Truth is precious. The power of science is that it is built on the most effective method of generating accurate knowledge that humans have invented. This method is at the heart of what Ofsted refers to in its Science Report as disciplinary knowledge.
This post is a very short introduction to the works of four influential philosophers of science: Bacon, Popper, Kuhn, and Feyerabend. Their work is key to understanding how new ideas are generated, debated and either rejected or accepted in science.
- Francis Bacon: The Birth of Empiricism
Francis Bacon, a 17th-century philosopher, laid the groundwork for the scientific method and the idea of empiricism. He believed that scientific knowledge should be derived from observations and experiments rather than solely from abstract reasoning. We tend to use a Baconian approach when we carry out scientific enquiry in class.
- Karl Popper: Falsification and the Scientific Process
Karl Popper revolutionised the philosophy of science with his concept of falsification. He argued that a scientific theory should be considered scientific only if it can be subjected to tests that could potentially prove it false. In class, it is worth asking for ways scientists could check whether a claim is falsifiable – e.g. what data would you need to prove that climate change is not true. If there is no experiment that could be carried out to disprove a theory, then it isn’t a scientific theory.
- Thomas Kuhn: The Power of Paradigms
Thomas Kuhn’s ideas on the nature of scientific revolutions have had a profound impact on the philosophy of science. He introduced the concept of scientific paradigms, which are shared sets of beliefs and practices that guide the scientific community. Kuhn argued that scientific progress is not linear but occurs in paradigm shifts when new ideas replace old ones. Most scientists do not revolutionise science – they spend their careers working within a scientific model, solving problems and working out the important details.
- Paul Feyerabend: Science as a Human Endeavor
Paul Feyerabend was a controversial figure in the philosophy of science, known for his “anything goes” approach. He believed that there are no fixed rules for scientific discovery and that science should be seen as a human endeavour. Each scientific theory has to be argued for by scientists and non-scientists, each with different levels of influence.
Understanding the key ideas of the philosophy of science important, because it helps students understand where the ideas of science come from, and how they are evaluated. Understanding how scientific consensus is reached is key knowledge for young citizens.