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Pages: 189
Publisher: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd / Norton / McCormick Press
Year: 1950/2007
ISBN: 140676857X
ISBN: 978-1406768572

Science: Its Method and Its Philosophy (Buy Now)

Burniston Brown

From the inside cover: Hithero no book has been written to convey to the educated public exactly what sciecntific method is, how it has arisen, and why it is so much more successful in disclosing new knowledge than any other.  Science: Its Method and Its Philosophy supplies this need.

Dr. Burniston Brown presents the rise of scientific method in an evolutionary form, beginning with a description of learning processes in animals.  then words and their meaning are discussed, for it is the use of symbols that seems to distinguish human beings most markedly from animals.  But the power of words may be easily exaggerated, and this is very evident in Aristotle's method of science, a defect which was largely overcome by Francis Bacon in his Novum Organum.

The work of Newton, Whewell, Mill and others, which has brought scientific method to its present form, is then explained.  Biographical details concerning some of the main figures dealt with, help to enliven the general treatment and to show science as a creative activity of human beings.

The most recent developments in the philosophy of science due to Sir Arthur Eddington and Professor E. A. Milne are also discussed, and Dr. Brown presents their achievements in an original and striking manner.

The more general implications of a scienctific outlook on the universe is the subject of the final chapter which takes the form of a dialogue between Simplicius, who thinks and speaks in a way now out of date, and Salviati and Sagredo, who represent the moderns.

Dr. Brown's chief aim is to answer clearly three questions: What is scientific method?  How has it arisen?  What is a scientific outlook on the universe in general today?  There are questions of great importance at the present time, when the great increase in education, unless it is accompanied by a corresponding increase in clear thinking, may be a danger rather than a benefit to mankind.

From the Preface: Science has acquired great prestige in this century, and its effect on the everyday lives of ordinary people becomes more and more pronounced. Yet there are few who would care to be pressed for a definition of what scientific method is, and fewer still who could justify the confidence which is placed in it. This book is an attempt to explain the rise of scientific method and to show how it increases our power of making true statements about the world around us.

Perhaps, also, it may serve another purpose, and that is to stress the need for clear thinking. Education, to which so much importance is attached in the modern world, is of very doubtful value if it does not produce people who can think clearly. The great advances of science and the confidence that we can place in scientific knowledge show that scientists have developed a way of thinking which, if not as clear as it might be, nevertheless bears some relation to the processes of Nature it cannot be wholly muddled thinking.

Yet clear thinking is still rare to-day. Although everyone can give examples of discoveries due to the exercise of scientific method, few appreciate the discipline of thought which successful pursuit of this method demands. Most people do not even take the first step in scientific thinking, namely, the careful definition of the terms which they use. They are ashamed of being illogical, but the much greater error because more insidious of failing to distinguish between a fact and a hypothesis, is continually committed.

Ignorance of the scientific outlook causes people, whose ways of thinking are three hundred years out of date, to blame scientists for the discovery of atomic energy, or the micro-organisms which produce disease. Indeed, the assumption is often made that there is no such thing as a distinctive scientific philosophy, and that scientists are merely clever technicians whose ingenious inventions have rather overstepped the mark. As I have attempted to show in the last chapter, this is quite false. If the discipline of clear thinking, dispassionate inquiry, and respect for true knowledge, however unacceptable or unpleasant, were to become general, there would be much less cause for fear.

In describing the method of science, which is a way of learning SCIENCE ITS METHOD AND ITS PHILOSOPHY what is true about the Universe, I have started with the learning process in animals. There we see learning in what is presumably its simplest form. Then follows the consideration of words and their meaning, since it is the use of symbols that seems to distinguish human beings most markedly from animals.

In proceeding to discuss the opinions of various writers on what scientific method should be, I have restricted the account to those systems which are based first and foremost on observation, with reason and intuition second otherwise, of course, a description would have to have been given of almost all the philosophies of the world. The primary position given to facts of observation has been taken as the distinguishing mark of science. Needless to say, even so, the opinions of many who have written on scientific method have had to be omitted. This is because the chief aim of this book is to try to answer clearly three questions, firstly What is scientific method?, secondly: How has it arisen?, and thirdly What is a scientific outlook on the Universe in general to-day? The aim is not to provide a complete history of the rise of science, but only the historical background necessary to illustrate some of the early mistakes and to get a clear view of the final product...