17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2006
The "A Very Short Introduction" series doesn't always come up with good books, but this one is a gem. It really is. It introduces the basics first: deduction, induction, etc. and goes on to talk about the problem of induction, Hume's criticism of it, whether thinking about probability and causation can help. The discussion moves then onto realists vs. anti-realists. The highly influential philosopher Thomas Kuhn is also well covered. Finally, the book covers some problems in biology and physics and generally that result from science. The book is brief and you can read it in a long evening or maybe two short ones, if you're not already familiar with the subject. Most importantly, the author manages to realise that newcomers to the subject deserve a gentle ride, and he does this by writing very accessibly and using plenty of easy-to-understand examples. I would recommend this to anybody trying to find a way into the philosophy of science. Of course, being a "very short introduction" this book doesn't tend to go into very much detail or cover everything that philosophy of science entails. But a very short introduction can't have everything. For beginners I think it is ideal, and that is what it aims to be. Highly recommended.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2006
I found this book very clear, comprehensible and enjoyable.
It starts off with a brief history of modern physics and some biology. It then discusses deduction and induction and goes on look at explanation in science and outlines problems associated with these ideas. It then outlines the realist v anti-realist debate.
The philosophy of Popper and Kuhn are critically outlined and there is a chapter on the critics of science. There is also a chapter on specific problems in physics, biology and psychology.
Because there is obviously limited space in a book of this size, it is unable to cover some of the important philosophies of science that have been developed since Kuhn.
However, I thought this book was well written and ideal for the layman wanting an intoduction to this field, and certainly whets the appetite to find out more. Thoroughly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2010
This is the first book i've read dedicated to the philosophy of science and it won't be the last, because it has introduced some deeply important questions about fundamental reasoning and what makes science work. It will challenge a lot of preconceptions using well-structured arguments and real world examples, and gives a good account of how science progresses, the thinking behind Popper's ideas of falsification (it turns out not as cut and dry as many think), and introduces Kuhn's groundbreaking theories on scientific progress and Paradigm shifts, offering sustained criticism from logic of both empiricist views and those from Kuhn. There is a quick disclaimer for those who would cite Kuhn's work as giving impetus to cultural relativism, and there are some good examples of philosophical problems in science, such as the notion of absolute space and biological classification. there are also some great arguments for the realist-anti-realist debate, a debate I had not really thought existed.
Personally, I would've liked a little more about Karl Popper's theories, but that is trivial. The book is a short one and does give a good account of how science progressed to this point in the first chapter, which sets the scene nicely.
An excellent read for both scientists and philosophers.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2003
As a relative newcomer to the subject, I found the book fascinating. It is full of illustrations which explain and break up the text, and it is small, so I didn't feel oppressed by a huge weight of knowledge that I might feel obliged to wade through. Very approachable and very readable - Five stars!
on 29 June 2015
This book sets out to address, in the author's words, the 'ahistorical' presentation of science. He then goes on to state: "The origins of modern science lie in a period of rapid scientific development that occurred in Europe between the years 1500 and 1750." This is false and blatantly unhistorical.
As the distinguished mathematician and historian of science, A.N. Whitehead, wrote many decades ago, in his lectures "Science and the Modern World": "The truth is that science started its modern career by taking over ideas derived from the...philosophies of Aristotle's successors." (Ch 1; pg 21). This process began in twelfth century Europe and more specifically with the rise of the rise of the universities of Oxford and Paris. Whitehead also states the significance of this period: "It takes but a sentence to point out how the habit of definite exact thought was implanted in the European mind by the long dominance of scholastic logic and scholastic divinity." (pg.15) The habit of precise thinking was seminal to what followed.
This assessment was reaffirmed more recently by Steven Weinberg (himself a distinguished Nobel laureate) in "To Explain the World: The discovery of modern science" where he has a whole chapter on the significance of medieval Europe. Here he begins to unpick what to many will appear like arcane theological wranglings over what God can and cannot do proclaimed by rival religious orders, Franciscans and Dominicans. These led to several papal interventions culminating in 1323 which affirmed the legitimacy of 'the system of Aristotle and his commentator Averroes'. This is arguably the most important date in the history of science for it affirmed the importance of rational enquiry proposed by the Dominican Thomists. This is the moment when the switch was flicked to begin a long process of rational enquiry and experimentation, as witnessed by the work of the Merton Callculators and the friar Roger Bacon. Together with the rise of nominalism with William of Ockham and work of Nicole Oresme all provided the essential foundations of Europe's scientific development. (Details of these remarkable natural philosophers is to be found in James Hannam's 'God's Philospher's: How the Medieval World laid the Foundations of Modern Science' and whose subtitle really says it all.) As Weinberg notes, "Even though Aristotle was wrong about the laws of nature, it was important to affirm that there are laws of nature." (pg131)
Just how important this was to be for the future of European science can be appraised by looking across the Mediterranean to the Islamic world. After a meteoric rise scientific thinking suddenly began to stultify. In his study, 'Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science' Jim Al-Khalili lists over 70 scientists almost half of which belong to the first two centuries of Islam, before the eleventh century. Why this should be has been disputed with a number of factors but there can be no doubt that the decisive influence was of the eleventh century theologian Al Gazali - still regarded as the greatest Islamic theologian - who denounced as heretical all who attempted to limit or even understand the actions of God and denied the possibility of laws of nature: his denunciation included the likes of Aristotle and all the other Greek thinkers. Thus Islamic science was crushed by Islamic theology. The classic study by Etienne Gilson on 'The Unity of Philosophical experience: A Survey showing the unity of Medieval, Cartesian and Modern Philosophy' shows how, regardless of time and place, similar philosophical starting points deliver the same consequences. Again Weinberg has an excellent chapter on the details and consequences of this decision against rational enquiry which are still reverberating today and are at the heart of the clash between Islamists and Western modernity.
The importance of such theological disputes for the future of science has largely been forgotten and is now often ignored as the link between theology and science has long since been broken and the significance of believe relativized. Instead the consequent secular narrative likes to portray medieval obscurantism as a foil to the consequent rise western science and modernity. Just how distorted this view is has been narrated by, for example, the Cambridge theologian and philosopher Don Cupitt in 'The Meaning of the West; an apologia for secular Christianity ' where he clearly shows how modern secularism and the scientific mentality arose from and was shaped by its Christian roots. This is a view also of Larry Siedentop's splendid study in 'Inventing the Individual: The origins of Western Liberalism" - that secularism is the 'gift' of Christianity.
These are subtle and often counter-intuitive themes which took many unexpected twists and turns delivering unexpected outcomes but which have shaped European thought so as to create its most distinguishing feature, the critical thinking and methodology of science. This issue remains at the centre of the modern conflict conflict of our time between religious fundamentalisms and secularism.: the polarity is not all it may at first seem. For a book of the status of the Philosophy of Science in such a distinguished series to be apparently unaware of the true aetiology of scientific thought is disappointing.
on 5 January 2011
A book of this size will never do justice to such an extensive subject as the philosophy of science - but what this covers, it does so extremely well, thanks largely to the author's clear writing and a good choice of subjects.
The fundamentals of induction, explanation, realism and scientific change are all explained intelligibly, arguments are presented with corresponding counterarguments, and where necessary, topics are introduced with the right amount of background information - for example, the debate between scientific realism and anti-realism begins with a summary of the older, more metaphysical debate between realism and idealism; the chapter on scientific reasoning begins with an exploration of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and so on.
A chapter on scientific change and the nature of scientific revolutions is particularly enjoyable, introducing the logical positivists and Kuhn's view of science. Another chapter explores some of the more notorious philosophical problems within science, such as the concept of absolute space and the dilemma of biological classification. The final chapter is devoted to a much-needed discussion of the various criticisms often aimed at science, including that old chestnut, scientism.
Overall I found this to be an introduction worthy of the name - it was informative, challenging and kept my interest throughout. Suitable for anyone interested in philosophy or indeed any branch of science.
on 21 September 2011
I found this book to offer a structured introduction into the subject. It covers important matters such as the historical context and the methods of thought used; such as deductive and inductive reasoning. The author uses various case examples in order to explain the matter at hand, such as Hempel's Model and the theory of Brownian motion. Once the main topics have been covered, including the various approaches to science and defining what it is, the author introduces topics of a more metaphysical nature such as the 'Realist vs Anti-Realist' debate. Throughout all the chapters, not only does the author explain the topic at hand, but he also continues to outline the problems and refutations that surround the issues discussed, these include Hume's problem of induction as well as the 'theory ladeness' of data.
The book is structured with concise information which presents and explains the issues whilst opening the door to further analysis through the inclusion of the various viewpoints and problems which are posed, including the supposed shortcomings of the philosophy of science. Further reading is presented on each chapter in the notes section of the book. It must be stressed that the strong point of this book is it's clear structured presentation of the information, which many authors lack. A lack of order and can often be a source of much confusion for a reader and so it's always a boon to find information laid out like in this work.
on 27 April 2014
If you're interested in the philosophy of science, this is a great place to start: it's cheap, it's lucid, it provides a broad overview and a comprehensive set of suggestions for further reading. The main areas covered are the definition of science, the problem of induction (Hume), realism vs. anti-realism, the nature of scientific revolutions (Kuhn), criticisms of science, and some specific problems (the nature of space, classification in biology and the modularity of the mind).
Others have mentioned the brevity of this book. Personally, I was happy with the breadth and depth of the material presented, with a couple of caveats: I’d have liked an explanation, or at least an enumeration, of the problems with the logical interpretation of probability, and I’d have liked a little more on causality (or causation). However, I see this latter subject has a Very Short Introduction of its own.
The descriptions and explanations provided by the author, Okasha, are clear and concise. (His punctuation is slightly odd. With some sentences chopped into fragments. But this doesn't obscure his meaning.) Okasha is also careful to be impartial, presenting all sides to an argument and rarely drawing a conclusion. This does mean you get far more questions than answers, but that's philosophy for you.
Very good and readable overview of the Philosophy of Science, which is the ideal guide for a short under-graduate module. Oddly it manages not to mention epistemology once but that might be a good thing. It also doesn't mention Feyerabend and for me that is a major omission, but I am a bit of a fan. It covers the essentials such as Popper and Kuhn and it has one of the best explanations of the deduction/induction problem that I have read, although it could have mentioned the modern Bayesian view of probability as well. The one glaring error is associating Popper with the Logical Positivists, who were people like Mach who followed very much a Platonic ideal view of Science. Popper by proposing falsification as what distinguished Science from Pseudo-Science undermined this position and was in effect an opponent of Logical Positivism which held the belief that there was a scientifically discoverable truth. The final nail in that coffin after Popper suggesting you cannot prove only falsify was Godel showing you cannot have even a complete axiomatic system without assumptions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2008
A great little book that introduces the major debates with enough detail to whet the appetite but not enough to intimidate. As befits a book of this nature, the author sensibly avoids polemic and other rhetorical baggage in favour of clear writing, leaving the reader free to concentrate on the ideas. The result is straightforward, unpretentious and concise.