and confusion. What is
common to all methods should not itself be called a method, for it only
encourages the effacing of important differences; and when there are many
such factors common to all the methods, or most of them, confusion is
inevitable. When the mental activities involved are more or less common to
the methods, these must be differentiated by reference to other, variable
factors—such as the different types of data from which the inferences are
drawn, and the different types of order sought or discovered in the
different kinds, of phenomena investigated— the two sets of differences
being, of course, intimately connected. The mental activities referred to
are the following: Observation (including experiment), analysis and
synthesis, imagination, supposition and idealisation, inference (inductive
and deductive), and comparison (including analogy). A few words must be
said about each of these; but no significance should be attached to the
order in which they are dealt with.
Observation and Experiment.
Observation is the act of apprehending things and events, their
attributes and their concrete relationships. From the point of view of
scientific interest two types of observation may be distinguished, namely:
(1) The bare observation of phenomena under conditions which are beyond the
control of the investigator, and (2) experiment, that is, the observation
of phenomena under conditions controlled by the investigator. What
distinguishes experiment from bare observation is control over what is
observed, not the use of scientific apparatus, nor the amount of trouble
taken. The mere use of telescopes or microscopes, etc., even the selection
of specially suitable times and places of observation, does not constitute
an experiment, if there is no control over the phenomenon observed. On the
other hand, where there is such control, there is experiment, even if next
to no apparatus be used, and the amount of trouble involved be negligible.
The making of experiments usually demands the employment of technical
methods, but the main interest centres in the observations made possible
thereby. The great advantage of experiment over bare observation is that it
renders possible a more reliable analysis of complex phenomena, and more
reliable inferences about their connections, by the variation of
circumstances, which it effects. Its importance is so great that people
commonly speak of "experimental method." The objection to this is that
experiment may be, and is, used in connection with various methods, which
are differentiated on other, and more legitimate, grounds. To speak of a
method of observation is even less permissible, seeing that no method can
be employed without it.
Analysis and Synthesis.
The phenomena of nature are very complex and, to all appearances, very
confused. The discovery of any kind of order in them is only rendered
possible by processes of analysis and synthesis. These are as essential to
all scientific investigation as is observation itself. The process of
analysis is helped by the comparison of two or more objects or events that
are similar in some respects and different in others. But while comparison
is a necessary instrument of analysis, analysis, in its turn, renders
possible more exact comparison. After analysing some complex whole into its
parts or aspects, we may tentatively connect one of these with another in
order to discover a law of connection, or we may, in imagination, combine
again some of them and so form an idea of what may be common to many
objects or events, or to whole classes of them. Some combinations so
obtained may not correspond to anything that has ever been observed. In
this way analysis and synthesis, even though they are merely mental in the
first instance, prepare the way for experiment, for discovery and
Imagination, Supposition and Idealisation.
Such order as may be inherent in the phenomena of nature is not obvious
on the face of them. It has to be sought out by an active interrogation of
nature. The interrogation takes the form of making tentative suppositions,
with the aid of imagination, as to what kind of order might prevail in the
phenomena under investigation. Such suppositions are usually known as
hypotheses, and the formation of fruitful hypotheses requires imagination
and originality, as well as familiarity with the facts investigated.
Without the guidance of such hypotheses observation itself would be barren
in science for we should not know what to look for. Mere staring at facts
is not yet scientific observation of them. Hence for science any
hypothesis, provided it can be put to the test of observation or
experiment, is better than none. For observation not guided by ideas is
blind, just as ideas not tested by observations are empty. Hypotheses that
can be put to the test, even if they should turn out to be false, are
called "fruitful"; those that cannot be so tested even if they should
eventually be found to be true, are for the time being called "barren."
Intimately connected with the processes of imagination and supposition is
the process of idealisation, that is, the process of conceiving the ideal
form or ideal limit of something which may be observable but always falls
short, in its observed forms, of the ideal. The use of limiting cases in
mathematics, and of conceptions like those of an "economic man" in science
are examples of such idealisation.
This is the process of forming judgements or opinions on the ground of
other judgements or on the evidence of observation. The evidence may be
merely supposed for the sake of argument, or with a view to the further
consideration of the con-sequences, which follow from it. It is not always
easy to draw the line between direct observation and inference. People,
even trained people, do not always realise, e.g., when they pass from the
observation of a number of facts to a generalisation which, at best, can
only be regarded as an inference from them. But the difficulty need not be
exaggerated. There are two principal types of inference, namely deductive
and inductive. Inductive inference is the process of inferring some kind of
order among phenomena from observations made. Deductive inference is the
process of applying general truths or concepts to suitable instances. In
science inductive inference plays the most important role, and the methods
of sciences are mainly instruments of induction or auxiliaries thereto. But
deductive inference is also necessary to science, and is, in fact, a part
of nearly all complete inductive investigations. Still, marked inductive
ability is very rare. There are thousands who can more or less correctly
apply a discovery for one who can make it.
Comparison and Analogy.
Reference has already been made to the importance of the process of
comparison in the mental analysis of observed phenomena. The observation of
similarities and differences, aided by the processes of analysis and
synthesis, is one of the first steps to knowledge of every kind, and
continues to be indispensable to the pursuit of science throughout its
progress. But there are degrees of similarity. Things may be so alike that
they are at once treated as instances of the same kind or class. And the
formulation and application of generalisations of all kinds are based upon
this possibility of apprehending such class resemblances. On the other
hand, there is a likeness, which stops short of such close class likeness.
Such similarity is usually called analogy. The term is applied to
similarity of structure or of function or of relationship, in fact, to
similarity of almost every kind except that which characterises members of
the same class, in the strict sense of the term. And analogy plays very
important part in the work of science, especially in suggesting those
suppositions or hypotheses which, as already explained, are so essential to
scientific research and discovery.
After this brief survey of various mental activities which are more or less
involved in the pursuit of every kind of knowledge, and consequently from
no suitable bases for the differentiation of the various methods of
science, we may now proceed to the consideration of the several scientific
methods properly so called.
This may be described as the oldest and simplest of scientific methods.
The observation of similarities between certain things, and classing them
together, marks the earliest attempt to discover some kind of order in the
apparently chaotic jumble of things that confront the human mind. Language
bears witness to the vast number of classifications made spontaneously by
pre-scientific man. For every common noun expresses the recognition of a
class; and language is much older than science. The first classifications
subserved strictly practical purposes, and had reference mainly to the uses
which man could make of the things classified. They were frequently also
based on superficial resemblances, which veiled deeper differences, or were
influenced by superficial differences, which diverted attention from deeper
similarities. But with the growth of the scientific spirit classifications
became more objective or more natural, attention being paid to the
objective nature of the things themselves rather than to their human uses.
Even now scientific classification rarely begins at the beginning, but sets
out from current classifications embodied in language. It has frequent
occasion to correct popular classifications. At the same time it has
difficulties of its own, and more than one science has been held up for
centuries for want of a really satisfactory scheme or classification of the
phenomena constituting its field of investigation. To recognise a class is
to recognise the unity of essential attributes in a multiplicity of
instances; it is a recognition of the one in the many. To that extent it is
a discovery of order in things. And although it is the simplest method of
science, and can be applied before any other method, it is also the
fundamental method, inasmuch as its results are usually assumed when the
other methods are applied. For science is not, as a rule, concerned with
individuals as such, but with kinds or classes. This means that the
investigator usually assumes the accuracy of the classification of the
phenomena, which he is studying. Of course, this does not always turn out
to be the case. And the final outcome of the application of other methods
of science to certain kinds of phenomena may be a new classification of
Inductive and deductive methods.
Below is the summary of contrasts in the major tenets of inductivism and of
Popper's deductivism.. I begin with a caricature of inductivism in the form
of eight theses:
1. Science strives for justified, proven knowledge, for certain truth.
2. All scientific inquiry begins with observations or experiments.
3. The observational or experimental data are organised into a hypothesis,
which is not yet proven (context of discovery).
4. The observations or experiments are repeated many times.
5. The greater the number of successful repetitions, the higher the
probability of the truth of the hypothesis (context of justification).
6. As soon as we are satisfied that we have reached certainty in that
manner we lay the issue aside forever as a proven law of nature.
7. We then turn to the next observation or experiment with which we
proceed in the same manner.
8. With the conjunction of all these proven theories we build the edifice
of justified and certain science.
In summary, the inductivist believes that science moves from the
particulars to the general and that the truth of the particular data is
transmitted to the general theory.
Now we will observe a caricature of Popper's theory of deduc-tivism,
again in the form of eight theses:
1. Science strives for absolute and objective truth, but it can never reach
2. All scientific inquiry begins with a rich context of background
knowledge and with the problems within this context and with metaphysical
3. A theory, that is, a hypothetical answer to a problem, is freely
invented within the metaphysical research programme: it explains the
observable by the unobservable.
4. Experimentally testable consequences, daring consequences that is, are
deduced from the theory and corresponding experiments are carried out to
test the predictions.
5. If an experimental result comes out as predicted, it is taken as a value
in itself and as an encouragement to continue with the theory, but it is
not taken as an element of proof of the theory of the unobservable.
6. As soon as an experimental result comes out against the prediction and
we arc satisfied that it is not a blunder we decide to consider the theory
falsified, but only tentatively so.
7. With this we gain a deeper understanding of our problem and proceed to
invent our next hypothetical theory for solving it, which we treat again in
the same way.
8. The concatenation of all these conjectures and refutations constitutes
the dynamics of scientific progress, moving ever closer to the truth, but
never reaching certainty.
In summary, the Popperian deductivist believes that science moves from
the general to the particulars and back to the general— a process without
end. Let me inject a metaphor. I might liken the Popperian view of science
to that of a carriage with two horses. The experimental horse is strong,
but blind. The theoretical horse can see, but it cannot pull. Only both
together can bring the carriage forward. And behind it leaves a track
bearing witness to the incessant struggle of trial and error.
The Deductive-inductive Method.
Just as money makes money, so knowledge already acquired facilitates the
acquisition of more knowledge. It is equally evident in the case of the
method, which will now engage our attention. The progress of science, and
of knowledge generally, is frequently facilitated by supplementing the
simpler inductive methods by deductive reasoning from knowledge already
acquired. Such a combination of deduction with induction, J. S. Mill called
the "Deductive Method," by which he really meant the "Deductive Method of
Induction." To avoid the confusion of the "Deductive Method" with mere
deduction, which is only one part of the whole method, it is better to
describe it as the "Deductive-Inductive Method" or the "Inductive-Deductive
Method." Mill distinguished two principal forms of this method as applied
to the study of natural phenomena, -namely, (1) that form of it in which
deduction precedes induction, and (2) that in which induction precedes
deduction. The first of these (1) he called the "Physical Method"; the
second (2) he called the "Historical Method."
These names are rather misleading, inasmuch as both forms of the method are
frequently employed in physics, where sometimes, say in the study of light,
mathematical (i.e., deductive) calculations precede and suggest physical
experiments (i.e., induction), and sometimes the inductive results of
observation or experiment provide the occasion or stimulus for mathematical
deductions. In any case, the differences in order of sequence are of no
great importance, and hardly deserve separate names. What is of importance
is to note the principal kinds of occasion, which call for the use of this
combined method. They are mainly three in number: (1) When an hypothesis
cannot be verified (i.e., tested) directly, but only indirectly; (2) when
it is possible to systematise a number of already established inductions,
or laws, under more comprehensive laws or theories; (3) when, owing to the
difficulties of certain problems, or on account of the lack of sufficient
and suitable instances of the phenomena under investigation, it is
considered desirable either to confirm an inductive result by independent
deductive reasoning from the nature of the case in the light of previous
knowledge, or to confirm a deductive conclusion by independent inductive
An example of each of these types may help to make them clear. (1) When
Galileo was investigating the law of the velocity of falling bodies he
eventually formed the hypothesis that a body starting from rest falls with
a uniform acceleration, and that its velocity varies with the time of its
fall. But he could not devise any method for the direct verification of
this hypothesis. By mathematical deduction, however, he arrived at the
conclusion that a body falling according to his hypothetical law would fall
through a distance proportionate to the time of its fall. This consequence
could be tested by comparing the distances and the time of falling bodies,
which thus served as an indirect verification of his hypothesis. (2) By
inductions from numerous astronomical observations made by Tycho Brahe and
himself, Kepler discovered the three familiar laws called by his name,
namely, (a) that the planets move in elliptic orbits which have the sun for
one of their foci; (6) that the velocity of a planet is such that the
radius vector (i.e., an imaginary line joining the moving planet to the
sun) sweeps out equal areas in equal periods of time; and (c) that the
squares of the periodic times of any two planets (that is, the times which
they take to complete their revolutions round the sun) are proportional to
the cubes of their mean distances from the sun. These three laws appeared
to be quite independent of each other. But Newton systematised them all in
the more comprehensive induction, or theory, of celestial gravitation. He
showed that they could all be deduced from the one law that the planets
tend to move towards each other with a force varying directly with the
product of their masses, and inversely with the square of the distances
between them. (3) H. Spencer, by comparing a number of predominantly
industrial States and also, of predominantly military States, ancient and
modern, inferred inductively that the former type of State is democratic
and gives rise to free institutions, whereas the latter type is
undemocratic and tends to oppression. As the sparse evidence hardly
permitted of a rigorous application of any of .the inductive methods,
Spencer tried to confirm his conclusion by deductive reasoning from the
nature of the case in the light of what is known about the human mind. He
pointed out that in a type of society, which is predominantly industrial,
the trading relations between individuals are the predominant relations,
and these train them to humour and consider others. The result is a
democratic attitude in all. In a State, which is predominantly military,
the relations which are most common among its members are those of
authority, on the one part, and of subordination on the other. The result
is the reverse of a democratic atmosphere.
RELATION OF EPISTEMOLOGY TO OTHER BRANCHES OF PHILOSOPHY
In conclusion, I would like to discuss the relation of epistemology to
other branches of philosophy. Philosophy viewed in the broadest possible
terms divides into many branches: metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, logic,
philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and a
gamut of others. Each of these disciplines has its special subject matter:
for metaphysics it is the ultimate nature of the world; for ethics, the
nature of the good life and how people ideally ought to comport themselves
in their relations with others; and for philosophy of science, the
methodology and results of scientific activity. Each of these disciplines
attempts to arrive at a systematic understanding of the issues that arise
in its particular domain. The word systematic is important in this
connection, referring, as explained earlier, to the construction of sets of
principles or theories that are broad-ranging, consistent, and rationally
defensible. In effect, such theories can be regarded as sets of complex
claims about the various matters that are under consideration.
Epistemology stands in a close and special relationship to each of these
disciplines. Though the various divisions of philosophy differ in their
subject matter and often in the approaches taken by philosophers to their
characteristic questions, they have one feature in common: the desire to
arrive at the truth about that with which they are concerned--say, about
the fundamental ingredients of the world or about the nature of the good
life for man. If no such claims were asserted, there would be no need for
epistemology. But, once theses have been advanced, positions staked out,
and theories proposed, the characteristic questions of epistemology
inexorably follow. How can one know that any such claim is true? What is
the evidence in favour of (or against) it? Can the claim be proven?
Virtually all of the branches of philosophy thus give rise to
These ponderings may be described as first-order queries. They in turn
inevitably generate others that are, as it were, second-order queries, and
which are equally or more troubling. What is it to know something? What
counts as evidence for or against a particular theory? What is meant by a
proof? Or even, as the Greek Sceptics asked, is human knowledge possible at
all, or is human access to the world such that no knowledge and no
certitude about it is possible? The answers to these second-order questions
also require the construction of theories, and in this respect epistemology
is no different from the other branches of philosophy. One can thus define
or characterise epistemology as that branch of philosophy, which is
dedicated to the resolution of such first- and second-order queries.
1. A preface to the logic of science, by Peter Alexander, Sheed and Ward,
London and New York, 1963.
2. Popper selections, edited by Dawid Miller, Princeton University press,
3. The critical approach to science and philosophy, edited by Mario Bunge,
The free press of Glencoe Collier- Magmillan limited, London, 1964.
4. Britannica encyclopaedia, 1948.
5. Logic without metaphysics, by Ernest Nagel, Glencoe, Ill..: Free Press,
6. "Epistemology, History of,", by D.W. Hamlyn. The Encyclopaedia of
7. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, expanded 2nd ed., by Ayn Rand,
New York: Penguin Group, 1990.