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University of Pittsburgh Press
The Limits of Science / Edition 2

The Limits of Science / Edition 2

by Nicholas Rescher


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The Limits of Science / Edition 2

Perfected science is but an idealization that provides a useful contrast to highlight the limited character of what we do and can attain. This lies at the core of various debates in the philosophy of science and Rescher’s discussion focuses on the question: how far could science go in principle—what are the theoretical limits on science? He concentrates on what science can discover, not what it should discover. He explores in detail the existence of limits or limitations on scientific inquiry, especially those that, in principle, preclude the full realization of the aims of science, as opposed to those that relate to economic obstacles to scientific progress. Rescher also places his argument within the politics of the day, where "strident calls of ideological extremes surround us," ranging from the exaggeration that "science can do anything"—to the antiscientism that views science as a costly diversion we would be well advised to abandon. Rescher offers a middle path between these two extremes and provides an appreciation of the actual powers and limitations of science, not only to philosophers of science but also to a larger, less specialized audience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822957133
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Publication date: 12/28/1999
Series: Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies
Edition description: Revised edition
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Nicholas Rescher is Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and co-chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has served as president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, the Leibniz Society of North America, the Charles S. Peirce Society, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, and the Metaphysical Society of America. Rescher is the author or editor of more than one hundred books, including Ignorance (On the Wider Implications of Deficient Knowledge), Philosophical Inquiries: An Introduction to Problems of Philosophy, and A Journey through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes.

Table of Contents

1.Question Dynamics and Problems of Scientific Completeness5
1.The Role of Presuppositions5
2.Question Dissolution8
3.Kant's Principle of Question Propagation12
4.Cognitive Completeness: Question-Answering (or "Erotetic") Completeness15
2.Questions and Scientific Progress19
1.Question Dialectics and Scientific Progress19
2.The Lessons of History23
3.The Pragmatic Dimension of Progress26
3.The Instability of Science29
1.The Comparative Fragility of Science: Scientific Claims as Mere Estimates29
2.Fallibilism and the Distinction Between Our (Putative) Truth and the Real Truth34
3.Cognitive Copernicanism36
4.The Problem of Progress38
4.Complexity Escalation as an Obstacle to Completing Science43
1.Spencer's Law: The Dynamics of Cognitive Complexity44
2.The Principle of Least Effort and the Methodological Status of Simplicity-Preference in Science46
3.Complexification and the Disintegration of Science50
4.The Expansion of Science54
5.The Law of Logarithmic Returns56
6.The Rationale and Implication of the Law60
7.The Growth of Knowledge61
8.The Centrality of Quality and Its Implications63
5.Against Convergentism66
1.The Diminishing-Returns View of Scientific Progress and Its Flaws66
2.A Critique of the Self-Correction Thesis68
3.The Instability of Science: The Role of Conceptual Innovation72
4.The Potential Limitlessness of Scientific Change77
5.The Role of Cognitive Limits81
6.Scientific Changes Maintain a Uniform Level of Significance85
6.Question Dynamics and Problems of Scientific Completeness87
1.The Impracticability of an All-Purpose Predictive Engine87
2.Problems of Reflexivity and Metaprediction91
7.The Unpredictability of Future Science94
1.Difficulties in Predicting Future Science94
2.Present Science Cannot Speak for Future Science103
3.Against Domain Limitations108
8.Against Insolubilia111
1.The Idea of Insolubilia111
2.The Reymond-Haeckel Controversy113
3.Some Purported Scientific Insolubilia116
4.The Infeasibility of Identifying Insolubilia123
9.The Price of an Ultimate Theory128
1.The Principle of Sufficient Reason128
2.The Idea of an Ultimate Theory131
3.An Aporetic Situation134
4.A Way Out of the Impasse135
6.Historical Postscript142
10.The Theoretical Unrealizability of Perfected Science145
1.Conditions of Perfected Science145
2.Theoretical Adequacy: Issues of Erotetic Completeness147
3.Pragmatic Completeness151
4.Predictive Completeness153
5.Temporal Finality155
6.The Dispensability of Perfection157
7."Perfected Science" as an Idealization that Affords a Useful Contrast Conception159
8.Science and Reality161
11.The Practical Infeasibility of Perfecting Science166
1.Technological Escalation166
2.Rising Costs170
3.Economic Requirements Spell Economic Limitations172
12.Can Computers Overcome Our Limitations?177
1.Could Computers Overcome Our Limitations?177
2.General-Principle Limits Are not Meaningful Limitations179
3.Practical Limits: Inadequate Information181
4.Practical Limits: Transcomputability and Real-Time Processing Difficulties182
5.Practical Limits: Limitations of Representation in Matters of Detail Management183
6.Performative Limits of Prediction-Self-Insight Obstacles184
7.Performative Limits: A Deeper Look185
8.Contrast with Algorithmic Decision Theory187
9.A Computer Insolubilium188
10.The Human Element: Can People Solve Problems that Computers Cannot?189
11.Potential Difficulties191
Appendix to Chapter 12: On the Plausibility of T[subscript 1] and T[subscript 2]193
13.Extraterrestrial Science (Could Aliens Overcome Our Limitations?)197
1.Could Science in Another Setting Overcome the Limitations of Our Human Science?197
2.The Potential Diversity of "Science"199
3.The One-World, One-Science Argument204
4.Comparability and Judgments of Relative Advancement208
5.First Principles211
6.The Implausibility of Being Outdistanced216
AppendixReferences for Chapter 13219
14.The Limits of Quantification in Human Affairs223
1.The Problem223
2.Quantification Versus Measurement: What Makes a Number Meaningful?225
3.Problematic Measurements232
4.Quality of Life as an Example233
5.Fallacies of Quantification234
6.Larger Vistas238
15.The Limited Province of Natural Science241
1.Knowledge as One Good Among Others242
2.Scientific Knowledge as One Mode of Knowledge243
3.The Autonomy of Science248

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