Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms

Whenever science is taught, philosophy is taught. Messages are conveyed,
explicitly or implicitly, about epistemology, ontology, ethics, plausible reasoning, argumentation and other philosophical topics, including religion and
aesthetics. In this chapter, ways in which philosophy’s presence in science
education has been and can be made more explicit will be examined. It will
be argued that, by making philosophy more explicit, the goals of good
technical science education can be advanced – students will understand the
subject better and be more proficient at scientific reasoning – and, at the same
time, something of the more general cultural and epistemological dimension
of science can be conveyed. This consideration can be extended to the teaching
of history, mathematics, geography, economics and most school subjects:
they all have philosophical dimensions, and these are best made clear and
explicitly engaged with in an informed manner.
Science and Philosophy
The separation of science education from philosophy results in a distorted
science education. From the ancient Greeks to the present, science has been
interwoven with philosophy: science, metaphysics, logic and epistemology
have been inseparable. Most of the great scientists – Democritus, Aristotle,
Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, Boyle, Faraday, Darwin,
Mach, Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Schrödinger – were at the same time
philosophers. In the early twentieth century, the German theologian Adolf von
Harnack commented that, ‘People complain that our generation has no philosophers. Quite unjustly: it is merely that today’s philosophers sit in another
department, their names are Planck and Einstein’ (Scheibe 2000, p. 31).
Despite revolutions, paradigm changes, commercialisation and much else,
contemporary science, and more especially contemporary school science,
is continuous with the new science of Galileo and Newton and prompts
the same range of philosophical questions: science and philosophy continue to go hand in hand.1 Peter Bergmann expressed this point when he said
that he learned from Einstein that, ‘the theoretical physicist is . . . a philosopher
in workingman’s clothes’ (Bergmann 1949, p. v, quoted in Shimony 1983,
p. 209).2 One commentator on the work of Niels Bohr remarked that:
Chapter 5
For Bohr, the new theory [quantum theory] was not only a wonderful piece of
physics; it was also a philosophical treasure chamber which contained, in a new
form, just those thoughts he had dreamed about in his early youth.
(Petersen 1985, p. 300)
Most of the major physicists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
wrote books on philosophy and the engaging overlaps between science and
philosophy.3 Many less-well-known physicists also wrote such books, teasing
out relations between their scientific work and the ontology, epistemology and
ethics that it presupposed and for which it had implications.4 And not just
physicists: many chemists and biologists have made contributions to this
This is not, of course, to say that all these good scientists wrote good
philosophy or drew sound conclusions from their experience in science: some
did; others did not.6 The point is not that the scientists had sound philosophy,
it is rather that they all philosophised; they all reflected on their discipline and
their activity, and they saw that such reflection bore upon the big and small
questions of philosophy. This fact supports the contention that philosophy
is inescapable in good science;7 it should also suggest that philosophy is
inescapable in good science education.
The Oxford philosopher and historian R.G. Collingwood (1889–1943), in
his landmark study The Idea of Nature, wrote on the history of the mutual
interdependence of science and philosophy and commented that:
The detailed study of natural fact is commonly called natural science, or for short
simply science; the reflection on principles, whether those of natural science or of
any other department of thought or action, is commonly called philosophy . . .
but the two things are so closely related that natural science cannot go on for
long without philosophy beginning; and that philosophy reacts on the science out
of which it has grown by giving it in future a new firmness and consistency arising
out of the scientist’s new consciousness of the principles on which he has been
(Collingwood 1945, p. 2)
He goes on to write that:
For this reason it cannot be well that natural science should be assigned exclusively
to one class of persons called scientists and philosophy to another class called
philosophers. A man who has never reflected on the principles of his work has
not achieved a grown-up man’s attitude towards it; a scientist who has never
philosophized about his science can never be more than a second-hand, imitative,
journeyman scientist.
(Collingwood 1945, p. 2)
What Collingwood says about the requirement of ‘reflecting upon principles’
being necessary for the practice of good science can equally be said for the
152 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
practice of good science teaching. Liberal education promotes just such deeper
reflection and the quest to understand the meaning of basic concepts, laws or
methodologies for any discipline (mathematics, history, economics, theology)
being taught, including science.
Metaphysical issues naturally emerge from the subject matter of science.
Historical studies portray the interdependence of science and metaphysics. The
Galilean/Aristotelian controversy over final causation, the Galilean/Keplerian
controversy over the lunar theory of tides, the Newtonian/Cartesian argument over action at a distance, the Newtonian/Berkelian argument over the
exist ence of absolute space and time, the Newtonian/Huygensian–Fresnelian
argument over the particulate theory of light, the Darwinian/Paleyian argu –
ment over design and natural selection, the Mach/Planck argument over the
realistic interpretation of atomic theory, the Einstein/Copenhagen dispute over
the deterministic interpretation of quantum theory – all bring to the fore
metaphysical issues. Metaphysics is pervasive in science.8
As has been mentioned, Galileo was an outstanding example of the
scientist–philosopher. He made substantial philosophical contributions in a
variety of areas: in ontology, with his distinction of primary and secondary
qualities; in epistemology, both with his criticism of authority as an arbiter of
knowledge claims and with his subordination of sensory evidence to mathematical reason; in methodology, with his development of the mathematical–
experimental method; and in metaphysics, with his critique of the Aristotelian
causal categories and rejection of teleology as an explanatory principle. It is,
thus, unfortunate that, despite his important contributions to the subject, and
despite his acknowledged influence on just about all philosophers of the
seventeenth century and such subsequent philosophers as Kant and Husserl,
Galileo makes scant appearence in most histories of philosophy, and most
science texts ignore his philosophical interests and contributions.
Science has always been conducted within the context of the philosophical
ideas of the time. This is to be expected. Scientists think, write and talk with
the language and conceptual tools available to them; more generally, people
who form opinions are themselves formed in specific intellectual circumstances, and their opinions are constrained by these circumstances. Newton
said that he was able to see further than others because he stood upon the
shoulders of giants: without Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, not to mention
Euclid’s geometry, there would not have been a unified theory of terrestrial
and celestial mechanics. A scientist’s understanding and approach to the
world is formed by his or her education and milieu, and this milieu is pervaded
by the philosophies of the period. From an objectivist point of view, what
these claims are pointing to is the fact that science is a system of concepts,
definitions, methodologies, results, instruments and professional organisations created and developed by individuals, but it predates the individual
who comes to learn it and to work within it. Inasmuch as the former
embodies philosophical suppositions, then the work of the scientist will be
shaped by philosophy.9
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 153
The connection of science with philosophy, broadly understood, is promoted in much popular, bestseller scientific literature. This literature conveys,
with sometimes more, and other times less, understanding, the basic idea that
science affects, and is affected by, other disciplines – philosophy, psychology,
theology, mathematics – and, more generally, the worldviews of a culture.
The widespread impact of current books is comparable to that enjoyed in the
interwar period by Arthur Eddington’s (1882–1944) The Nature of the
Physical World (1928/1978), J.D. Bernal’s (1901–1971) The Social Function
of Science (1939) and James Jeans’ (1877–1946) Physics and Philosophy
(1943/1981). All of these were enormously influential books, affecting thinking
and outlooks across the academy and well beyond. Jeans, in the Preface to
his book, wrote:
The aim of the present book is very simply stated; it is to discuss . . . that
borderland territory between physics and philosophy which used to seem so dull,
but suddenly became so interesting and important through recent developments
of theoretical physics. . . . The new interest extends far beyond the technical
problems of physics and philosophy to questions which touch human life very
(Jeans 1943/1981, p. i)
Philosophy in the Science Classroom: The Law of
Science teachers do not have to ‘bring philosophy into the classroom from
outside’; it is already inside. At a most basic level, any text or scientific
discussion will contain terms such as ‘law’, ‘theory’, ‘model’, ‘explanation’,
‘cause,’ ‘truth,’ ‘knowledge’, ‘hypothesis’, ‘confirmation’, ‘observation’,
‘evidence’, ‘idealisation’, ‘time’, ‘space’, ‘fields’, ‘species’, ‘proof’, ‘evidence’,
‘mass’ and so on. Philosophy begins when students and teachers slow down
the science lesson and ask what these terms mean and what the conditions
are for their correct use. Students and teachers can be encouraged to ask the
philosopher’s standard questions – What do you mean by . . .? and, how do
you know . . .? – of all these concepts. Such introductory philosophical analysis
allows greater appreciation of the distinct empirical and conceptual issues
involved when, for instance, Boyle’s Law, Dalton’s model or Darwin’s theory
is discussed. It also promotes critical and reflective thinking more generally.
Such analysis can be as sophisticated as the classroom occasion requires.
These analytic and logical questions and habits of thought can be introduced
as early as preschool – as Matthew Lipman and the Philosophy for Children
programmes attest – and they can be refined as children mature.10
Every topic in a science curriculum, from the more obvious such as
evolution, genetics, cosmology, nuclear energy, photosynthesis, atomic theory,
continental drift, to the less obvious and mundane, such as Newton’s laws,
oxidation and pendulum motion, can be the occasion for fruitful historical
154 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
and philosophical investigation. With all science topics, students can be intro –
duced to basic philosophical notions and procedures – evidence, hypothesis
testing, explanation, theory dependence and so on.
Consider the Law of Inertia and its related concept of force. The law is the
foundation stone of classical physics, which is taught in school to every science
student. A representative textbook statement is:
Every body continues in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line
except in so far as it is compelled by external impressed force to change that state.
(Booth & Nicol 1931/1962, p. 24)
The law is so contrary to experience that it is to be expected that students
find it difficult or impossible to believe; and, if they do believe it, is only for
the purpose of examination and calculation. All physics teachers have this
expectation confirmed on a daily basis. Students can conclude, as one German
student did, that, ‘physics is not about the world’ (Schecker 1992, p. 75).
Newton’s first law might be ‘demonstrated’ by means of sliding a puck on an
air table or on an ice sheet, or by utilising a version of Galileo’s inclined plane
demonstration.11 In a purely technical science education, the law is learned
by heart, and problems are worked out using its associated formulae: F = ma.
Technical purposes might be satisfied with correct memorisation and mastery
of the quantitative skills – ‘a force of X newtons acts on a mass of Y kilograms:
what acceleration is produced?’ – but the goals of liberal education cannot
be so easily satisfied. The above students deserve to be given some reasonable
explanation for their being required to believe in counter-experiential
statements, much less always-falsified laws. Ultimately, this means good
reasons for believing in Newtonianism, and this will hinge on some modicum
of HPS. Not to provide or intimate such reasons is akin to former Soviet Union
students having to believe that, ‘communism is the world’s best social system’,
despite overwhelming contrary evidence.
Just a little philosophical reflection and historical investigation on this
routine topic of inertia open up whole new scientific and educational vistas.
The medieval natural philosophers were in the joint grip of Aristotle’s physics
and of common-sense beliefs resulting from their routine everyday experience;
indeed, Aristotle’s physics was more or less just the sophisticated articulation
of common sense. A contemporary Aristotelian says that:
Aristotle began where everyone should begin – with what he already knew in the
light of his ordinary, commonplace experience. . . . Aristotle’s thinking began
with common sense, but it did not end there. It went much further. It added to
and surrounded common sense with insights and understandings that are not
common at all.
(Adler 1978, pp. xi, xiii)
These understandings resulted in the medieval commitment to the principle
of omne quod movetur ab alio movetur – the famous assertion of Aristotle,
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 155
Aquinas and all the scholastics that translates as: ‘Whatever is moved is moved
by another (the motor)’; and its inverse: if a motor ceases to act, then motion
ceases. The principle grew out of daily experience, common sense and
Aristotle’s physics. Clagett summarised Aristotle’s conviction as follows:
For Aristotle motion is a process arising from the continuous action of a source
of motion or ‘motor’ and a ‘thing moved’. The source of motion or motor is a
force – either internal as in natural motion or external as in unnatural [violent]
motion – which during motion must be in contact with the thing moved.
(Clagett 1959, p. 425)
Given the fact of motion in the world, then the principle led Aristotle to the
postulation of a first mover. Aquinas and the scholastics took over this
argument and made it an argument for the existence of a prime mover, whom
they identified as God.12
Medieval impetus theory was an elaboration of Aristotelian physics: the
mover gave something (impetus) to the moved that kept it in motion when
the mover was no longer acting (the classic case of a thrown projectile). Some,
such as da Marchia, thought this impetus naturally decayed, and, hence, the
projectile’s motion eventually ceased. Others, such as Buridan, thought that
the transferred power was only diminished when it performed work, and, as
pushing aside air was work, then the projectile’s motion would also eventually
cease. Both theories were consistent with the phenomena: when a stone is
thrown from the hand, it goes only so far, then drops to the ground.13 Galileo
performed a thought experiment by thinking through Buridan’s theory to the
circumstance of there being no work performed, in which case the projectile,
once impressed with impetus (force in modern speak), would continue moving
forever. But, for Galileo, it would follow the Earth’s contour. He repeated
this circumstance with his experiment of a ball rolling down one incline and
up another; as the second plane was gradually lowered towards horizontal,
the ball moved further and further along it. He supposed that, with the
smoothest plane and the most polished ball, the ball would just keep moving
on the second plane when horizontal; this was the visualisation of his theory
of circular inertia.14
Galileo had no idea of a body being able to move off the Earth in a straight
line, away into an infinite void. Like everyone else, Galileo was both physically
and conceptually anchored to the Earth. It was only Newton who would make
this massive conceptual leap, sufficient to have a projectile leave the Earth
and move in an infinite void; he moved conceptually from a ‘Closed World
to the Infinite Universe’, to use the expressive title of Alexandre Koyré’s
(1892–1964) masterpiece on the subject (Koyré 1957). Newton’s conceptual
leap was the foundation of modern mechanics. The whole 2,000-year history
of the development of the law of inertia reveals a good deal about the structure
and mechanisms of the scientific enterprise, including the process of theory
generation and theory choice.15 Working through this history of argument
bears fruit for arguments about worldviews and science.
156 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
For example, after the usual ‘failure to convince’ lesson on inertia, students
typically say that, ‘Newton’s laws do not describe the world we experience’,
with some saying that, ‘physics is about a special world and I do not know
why we are studying it’. It was, of course, Newtonian idealisation that the
Romantic reaction was directed against. For them (Keats, Coleridge, Goethe
and so on), the rich world of human lived experience was not captured by
the colourless point masses of Newton, or the emotion- and feeling-less
mechanical world of the new science. In the twentieth century, Marcuse,
Husserl, Tillich and others have repeated versions of this charge. However,
what needs to be recognised, and what a competent HPS-informed teacher
can point out, is what Aldous Huxley correctly observed, namely:
The scientific picture of the world is inadequate, for the simple reason that science
does not even profess to deal with experience as a whole, but only with certain
aspects of it in certain contexts. All of this is quite clearly understood by the more
philosophically minded men of science. . . . [Unfortunately] our time contains a
large element of what may be called ‘nothing but’ thinking.
(Huxley 1947, p. 28)
Apart from interesting and important history, basic matters of philosophy
arise in any good classroom treatment of the law of inertia and the concept
of force:
• epistemology: we never see force-free behaviour in nature, nor can it be
experimentally induced, so what are the source and justification of our
knowledge of bodies acting without impressed forces?
• ontology: we do not see or experience force apart from its manifestation,
so does it have independent existence? What is mass? What is a measure
of mass as distinct from weight?
• cosmology: does such an inertial object go on forever in an infinite void?
Were bodies created with movement? If so, does it naturally decay
(impetus theory), or only when work is done (Newtonian)?
These are the sorts of consideration that prompted the French polymath Henri
Poincaré (1854–1912) to say: ‘When we say force is the cause of motion, we
are talking metaphysics’ (Poincaré 1905/1952, p. 98). And, as every physics
class talks of force being the cause of acceleration, then there is metaphysics
present in every classroom, just waiting to be exposed by students who are
encouraged to think carefully about what they are being taught, and by
teachers who know something of the history and philosophy of the subject
they teach. Such exposition and engagement of school classes in the
fundamental ontological, epistemological and methodological matters of
philosophy that are occasioned by teaching and learning the law of inertia
can be seen in a number of excellent texts.16 All of this prepares the ground
for a more nuanced and informed discussion of the big issues of science and
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 157
metaphysics and helps cultivate a body of ‘more philosophically minded’
students of science.17
Thinking carefully and historically about basic principles and concepts is
a quite general point about the intelligent and competent mastery of any
discipline, be it mathematics, history, psychology, literature, theology, economics or anything else. They all have their own, and overlapping, concepts
and standards for identifying good and bad practice and judgements; consequently, there are philosophical questions (epistemological, ontological,
methodological and ethical) about each discipline; there is a philosophy of
each discipline. The intelligent learning of any discipline requires some
appropriate interest and competence in its philosophy; that is simply what
‘learning with understanding’ means – an obvious educational point made by
Ernst Mach (1886/1986) and, more recently, by Israel Scheffler (1970).18 If
serious scientists, such as listed earlier in this chapter, feel it important to write
books on the philosophy of their subject, then assuredly science teachers and
students will benefit from following their example and engaging with the same
The arguments of Mach and Scheffler have, belatedly and independently,
found expression in the wide international calls for students to learn about
the NOS while learning science. One cannot learn about the NOS without
learning philosophy of science, which was precisely Mach and Scheffler’s
Thought Experiments in Science
Thought experimentation is one rich and productive scientific/philosophical
subject to explore with classes. Thought experiments have had an important
role in the history of science – witness their use by pre-Socratics, medievals,
Galileo, Leibniz, Newton, Carnot and, in the past century, by Einstein,
Poincaré, Schrödinger, Eddington and Heisenberg. Neither relativity nor
quantum theory could have been developed or conceptually tested without
recourse to thought experiment; but whether thought experiment alone could
confirm the respective theories is a much-argued point in the epistemology of
science.19 Thought experiments clearly connect science with philosophy, with
some observing that the history of philosophy is just one long thought experiment. Thought experiments illuminate a significant dimension of scientific
thinking and they can be utilised to great effect in classrooms. For many, they
open up a wholly new scientific terrain. The following is one characterisation:
Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the
nature of things. Thought experiments often take place when the method of
variation is employed in entertaining imaginative suppositions. They are used for
diverse reasons in a variety of areas, including economics, history, mathematics,
philos ophy, and physics. Most often thought experiments are communicated in
narrative form, sometimes through media like a diagram. Thought experiments
158 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
should be distinguished from thinking about experiments, from merely imagining
any experiments to be conducted outside the imagination, and from any
psychological experiments with thoughts. They should also be distinguished from
counterfactual reasoning in general, as they seem to require an experimental
(Brown & Fehige, 2011, p. 1)
Ernst Mach (1838–1916), in his Mechanics, draws attention to one of the
greatest thought experiments in the history of science, the thought experiment
in Day One of Galileo’s Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences (1638/
1954), which is directed at disproving the Aristotelian thesis that bodies in
free fall descend with a speed that is proportional to their weight. In Galileo’s
text, the Aristotelian, Simplicio, stated the received view that, ‘bodies of
different weight move in one and the same medium with different speeds which
stand to one another in the same ratio as the weights’ (Galileo 1638/1954,
p. 60).20 There follows inconclusive talk about dropping cannon balls and
musket balls from great heights and the claimed differences in time between
when they hit the ground. The dialogue continues as follows, with Salviatti
the spokesperson for Galileo.
SALV: But, even without further experiment, it is possible to prove clearly, by
means of a short and conclusive argument, that a heavier body does not move
more rapidly than a lighter one provided both bodies are of the same material
and in short such as those mentioned by Aristotle. But tell me, Simplicio,
whether you admit that each falling body acquires a definite speed fixed by
nature, a velocity which cannot be increased or diminished except by the use
of force [violenza] or resistance.
SIMP: There can be no doubt that one and the same body moving in a single
medium has a fixed velocity which is determined by nature and which cannot
be increased except by the addition of momentum [impeto] or diminished
except by some resistance which retards it.
SALV: If then we take two bodies whose natural speeds are different, it is clear
that on uniting the two, the more rapid one will be partly retarded by the
slower, and the slower will be somewhat hastened by the swifter. Do you
not agree with me in this opinion?
SIMP: You are unquestionably right.
SALV: But if this is true, and if a large stone moves with a speed of, say, eight
while a smaller moves with a speed of four, then when they are united, the
system will move with a speed less than eight; but the two stones when tied
together make a stone larger than that which before moved with a speed of
eight. Hence the heavier body moves with less speed than the lighter, an effect
which is contrary to your supposition. Thus you see how, from your
assumption that the heavier body moves more rapidly than the lighter one,
I infer that the heavier body moves more slowly.
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 159
SIMP: I am all at sea because it appears to me that the smaller stone when added
to the larger increases its weight and by adding weight I do not see how it
can fail to increase its speed or, at least, not to diminish it.
Galileo’s argument is short, it is conclusive and it is elegant. Karl Popper
described it as:
One of the most important imaginary experiments in the history of natural
philosophy, and one of the simplest and most ingenious arguments in the history
of rational thought about our universe.
(Popper 1934/1959, p. 442)
Next, consider how Galileo criticised, or dissolved, the distinction between
natural and violent motions that was firmly embedded in Aristotelian physics
– where natural motion occurs when bodies move towards their ‘natural’
places, and violent motion occurs when they move away from these places.
Circular motion was natural for planets; motion towards the centre of the
Earth was natural for terrestrial heavy bodies. Galileo conjectured an
experiment in which a well was bored through the centre of the Earth to the
other side. He asked Aristotelians to envisage what would happen when a
stone was dropped down the well. Clearly, it would travel ‘naturally’ at
increasing speed to the centre of the Earth. But what happens when it gets
there? Does it stop? Does it keep going and so ‘naturally’ travel away from
the Earth’s centre? Does it somehow turn natural into violent motion? The
thought experiment was used to investigate the inadequacy of the fundamental
Aristotelian distinction.21 The actual experiment, of course, could never be
performed, but its power to illuminate conceptual problems in the old physics
was not compromised by that fact.
This, and other such thought experiments, led Alexandre Koyré to claim
for Galileo, somewhat exaggeratedly, ‘the glory and the merit of having
known how to dispense with experiments’ (Koyré 1968, p. 75).
Isaac Newton’s Principia (Newton 1729/1934) and Opticks (Newton 1730/
1979) were the foundation stones of modern science; they provided the
conceptual and methodological exemplars for early-modern physics and
chemistry, then history, social sciences and beyond (Butts & Davis 1970,
Cohen 1980). Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke, Baruch
Spinoza, David Hume, Voltaire, Jean d’Alembert and countless others wanted
to extend their hypothetico-experimental methods to the study of morals,
politics, religion, scripture, law and other intellectual endeavours, with the
expectation that comparable knowledge and communal agreements between
serious investigators might be reached in those fields (Hyland et al. 2003,
Porter 2000). As Jan Golinski stated the matter:
160 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
Newton provided cultural as well as theoretical and methodological resources for
his followers. His natural philosophy inspired scientists to emulate it and writers
and lecturers to popularize it; once popularized, it could convey messages about
religion and society as well as about nature. Thus the men of the Enlightenment
made of Newton a cultural symbol that answered to many of their diverse
intellectual needs.
(Yolton et al. 1991, p. 369)
As well as ‘practical’ experimental work, such as is seen in his pendulum
and prism investigations, Newton’s science and his system depended heavily
on thought experiments; something recognised by Ernst Mach and less
recognised by modern science teachers. Perhaps Newton’s most widely known
thought experiment is his ‘cannon ball satellite’ conjecture in his ‘System
of the World’, which constitutes Volume 2 of his Principia. This is a key
part of this epochal unification of celestial and terestrial mechanics: his demon –
stration that the laws governing the fall of bodies on Earth also govern the
movement of planets and comets in the heavens. Newton wrote:
That by means of centripetal forces the planets may be retained in certain orbits,
we may easily understand, if we consider the motions of projectiles; for a stone
that is projected is by the pressure of its own weight forced out of the rectilinear
path, which by the initial projection alone it should have pursued, and made to
describe a curved line in the air; and through that crooked way is at last brought
down to the ground; and the greater the velocity is with which it is projected, the
farther it goes before it falls to earth. We may therefore suppose the velocity to
be so increased, that it would describe an arc of 1, 2, 5, 10, 100, 1,000 miles
before it arrived at the earth, till at last, exceeding the limits of the earth, it should
pass into space without touching it.
(Newton 1729/1934, p. 551)
This thought experiment prepares the intellectual grounds for the unification of celestial and terrestrial mechanics, but it does not in itself do so.
Importantly, the diagram (Figure 5.1) enabled folk to visualise the physics of
satellites, but Newton still had to show that the cannon ball could be the
Moon. This was done using the ubiquitious pendulum, ‘the single most
significant tool used in the first edition of Principia mathematica’ (Meli 2006,
p. 269). Newton used the pendulum to show that the distance fallen by the
Moon towards the Earth in 1 second was almost exactly the distance fallen
by an object to the Earth’s surface in 1 second (Boulos 2006, Matthews 2000,
pp. 188–193).
Perhaps the second-best-known of Newton’s thought experiments, and the
one that had the greatest and most enduring impact on physics and philosophy,
as well as on theology, was his ‘bucket experiment’, where he interpreted the
relative movements of water and container in a stationary bucket of water
that was then set rotating to argue for absolute space and the reality of forces
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 161
(Newton 1729/1934, pp. 10–11). Newton’s system of natural philosophy and
his ‘system of the world’ depended on, assumed or incorporated the idea of
absolute space (and time) and, thus, real movement, not just relative movement; for Newton, space had a real existence: there was no ‘empty’ space
between bodies. This was contrary to the cosmology of Descartes and Leibniz,
for whom just bodies existed, and space was a non-existent ‘relation’ between
them, and for whom all movement was relative to another body – which body
was moving depended just on the conventional nomination of one as the
‘unmoving’ body. So the universe did not exist in space; space was just a
consequence of the existence of the universe’s bodies (planets, stars, comets,
trees, clouds, etc.). We do not and cannot ‘see’ the universe; there is no ‘outer’
view or ‘view from nowhere’. Thus, the disagreement seems not to be
susceptible to scientific investigation; there seems no experiment that can
be conducted on the universe. However, Newton engaged in a thought
experiment to settle the issue in his favour. He imagined a rotating bucket of
water in an empty universe (see Figure 5.2), which he believed established the
existence of absolute space:
162 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
Figure 5.1 Newton’s Cannon Ball Satellite
Source: Newton 1729/1934, p. 551
” V
C ’
If a vessel, hung by a long cord, is so often turned about that the cord is strongly
twisted, then filled with water, and held at rest together with the water; thereupon,
by the sudden action of another force, it is whirled about the contrary way, and
while the cord is untwisting itself, the vessel continues for some time in this
motion; the surface of the water will at first be plain, as before the vessel began
to move; but after that, the vessel, by gradually communicating its motion to the
water, will make it begin sensibly to revolve, and recede by little and little from
the middle, and ascend to the sides of the vessel, forming itself into a concave
figure (as I have experienced), and the swifter the motion becomes, the higher will
the water rise, till at last, performing its revolutions in the same times with the
vessel, it becomes relatively at rest in it. . . . At first, when the relative motion of
the water in the vessel was greatest, it produced no endeavor to recede from the
axis . . . and therefore its true circular motion had not yet begun. But afterwards,
when the relative motion of the water had decreased, the ascent thereof towards
the sides of the vessel proved its endeavor to recede from the axis; and this
endeavor showed the real circular motion of the water continually increasing,
till it had acquired its greatest quantity, when the water rested relatively in the
vessel. . . . There is only one real circular motion of any one revolving body,
corresponding to only one power of endeavoring to recede from its axis of motion,
as its proper and adequate effect . . . the several parts of those heavens, and the
planets, which are indeed relatively at rest in their heavens, do yet really move.
For they change their position one to another (which never happens to bodies
truely at rest), and being carried together with their heavens, partake of their
motions, and as parts of revolving wholes, endeavor to recede from the axis of
their motions.
(Newton 1729/1934, pp. 10–11)
In both the first (water and bucket stationary) and third instances (water
and bucket both moving), the water is at rest with respect to the bucket; yet
the water surface is flat in the first and concave in the third. Newton maintains
that only real movement of the water (a centrifugal force) can account for
the difference in shape. The water must be moving with respect to absolute
space. Hence, there can be, and is, real movement of bodies in the universe,
and indeed movement of the universe as a whole in space. So, by thought
experiment, Newton moves from observations of an actual rotating bucket
of water to an unobservable, non-empirical cosmological conclusion.
Newton’s cosmological picture underwrites his dynamics and his view of
force and acceleration: where there are real accelerations, there are real
forces; where there are no real, only apparent or relative, accelerations, there
are no forces. This is a presupposition of his law of inertia and the preference
for inertial frames in specifying laws of nature; the laws are only true in an
inertial frame.
Newton’s view was rejected first by the proto-positivist Bishop George
Berkeley (1685–1753) (1721/1965, p. 270), then by the thorough positivist
Ernst Mach (1893/1974, pp. 277–287). The latter dismissed Newton’s notions
of absolute space and time as more metaphysics rather than physics; he
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 163
maintained that the concavity of the surface was due to the water rotating
with respect to distant celestial bodies, not with respect to any absolute space;
if the bucket and water were the only bodies in the universe, the water surface
would remain flat throughout the sequences.
We understand these debates about absolute space and time as bearing on
the conceptual foundations of physics; but, for Newton and his contemporaries, the controversy had clear theological import, bearing upon accounts
of God and his creation of the material world. If there was no empty space
when God created matter, what did he create it in? And what then was the
non-matter? The latter question invites the heretical, pantheist answer: God
himself (Friedman 2009).
Albert Einstein (1879–1955) eventually followed his teacher, Mach, in
rejecting Newton’s account of the bucket experiment. In his 1916 popular
exposition of the theory of relativity, he wrote, of the Newtonian claim, that
164 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
Figure 5.2 Newton’s Bucket Experiment
Source: Brown 1991/2010, p. 9
physical laws are only true in inertial frames: ‘no person whose mode of
thought is logical can rest satisfied with this condition of things’ (Einstein
1916/1961, p. 71). He went on to write:
I seek in vain for a real something in classical mechanics (or in the special theory
of relativity) to which I can attribute the different behaviour of bodies considered
with respect to the reference systems K and K1. Newton saw this objection and
attempted to invalidate it, but without success. But E. Mach recognised it most
clearly of all, and because of this objection he claimed that mechanics must be
placed on a new basis. It can only be got rid of by means of a physics which is
conformable to the general principle of relativity, since the equations of such a
theory hold for every body of reference, whatever may be its state of motion.
(Einstein 1916/1961, pp. 72–73)
Einstein realised that physics advances by bold conjectures and related
experimenting in thought. In his 1951 ‘Autobiographical Essay’, he states how
as a teenager he felt ill at ease about the then-dominant physical interpretation
of Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism. This feeling was vanquished,
as was the mechanical interpretation of Maxwell’s equations, by a thought
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 165
Figure 5.3 Einstein’s Light Beam
Source: Brown 1991/2010, p. 17
experiment: Einstein imagined himself running along in front of a light beam
and looking back at it (see Figure 5.3). He says:
I should observe such a beam of light as a spatially oscillatory electromagnetic field at rest. However, there seems to be no such thing, whether on the
basis of experience or according to Maxwell’s equations.
(Schilpp 1951, p. 53)
He says that, ‘in this paradox the germ of the special relativity theory is
already contained’,22 and goes on to say:
The type of critical reasoning which was required for the discovery of this central
point was decisively furthered, in my case, especially by the reading of . . . Ernst
Mach’s philosophical writings.
(Schilpp 1951, p. 53)
The foregoing should suffice to establish the centrality of thought experiments
in the history of science; given they have this centrality, they should have a
more central position in science classrooms.
Thought Experiments in Science Teaching
The positivist Ernst Mach introduced thought experiments (Gedankenexperimente) to science education. He said of thought experiments that, ‘The
method of letting people guess the outcome of an experimental arrangement
has didactic value too. . . . Experimenting in thought is important not only
for the professional inquirer, but also for mental development as such’; not
only the student but also ‘the teacher gains immeasurably by this method’
(Mach 1905/1976, pp. 142–143). Thought experiments enabled the teacher
to know what grasp students had on the fundamental concepts of a discipline.
And Mach meant any discipline: science, mathematics, economics, history,
theology or politics.23
Each edition of his Zeitschrift carried thought experiments for his readers
to perform. For instance, he asks, what is expected to happen to a beaker of
water in equilibrium on a balance when a suspended mass is lowered into it?
Or, in another issue, what happens when a stoppered bottle with a fly on its
base is in equilibrium on a balance and then the fly takes off? These examples
are of thought experiments of an anticipatory type – the actual experiment
can be performed. They engage the mind and they reveal what a student
believes about the relevant concepts being investigated. However, some
thought experiments are not anticipatory but idealised, because the circumstances postulated cannot be produced – Newton’s cannon ball experiment,
Galileo’s ball dropped into a well through the centre of the Earth and so on.
Mach encouraged such exercises, believing that the exercise of imagination
and creativity was another way of bridging the gap between humanities and
the sciences: ‘The planner, the builder of castles in the air, the novelist, the
166 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
author of social and technological utopias is experimenting with thought’
(Mach 1896/1976, p. 136).
Mach’s advocacy of thought experiments did not gain many adherents
among the science teachers of his day. Imagination, hypothesising and creative
thought were no more characteristic of late-nineteenth-century science
pedagogy than they are of contemporary science pedagogy. Einstein, who was
to place thought experiments on the centre stage of modern physics, made
the oft-quoted remark about his own schooling that: ‘after I passed the final
examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful
to me for an entire year’, and ‘It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that
the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy
curiosity of inquiry’ (Schilpp 1951, p. 17).
Some teachers have brought thought experiments into classrooms in the
manner that Mach suggests, and these efforts have been well documented and
researched. It is fruitful for teachers to understand the contribution of thought
experiments to conceptual change in science and follow through with their
use in promotion of conceptual change in classrooms. There has been informed
research on this nexus.24 Nancy Nersessian’s work is well known. She writes:
Thought experimenting is a principal means through which scientists change
their conceptual structures. I propose that thought experimenting is a form of
‘simulative model-based reasoning’. That is, thought experimenters reason by
manipulating mental models of the situation depicted in the thought experiment
(Nersessian, 1993, p. 292)
What holds for scientists can hold for children learning science. This is the
area of which Mach said that experimenting in thought enables teachers to
learn how well students understand concepts. Well before constructivism,
Mach recognised that effective teaching required that teachers know the
concepts as understood by students.
In Ontario, some school courses have used thought experimentation in
conjunction with science fiction themes – if the Bionic Man accelerated at a
certain rate would his feet melt? (Stinner 1990). These types of ‘thinking
physics’ problem allow teachers and students to determine what they mean
by fundamental concepts such as gravity, force, pressure and so on, and to
think about the correct conditions for the applicability of concepts.
A textbook that exemplifies this approach to physics is L.C. Epstein’s
Thinking Physics (Epstein 1979), which contains numerous exercises such as
the following:
• ‘Sputnik I, the first artificial earth satellite, fell back to earth because
friction with the outer part of the earth’s atmosphere slowed it down. As
Sputnik spiralled closer and closer to the earth its speed was observed to:
decrease, remain constant, increase?’ (Epstein 1979, p. 157).
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 167
• ‘Over a century ago, J.C. Maxwell calculated that if Saturn’s rings were
cut from a piece of sheet metal they would not be strong enough to
withstand the tidal tension or gravitational gradient tension that Saturn
would put on them and would, therefore, rip apart. But suppose the rings
were cut from a piece of thick-plate, rather than thin-sheet iron. Might
the thick-plate: fail as easily as the thin-sheet, fail more easily than the
thin-sheet, not fail as easily as the thin-sheet?’ (Epstein 1979, p. 161).
These exercises require students to think about the meaning of concepts used
in describing phenomena. They are thought experiments in the tradition of
Mach’s Gedankenexperimente. They engage the mind of the learner in ways
that mere calculations or ‘recipe book’ carrying out of an empirical experiment
fail to do. They support Mach’s claim that: ‘Experimenting in thought is
important not only for the professional inquirer, but also for mental
development as such.’
A number of thought-experiment units have been taught and researched
by Athanasios Velentzas and Krystallia Halkia in Greek schools. In one case,
forty16-year-olds were engaged in lessons requiring them to work through
Newton’s cannon ball thought experiment as a way for them to understand
gravitation and satellite motion (Velentzas & Halkia 2013). Part of their
encouraging conclusion was:
The process implemented in this study helped students both to overcome barriers
in understanding the laws of physics due to their ideas derived from everyday
experience and to modify their ideas related to the gravitational field of the Earth,
as well as to retain these ideas and apply them in a new TE in the same knowledge
domain two weeks after the teaching intervention.
(Velentzas & Halkia 2013, p. 2637)
Computers are a boon for school thought experimentation. Computers
overcome one of the standard problems with routine laboratory work and
pupil experimentation: namely, that teachers have to do all the experimental
design and planning (Hodson 1988). Problems of time, unfamiliar equipment,
safety and so on have meant that students are often reduced to executing a
teacher’s preplanned experiment. Students learn manipulation skills, develop
observation techniques, learn to be attentative – all of which are important –
but they rarely learn the conceptual, creative skills that are the hallmark of
good science.25 Computers can remove these practical obstacles to the
generation and testing of hypotheses and allow extrapolation to the idealised
test situations characteristic of thought experiments. A previous note (19) has
listed some of the central literature in the philosophical analysis of thought
experiments. Philosophers have also elaborated and debated the epistemology
of computer simulation in scientific research.26 As with thought experiments,
this philosophical debate can inform classroom use of computer simulation,
virtual labs and computer-based modelling.27 An HPS-informed teacher can
168 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
elaborate and engage students in epistemological questions as they arise – for
instance, what do we learn, if anything, from a ‘black-box’, mechanism-free
model that makes confirmed predictions about events in the world? Are these
acceptable in economics but not in biology?
Argumentation and Logical Reasoning in Science
All science programmes aim to develop students’ scientific thinking and
reasoning, to make them more scientific, as well as having them know more
science. However, scientific thinking is multifaceted. The discovery or learning
side involves being attentive, observing, hypothesising, being creative, reading
well, making inferences and so on. All of this is involved with obtaining and
representing data, evidence or information. This discovery side also involves
sharing or communicating this ‘evidential’ material, making suitable inductive
and deductive inferences from it and so on. The justification side of scientific
thinking involves arguing or establishing how the data bear upon one or more
hypotheses or theories, or why some evidence is to be preferred to other
evidence and so on. Scientific thinking thus connects to and involves logical
thought, critical thinking and argumentation, with, hopefully, the former
two preceding the third and then being developed as social engagement
and argument develop. Analysis of these processes has been part of the
philosophical tradition since at least Plato, and, with knowledgeable teachers,
science programmes provide ample opportunity to cultivate these thinking
skills, which hopefully have flow-on effects for other studies and for decisionmaking in life.
In recent decades, this whole constellation of scientific thinking skills has
been subsumed under the umbrella title of ‘scientific argumentation’, as is clear
from the cover text of one recent anthology on the subject, where scientific
argumentation is said to involve: ‘arriving at conclusions on a topic through
a process of logical reasoning that includes debate and persuasion’ (Khine
2012). Two researchers in the field comment that:
Scientific arguments are hardly ever strictly formal (logical or mathematical); they
are generally analogical, causal, hypothetico-deductive, probabilistic, abductive,
inductive . . . One of their functions is to make a theoretical model plausible,
convincingly connecting it to a growing number of phenomena.
(Izquierdo-Aymerich & Adúriz-Bravo 2003, p. 38)
This more expansive and realistic account of scientific thinking can be well
contributed to by philosophers. Philosophers reasonably would say that
such accounts subsume normative or philosophical elements: How will
logical rea son ing (of a deductive or inductive kind) be separated from illogical
reasoning? How will reasonable persuasion be separated from unreasonable persuasion? How is the plausible distinguished from the implausible?
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 169
What constitutes a warrant for belief as distinct from just a reason for belief?
Not all persuasion is scientific, and not all exchange is debate. That the stars
are in alignment might be a reason for someone’s belief, but it is simply not
a warrant. Here again, philosophy has a clear contribution to make to
educational discussion.28 This contribution connects to a more general one
reminding folk that, in order to be educationally useful, sociology of science
needs to be connected to philosophy of science; studies of changing belief
need to be linked to epistemology; and studies in the psychology of reasoning need to be connected to studies of logic. Logicians have long pointed
out that logic is the study of how people ought to think, not the study of
how they do think; the latter is the concern of psychology, not of philosophy.
Educationalists clearly need to work in both fields, but doing so without losing
sight of the distinction. Not all changes of belief are educational, nor are all
reasons good reasons.
Theoretical and pedagogical studies of argumentation have abounded, with
one recent review article saying that there have been ‘more than three hundred
references in English, French and Spanish’ (Adúriz-Bravo 2014, p. 1448). Some
well-known anthologies29 and review articles30 discuss the published English
Logical Thinking
Thinking logically is certainly not all of scientific thinking, but it is a part of
it: persistent illogical thinking advances neither humanities, politics nor
religion, and certainly not science. The beginning of logical thinking is clear
thinking, and this can be promoted in schools by encouraging clear writing
and routinely doing ‘structure of argument’ exercises, where blocks of prose
are given, and students are asked to identify what are premises, what are
intermediate steps and what are conclusions; then to draw argument diagrams
showing how each is related; and then answer questions about what claims
are required to be denied in order to avoid the conclusion, what claims are
sufficient to be denied, for coupled claims whether both have to be denied or
just one member, what is the difference between conjoint and disjunct claims,
and so on.31
A good deal of the evidence suggests that schools and, more particularly,
science programmes need to do more to promote logical thought. A small
Australian study by Gordon Cochaud (1989) is suggestive of the problem that
students have with basic logic. Cochaud gave a brief, ten-item logic test to
first-year science students at an Australian university. Among the items was
this one, where students had to fill in the conclusion:
If one adds chloride ions to a silver solution then a white precipitate is produced.
Addition of chloride ions to solution K produced a white precipitate.
Therefore . . .
170 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
In his group of sixty-five students, forty-eight concluded that solution K
contained silver. Thus, nearly three-quarters of a group of high-achieving highschool graduates, who had studied science for at least 6 years, went along
with fundamentally flawed reasoning. Little wonder that, as citizens, they are
easily swayed by arguments such as:
Communists support unionism.
Fred supports unionism.
Therefore Fred is a Communist.
The results on another item were staggering. Students were asked to
complete the following syllogism:
If an element has a low electronegativity then it is a metal.
Element sodium is a metal.
Therefore . . .
Fifty-nine of the sixty-five students concluded, supposedly on the basis just
of the information provided, that sodium has low electronegativity. Their
answer happens to be correct, but it does not follow on the basis of the
information given. It would only follow if the first premise were ‘If and only
if an element. . . .’ Thus, fully 90 per cent of the cream of high-school graduates
are prone to making basic logical errors. It is little wonder that arguments of
the following form are very common and persuasive:
If people are cunning and deceitful they can obtain welfare payments.
Fred obtains welfare payments.
Therefore Fred is cunning and deceitful.
This is a matter of some concern for jury trials and much else in societies based
on democratic decision-making.
The reasoning dimension of science competence has been recognised in
curriculum documents. Ehud Jungwirth (Jungwirth 1987), in a comprehensive
study of the issue, lists a number of curriculum statements that make reference
to critical–logical–analytical thinking skills. Among them are:
• to enable pupils to grasp the scientific method of approach and to cultivate
habits of logical and systematic thinking in them (Senior biology, Cape
of Good Hope, South Africa, 1977);
• to look for and identify logical fallacies in arguments and invalid
conclusions (Queensland Board of Secondary School Studies, Australia,
• the scientifically literate person has a substantial knowledge base . . . and
process skills, which enable the individual . . . to think logically (National
Science Teachers Association, USA, 1982).
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 171
Jungwirth studied the reasoning processes of 600 school students and 400
trainee teachers (science graduates) and university science students in three
countries. He used curriculum and extracurricular (life) test items that
embodied the following kinds of faulty reasoning:
1 assuming that events that follow others are caused by them;
2 drawing conclusions on the basis of an insufficient number of instances;
3 drawing conclusions on the basis of non-representative instances;
4 assuming that something that is true in specific circumstances is true in
5 imputing causal significance to correlations;
6 tautological reasoning.
His results were less than encouraging, given the importance of reasoning,
not just to science, but to social and personal functioning more generally –
voting in an election, buying a car, deciding a school-board policy, determining
what went wrong with the baked cake and so on. His results can be rounded
out and summarised in Table 5.1, where the percentages refer to percentages
of the appropriate population who make mistakes of the above kind (1–4).
Jungwirth reports that the results on test items 5 and 6 were comparable
to the above, and, aggregating all the test results, he provides the following
summary of his findings. For adults, only the postgraduates performed above
the 50 per cent level, with the other post-secondary groups below, or very
much below, that level. On the life items, none of the adult groups averaged
at more than the two-thirds level. For school students, on the curriculum items,
none of the groups averaged more than slightly above the 25 per cent level;
on the life items, the scores were roughly twice as high (Jungwirth 1987,
p. 51). Not unreasonably, Jungwirth concludes that time should be spent in
science lessons on the rudiments of correct reasoning, and that, ‘teachers’ preand in-service training should convey the message that the “covering of a large
corpus of information” does not constitute the only, and not even the major
component of science education’ (Jungwirth 1987, p. 57).
Jungwirth draws attention to the fact that, in this reasoning domain, the
blind are leading the blind. Or, as Marx said, ‘who will educate the educators?’
He surveys the research on teachers’ thinking skills, none of which is any more
172 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
Table 5.1 Occurrence of Invalid Reasoning
Type of School grades 9–12 University students
faulty reasoning Curriculum (%) Life (%) Curriculum (%) Life (%)
1 40 50 30 25
2 30 40 30 40
3 15 50 60 60
4 35 50 30 60
encouraging than the findings above on student thinking skills. Arnold Arons
has pointed out that:
We force a large fraction of students into blind memorisation by imposing on
them . . . materials requiring abstract reasoning capacities they have not yet
attained – and of which many of their teachers are themselves incapable.
(Arons 1974)
After administering the Test On Logical Thinking, Garnett and Tobin
(1984) concluded that, ‘many of these teachers do not possess the reasoning
patterns, which activity centred science curriculum seek to develop’.
What Cochaud’s and Jungwirth’s studies suggest is that formal and informal
logical reasoning should be taught as part of a science course. Scientists always
have to make inferences and draw conclusions; doing both at school in an
illogical or invalid manner advances nothing, and does not give the desired
flow-on from science to other studies and to the rest of life that most hope
that a good science education will achieve.
Students can be given examples of the following formal logical fallacies,
which are common in everyday publications as well as in scholarly texts, and
they can be trained in recognising and avoiding these fallacies.
• the fallacy of affirming the consequent:
if P then Q
therefore P
• the fallacy of denying the antecedent:
if P then Q
not P
therefore not Q
• The fallacy of asserting an alternative:
P or Q
therefore not Q
The last chapter illustrated the advantages of a historical dimension in
science education. In addition, history of science provides a vehicle to introduce some basic logic to students and to show how logic is, and is not,
connected to concrete scientific reasoning. Consider, for instance, debates
over the photoelectric effect that have previously been discussed. The
photoelectric effect and even Millikan’s experiment can easily be shown in
the classroom. Instead of imposing Einstein’s photon theory and his equation
as the scientific ‘royal highway’ linking the two famous experiments,
something else can be made of the occasion. The historical approach shows
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 173
the hesitancy with which even great scientists propose their ideas; it illustrates
the variety of sensible and rational interpretations of data possible at any time;
and, finally, it allows the crucial distinction between mathematical equations
or models and their physical interpretation to be portrayed.
History shows the variety of relations that were postulated in the early years
of this century between emitted photoelectron energy and incoming light
frequency. Philosophy can raise the question of whether and how data can
prove a particular theory. Many different theories, or equations, can imply
the same set of data points. These points do not uniquely determine a
particular curve, or equation, much less a particular physical interpretation
of the equation. If students can be led to appreciate this, they are recognising
what Aristotle recognised in the fourth century BC: the fallacy of affirming
the consequent, as he called it. Aristotle, and of course others before him,
showed that an argument of the following form is invalid:
T implies O (a theory T implies an observation O)
O (the observation O is made)
Therefore T (the theory T is true)
The conclusion does not follow, because, as well as T implying O, any number
of other known or unknown theories (Ts) can also imply the same observation.
The hypothesis that it rained last night implies that the road will be wet; but,
equally, the hypotheses that the sanitation truck went past, that a water main
broke or that a lawn hose was turned on also imply the same thing. Thus,
the mere observation that the road is wet does not prove any particular
This simple point of logic has been a stumbling block for empiricist approaches to natural science from the time of Aristotle to the present. It is
common for people to feel that confirmed predictions provide some warrant
for belief in a theory; the logical point is that such confirmations cannot
establish the truth of the theory, and so there is a need to reconsider the type
of truth that confirmed predictions imply. In the Middle Ages, it was known
as the problem of ‘Saving the Appearances’.32
The basic point is that facts are open to a variety of interpretations, or that
a scientific theory is underdetermined by its evidence, commonly referred to
as the ‘Duhem–Quine Thesis’. Pierre Duhem (1861–1916) highlighted this
logical point in his The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (Duhem
1906/1954); Karl Popper (1902–1994) elaborated some of its consequences
for science in his Logic of Scientific Discovery (Popper 1934/1959); and
Willard van Orman Quine (1908–2000) further developed it in his From a
Logical Point of View (Quine 1953). There are two forms of the thesis. One
is stated by Aquinas, in which positive outcomes of a prediction cannot be
used to establish the truth of a theory; the other is stated by Duhem, in which
the failure of predictions to be borne out does not allow us to conclude that
the theory is false, because the prediction results, not just from the theory
174 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
under consideration, but from that theory plus statements of background
information. For Duhem, there were limits to the ‘background information’
or ‘get out of jail’ assumptions that could rescue a theory from falsifying empi –
rical evidence; for Quine, there were no such limits.33 In Quine’s words:
The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters
of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics even of pure
mathematics logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along
the edges.
(Quine 1951/1953, p. 43)
Simple student experiments, ‘black-box’ exercises and other activities where
students guess unseen connections from the behaviour of seen variables can
highlight most of the logical fallacies and illustrate different interpretations
of events, but these activities do not raise the important question of how
science actually progresses and settles upon the best of rival theories. Historical
studies provide one context in which the elements of good reasoning can
be illuminated. Often, the same historical examples can also exhibit for
students the ‘extralogical’ dimension of science: the place that commitment
to metaphysics plays in the determination of theory and research programmes,
the legitimate and illegitimate uses of analogy and metaphor in scientific
argument and so on.
Sociological Challenges to the Rationality of Science
Since at least Aristotle, philosophers have been concerned with identifying and
promoting rational thinking, while not assuming that it was the only kind of
human thinking to be valued or cultivated. The long-standing view has been
that, though there is no grand rational road to scientific theorising and
hypothesis generation, nevertheless, science pre-eminently represents a sphere
of rational appraisal of claims and competing beliefs; where there are
departures from rational thinking in science, such departures have to be
identified and justified. This commitment to rationalism in science typifies the
Enlightenment’s, or more generally the modern, view of science (Siegel 1988,
1989). However, in the past decades, this rationalist understanding has come
under attack: from within the philosophy of science, from some sociologists
of science and from postmodernist French philosophers and others inspired
by them.
These attacks on rationality are of consequence to science educators, because
they would challenge, if not undermine, one of the central justifications for
the teaching of science, namely, that science teaching introduces children to
a sphere of rational thought and debate that has laudable ‘carry-over’ effects
in the rest of their studies and in life. If the adjudication of scientific dispute
is truly a matter of ‘mob psychology’, and if scientific advances are just
whatever the most economically or politically powerful group decree them to
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 175
be, independent of their epistemic worth, then the rationale for the inclusion
of science in the curriculum is greatly diminished.
Just as Immanuel Kant was famously awakened from his dogmatic slumber
by reading David Hume, so too modern rationalist philosophers of science
were awakened by Thomas Kuhn’s 1962/1970 The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions. The latter was widely interpreted as saying that scientific theory
change depends as much upon mob psychology and the mortality of the aged
as it does upon rational persuasion,34 and that progress in science need not
be construed as advancement towards a fixed goal of the truth about nature.
Paul Feyerabend extended this thesis in his Against Method (1975). Many
of these irrationalist charges were answered by philosophers of science,35 but
no sooner had this been done than the Edinburgh School of sociologists of
science further criticised rationalism in their thoroughly externalist account
of scientific change, the so-called ‘strong programme’ in the sociology of
knowledge. The harbinger of this programme was David Bloor’s Knowledge
and Social Imagery (1976/1991); then, in a few short years followed Barry
Barnes’s Interests and the Growth of Knowledge (1977) and Bruno Latour
and Stephen Woolgar’s Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific
Facts (1979/1986).36 Seemingly, HPS had taken a radical sociological turn.
The antecedents of the strong programme included the ‘weak programme’
of Karl Mannheim (1936/1960) and Robert Merton (1957), but these two
historical sociologists only wished to identify cultural, social and ideological
factors that shaped science; they did not believe that these external circumstances brought about the specific contents of science or resulted in specific
discoveries. Science is dependent on mathematics, technology, education,
funding, means of communication, philosophy and so on; the weak programme’s identification of all of this is admirable. This programme was announced
by Karl Marx (1818–1883), who, in the opening lines of The Eighteenth
Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, famously wrote that:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do
not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances
directly found, given and transmitted from the past.
(Marx 1852/1969, p. 398)
Neither Marx, Mannheim nor Merton would have believed that the inverse
square law of attraction would have become an inverse cube law if Newton
had been raised a Hindu, or if capitalism had already triumphed in
seventeenth-century England. However, this is suggested, if not implied, by
the Edinburgh sociologists of scientific knowledge whose research programme
set out to give an account of the external causation of the content of science.
Alongside these currents, French postmodernist philosophy, particularly that
influenced by Michel Foucault, was asserting that all systems of ideas, science
included, were intimately connected to the distribution of power in society,
and that changes in ideas were not to be accounted for by epistemological
176 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
factors, but by sociological ones. This is a continuation of the Marxist idea
of social superstructure (systems of ideas and ideologies) being determined
by a material base. The Marxist tradition has struggled with the problem
of whether mathematics and natural science are subject to this kind of
determination, with some exempting the former. Foucault, and his tradition,
faces the same problem.37
Science teachers and teacher educators need to be aware of this multifronted assault on the rational assumptions of science. Any casual glance
through educational theory books or science-education journals will turn up
all of the above names, with various conclusions about ‘the nature of science’
and good science teaching being drawn from their work. There is much in
the sociological work that is informative and that enlarges our understanding
of how decision-making and theory change actually occur in science. The role
of elites in a scientific community and their control over organs of publication,
the function of rhetoric in scientific argument, the influence that economic
power and interests have in the funding of research and the determination of
which problems to investigate and which to avoid – these are all matters that
need to be taken into account and that provide a richer and more realistic
view of the scientific enterprise. Furthermore, it is correct to point out that
conceptions of rationality have changed over time: The Aristotelian ideal is
different from that of the British empiricists, which is different from that of
modern falsificationists or Bayesian probabilists. There is a historical dimension to rationality, but there is also much that is fundamentally mistaken, and
educationally deleterious, in the strong programme and postmodernist attacks
on scientific rationality (Shackel 2005).
David Bloor lists four commitments that characterise the core of the strong
programme’s theory of science and scientific knowledge (Bloor 1976/1991,
p. 7):
• Causality: A proper account of science would be causal; that is
concerned with the conditions that bring about individual beliefs or
scientific theories.
• Impartiality: It is impartial with respect to truth and falsity, rationality
or irrationality, accepted or rejected theories.
• Symmetry: It would be symmetrical in its style of explanation. The
same types of cause would explain true and false, rational and
irrational, beliefs.
• Reflexivity: It would be reflexive. In principle, its patterns of
explanation would have to be applicable to sociology itself.
To recognise that there are necessary conditions for the conduct of science
and even for the emergence of scientific theories and beliefs is an important
step, but to convert these to sufficient conditions is a mistake. Both Newtonianism and Darwinism had, respectively, connections with seventeenth- and
nineteenth-century English life and culture – one might even say they grew
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 177
out of their cultures – but the latter did not explain the former; the origins of
beliefs do not account for either their truth or their falsity. This is the genetic
fallacy. There were countless others who shared the exact life circumstance
of Newton and of Darwin, but the respective theories were not forced out of
them, so to speak, by their circumstances. The crucial thing overlooked by
the strong-programme sociologists is the truthfulness or reasonableness of the
theory as a ground for belief in it. A lot of the heat goes out of the dispute if
reasons are recognised as causes. If having a good reason for the belief can
be regarded as a cause of the belief, then sociologists, philosophers and
educators are all in the same boat.
There is no reason to look for external sociological causes for people
believing that ‘2 + 2 = 4’. If there were widespread belief that ‘2 + 2 = 5’, then
one would start looking for external causes: ‘Is the latter what the King
believes?’ ‘Is the latter what the ruling party demands?’ ‘Is 4 an unlucky
number that cannot be mentioned?’ ‘Did the person have an especially
incompetent teacher?’ The more improbable, mistaken and irrational the
belief, the more energetically one should seek external causes for it. However,
the strong programme’s impartiality thesis rules out this common-sense option.
In Chapter 8, it will be argued that constructivism is one such improbable
educational/philosophical theory. David Geary, a psychologist who agrees
with this estimation of constructivism, proffers an externalist account of its
In sum, constructivism is largely a reflection of current American cultural beliefs
and, as such, involves the development of instructional techniques that attempt
to make the acquisition of complex mathematical skills an enjoyable social
enterprise that will be pursued on the basis of individual interest and choice.
(Geary 1995, p. 32)
At the highest level in the sociological programme, there is confusion
between ascertaining what actually happens in some specific instances and
pronouncements about what should generally happen in the conduct of
science. Francis Bacon, in the early seventeenth century, alerted his readers
to the operation of what he called ‘The Idols of the Mind’. These were the
various ways in which the effort to understand the world can be thwarted:
by the inadequate language available to think and write in, by the corrosive
effects of self-interest, whereby people more readily believe what they want
to believe, and by the direct exercise of social power wielded by dominant
groups. Much contemporary sociology of science is an extension of this early
Baconian investigation. However, Bacon took pains to identify the operation of ‘Idols’ precisely in order to overcome or compensate for their effects.
That is, he distinguished between what sometimes happens and what should
happen in the pursuit of knowledge. Whenever sociologists point to the opera –
tion of contemporary idols, or old ones in new dress, it is possible to ask: Are
such mechanisms, procedures or influences desirable in science? This latter
178 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
normative question is the one asked by philosophers of science, and it is one
that students can be encouraged to ask. Then, if the effects of class, gender,
race, power, religion, self-interest and so on are identified as pernicious and
contrary to the scientific endeavour, it is reasonable to delineate what the ideal
is against which these failings are judged.
Now, it certainly would be an embarrassment to the rational cause if no
instances of scientific change could be found in which epistemological or
evidential considerations were determinant, but there is no embarrassment to
the rational cause if some instances of non-epistemological determination are
uncovered. Indeed, a good many of these have been documented: the long
history of intelligence testing and its associated theory is now seen to be
almost entirely driven by class, race and gender interests that mostly are
hidden, submerged or implicit,38 and the decades of Lysenkoist genetics, or more
correctly anti-genetics, in the USSR are now seen to have been in part driven
by Communist Party interests, and in part by a mistaken metaphysics.39 However, these cases can be identified, and they command our attention, because
we have some sense that they are departures from proper scientific procedure.
Further, without such normative convictions, we would be in no position
to complain about the above aberrations: If power is knowledge, then the
white, male ruling class and the Communist Party certainly had power, and,
consequently, the operation of this power must, by definition, result in
knowledge. Few people, least of all minorities and those without power,
would want to accept this conclusion.
Enough has been said to indicate that argument about the rationality of
science is pertinent to science teaching. Harvey Siegel defends rationality and
the giving of reasons as the hallmark of science education (Siegel 1989, 1993).
Martin Eger addresses the question of how such a conception can allow for
the role of commitment, or faith, that has been so important to the development of science (Eger 1988, 1989). Faith, or philosophical commitment, need
not be irrational. Such commitments can be tested by evaluation of their
scientific or experimental achievements or implications. Siegel (1993) addresses
the quest for a naturalised philosophy of science and how such a quest, if
successful, would impact on our understanding of the rationality of science
and on the classroom teaching of science. These debates, and others, should
find a place in teacher education programmes and can inform school science
Ethics, Values and Science Education
Ethical questions increasingly arise in the science classroom. The following
matters are examples of those raised by students and that appear in new
national science curricula: the greenhouse effect, global warming, pollution,
extinction of species, genetic engineering, genetic testing of embryos for
‘undesired’ maladies or gender, military technology and the employment of
scientists in the defence industries, the cost and direction of scientific research,

nuclear energy, nuclear war and so on. These topics explicitly appear where
STS and SSI orientations inform curricula and programmes, and students are
expected to engage with them as part of the curricula.40 In addition, they
are rightly part of most NOS learning objectives. Development of ‘ethical
judgement’ is an agreed aim of the ‘Dublin Descriptors’, widely adopted by
European universities for incorporation into all university prorgrammes
(Aalberts et al. 2012).
Teachers need to strive to make the ethical discussion as sophisticated as
the classroom’s scientific discussion. Again, this requires that teachers be
familiar with the history and philosophy of their discipline and have some
familiarity with informed ethical reasoning. Something, but not much, is
served by simply rehashing or asserting popular nostrums. Teachers can
benefit, and their classes can be enriched, by serious grappling with these
ethical and social questions.41 As Anna Couló comments:
For science education, it is relatively easy to find interesting and relevant material
from a socio-scientific point of view (SSI), on the role of non-cognitive values in
the funding of scientific research, and on the technological consequences of
scientific inquiry. It is much harder, though not impossible, to find related works
framed in a more closely philosophical perspective.
(Couló 2014, p. 1090)
Socio-technical–ethical questions are inevitable and should be addressed;
both HPS and moral and political philosophy can contribute to their more
nuanced and informed discussion; neither teachers nor students gain much
if such discussions are sloganistic or merely repeat the current common
The interconnection of science and ethics is particularly clear in contemporary human genetics programmes. The Human Genome Project has 3 per
cent ($90 million) of its $3 billion budget allocated to ethical and legal
ramifications. In the US, there are at least three state and national genetic
education programmes that explicitly address the ethical and religious
dimensions of the Genome Project.42 The BSCS programme is outlined in a
ninety-four-page document sent to all US biology teachers. In addition to the
science of the Genome Project, it has students engaging in analysis and debate
over the ethical and policy issues generated by genetic screening and other
techniques occasioned by the Genome Project. Should employers be allowed
to screen prospective employees for the Huntington’s disease gene? Should
those identified as genetically disposed to alcoholism be forbidden to drink?
It says of these situations that:
Individuals, institutions (schools, businesses, and other organisations), and society
will have to deal with situations in which some interests are advanced and others
are impaired. When the interests of everyone cannot be advanced, and when some
interests are advanced at the expense of others, whose interests ought to receive
180 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
priority? Questions about ‘oughts’ properly are addressed by ethics and public
(BSCS 1992, p. 15)
More recently, the US National Institute of Health has released a bioethics
course for grades 9–12, which is explicitly constructed around ethical issues
raised by and embedded in biology (NIH 2009).
In England and Wales, since 2005, there has been a senior biology course
for 16–18-year-olds – Salters–Nuffield Advanced Biology – that is taught
through contexts and has a strong emphasis on social aspects of biology and
the ethical analysis of biological issues. Michael Reiss, one of the developers
of the course, identifies four reasons for teaching ethics in the science
classroom: heightening students’ ethical sensitivity; increasing students’ ethical
knowledge; improving students’ ethical judgement and making students better
people (Reiss 2008).
Norman Lederman, in an influential article advocating the teaching of
NOS, says that all students should learn the ‘values and beliefs inherent to
scientific knowledge and its development’ (Lederman 2004, p. 303). However,
this admonition is left hanging: the inherent values to be taught are not spelled
out. Nor are they separately listed as one of the seven much-repeated
characteristics of NOS (Lederman et al. 2002). HPS can contribute to fleshing
out this crucial feature of science and, thus, enhance its teaching.
Values as External to Science
Students can perhaps recognise that economic, political, religious and philosophical values have an external role in the conduct of science. This in itself
is salutary; it puts something of a brake on scientistic excess. What research
areas are funded depends on values and the outcome of competing interests.
Such influence is obvious in medical, agricultural, communications and
weapons research. In 1961, soon to be ex-President Dwight Eisenhower
famously referred to the danger presented to US society by the ‘military–
industrial complex’; more accurately, he could have referred to the
‘military–industrial–scientific complex’. In Nazi Germany,43 the Soviet Union44
and the US,45 an enormous, if not overwhelming, amount of scientific resources
went into military research and into big-business and state-business research;
and of course the same for the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Canada and
just about all other advanced economies. In all of these countries, the military–
industrial–scientific complex is dependent upon school science classrooms: if
the latter are unthinking and uncritical, then the former are most likely to be
as well.
As a micro example, consider how, in the late 1970s, US agri-business
funded the University of California with hundreds of thousands of dollars to
produce a tomato that could be mechanically harvested and so would thwart
the strike efforts of the United Farm Workers, led by César Chávez. At the
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 181
time, tomatoes were almost the last part of commercial agriculture that was
intimately dependent on large-scale human labour and thus ripe, so to speak,
for strike action. The university scientists could have worked on making
tomatoes that grew better in urban backyards or on rooftops, but they were
funded to work for agri-business, making more robust, thicker-skinned,
longer-shelf-life and more-uniform tomatoes that hopefully were cubic, for
ease of packing and commercial sandwich making. Science had been co-opted,
and it was fairly clear whose interests were being served. The widespread
realisation of this nexus led to the formation of such groups as Science for
the People, Scientists for Nuclear Disarmament and so on. And it is partly
why the International Organisation of Science and Technology Education
(IOSTE) says that:
Consistent with our mission to encourage the peaceful and ethical use of science
and technology in the service of humankind, IOSTE opposes the use of science
and technology by government or other organizations for military purposes against
As well as military, political and business interests impacting on science, so
also has philosophy. This is a well-known contention, aptly stated by
Alexandre Koyré:
It is, indeed, my contention that the role of this ‘philosophic background’ has
always been of utmost importance, and that, in history, the influence of philosophy
upon science has been as important as the influence – which everyone admits –
of science upon philosophy.
(Koyré 1954, p. 192)
It is a much-discussed issue whether such metaphysics is actually external to
science; the case for metaphyics being internal to science is overwhelming and
has been discussed in the opening pages of this chapter.
Religious interests are one of the other important external influences on the
shape and trajectory of science. In countries where the Roman Catholic
Church is politically powerful, there is little, if any, scientific research on
contraception, safe abortion, simple euthanasia and so on; cloning and stemcell research is closely controlled. Where Islam dominates, research on human
origins will be negligible. As with metaphysics, there is a case for theological
positions being internal to different scientific paradigms and investigations
within those paradigms – witness the above-discussed case of Newtonian
absolute space and his theological commitments. Newton said that he wrote
the Principia so that ‘men might believe’; here, religion provides a clear,
external purpose or motivation for the work, but many say that his religion
was not left outside the Principia but featured in its arguments. The same role
was played by Joseph Priestley’s belief in providence in leading to his discovery
of photosynthesis. The continuing intellectual (and political) struggle has been
182 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
over the possibility of science correcting the religious commitments that have
guided or motivated it.
Alaistair Crombie, the noted historian of science, addressed the influence
of religion on science when he surmised why the scientific revolution did not
occur in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, despite there being no shortage
of bright and scholarly natural philosophers:
Although some of the best medieval scientific work was done on particular
problems studied without any reference to theology or philosophy or even
methodology, it was within a general framework of philosophy closely bearing
on theology, and specifically within the system of university studies run by clerics,
that the central development of medieval science took place.
(Crombie 1956, p. 114)
An intellectual environment dominated by an all-powerful Roman Catholic
Church that had embraced a particular philosophy (Thomism) as the
‘handmaiden’ of its theology simply prevented the rise of modern science.
Crombie goes on to say:
It explains much that is puzzling and seemingly downright perverse in otherwise
excellent work. It helps explain, for example, the gap between the repeated
insistence on . . . empirical verification and the many general assertions never tested
by observation; worse, the satisfaction with imaginary experiments either incorrect
or impossible.
(Crombie 1956, p. 116)
This is not the well-known and direct instruction to Galileo not to teach
or promote the Copernican system of the world; two centuries earlier, the
influence was less immediate and more part of the intellectual fabric of
the times, but the influence was no less effective. This is comparable to the
situation of science in all reactionary or despotic regimes, where metaphysics
external to science controls and limits scientific theorising and appraisal. This
has been the situation in Roman Catholic, Islamic, Communist and Hindu
states and has been a centuries-old battle in the US, where fundamentalist
Christians control local school boards and thwart the teaching of evolution
on religious grounds.
At the first level of analysis, these influences on, and impacts of, science are
external to science; this separation is one reason for distinguishing pure from
applied science. It is to everyone’s benefit that external influences be identified
and appraised. Such appraisals and discussions need not, and should not, be
restricted to science classes; they can be undertaken in history, social science,
economics, literature and religion classes. A common assumption has been
that such values (political, commercial, philosophical, religious, personal)
belong to the environment of science, not to the conduct of science; that science
itself is free of values. Using Hume’s terminology, science is concerned with
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 183
what is, and values are concerned with what ought to be, and there is no
connection either way between the first and second; the latter is the domain
of ethics, politics, religion and custom. Some problems with this common
assumption will be outlined below.
Value-free Science
The ‘value-free science’ position has its origins with Max Weber’s (1864–1920)
at-the-time progressive view that sociologists should report on the structure
and functioning of society, not on how their own politics, religion or class
envisages or judges society (Weber 1917/1949). Weber was a brave and
committed political liberal and democrat in a very reactionary Prussia. He
recognised that ‘progressive’ movements were advantaged by knowing how
reality was; not by dreaming about it or seeing it as we would like it to be.
This was the same stance taken by the equally liberal, democratic and socialist
early positivists, who took their intellectual and political guidance from Ernst
Mach. For these positivists, there was also a cleavage between fact and value;
good science was value free. Indeed, for hardcore positivists, value statements
were literally nonsensical; they thus could not be part of science. Many science
teachers share, and indeed embrace, this ‘value-free science’ position: they
believe that the pursuit of knowledge does not in itself embody values. It is
the position made famous, or infamous, in Tom Lehrer’s lyric:
‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department’, says Wernher von Braun.
But considerations in HPS make the ‘value-free’ position more problematic
and more interesting, and its appraisal more educationally beneficial.
External influence on the conduct of science, or more generally on
understanding the world, has long and widely been recognised. Francis Bacon,
in his Novum Organum (1620/1960), wrote about the Idols of the Mind and
the need to recognise and correct for psychological, linguistic, economic and
cultural influences that might distort understanding.46 The first instalment of
the debate has been about whether all the influences have been identified –
feminists have argued that gender was, understandably, not listed by Bacon,
but subsequently not much listed by anyone else; Marxists make the same
claim about class; queer theorists make the same claim about heterosexual
assumptions functioning in science; indigenous science proponents point to
‘Western’ assumptions that go unexamined, and so on. The second instalment
has been about whether such influences can be corrected for, in particular
the influence of social and personal values on the conduct of science. If the
influences are local and incorrigible, then the impossibility of correction or
‘making allowances for’ impinges on the objectivity or universality of science.
Bacon recognised that ethical and civil values needed to underwrite the
conduct of natural philosophy in his New Atlantis; these found expression in
184 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
the functioning of the Royal Society, where honesty, civility, toleration and
modesty were ideals and even rules (Sargent 2005). Three hundred years after
Bacon, Robert Merton famously codified the ethical values required for the
conduct of science. Merton said that, for the communal enterprise of science
to be able to successfully pursue its goal of finding out about the world and
effectively engaging with it, it needed to embody four values (Merton
1942/1973): communalism (scientific results were to be public and published
for all), universalism (anyone could contribute to science, regardless of their
religion, race, class, gender, etc.), disinterestedness (participants were to tell
the truth, regardless of private gain or loss) and scepticism (all claims were
to be open to criticism, debate and possible renunciation or revision). John
Ziman, in a popular work subtitled The Social Dimension of Knowledge,
added originality (science sought new truths, embraced new methods, utilised
better explanations and theories) to this list (Ziman 1968). This enabled the
convenient acronym CUDOS (communalism, universalism, disinterestedness,
originality and scepticism) to be used for the Mertonian scientific norms.
Of course, science did not have to await Merton’s publication to know of
the presuppositions for its own success; Merton merely synthesised and
condensed long-extant practices. But recognition of the norms did bring values
across the moat and into the scientific castle; the idea or ideology of value-free
science could not be maintained. Or the position could only be maintained by
retreating further and going into the castle’s keep. This was done by agreeing
that science was a value-laden pursuit, characterised as Merton outlined, but
the values governed the organisation and conduct of science, the construction
of the castle, but not its core decision-making. When it came to decisions about
scientific claims, hypotheses and theories that had been generated in a
Mertonian environment, then the decision-making was free of values. In
Reichenbach’s terms, values certainly governed the context of discovery, but
they had no place in the context of justification (Reichenbach 1938 pp. 6–7).
The value-free defenders could only take temporary rest with this position.
Sixty years ago, in a book edited by the positivist Philipp Frank (Frank 1954),
Barrington Moore Jr wrote:
Few people today are likely to argue that the acceptance of scientific theories, even
by scientists themselves, depends entirely upon the logical evidence adduced in
support of these theories. Extraneous factors related to the philosophical climate
and society in which the scientist lives always play at least some part. The
interesting problem, therefore, becomes not one of ascertaining the existence of
such factors but one of appraising the extent of their impact under different
(Moore 1954, p. 29)
Moore’s paper was focused on science in the Soviet Union and it was about
the acceptance of theories, not just the direction of research, or what fields
to investigate. He recognised that all large human societies require a ‘set of
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 185
beliefs about the purposes of life and the ways it is legitimate and not legitimate
to achieve these purposes. This set of beliefs constitutes the political truths of
the society’ (Moore 1954, p. 35). He could, perhaps, have said they constitute
the ‘worldview’ of the society. Although acknowledging external influence and
admitting that there were similarities between the United States and the Soviet
Union, Moore wanted, Bacon-like, to keep the influences apart from the
Therefore as science develops its own canons for validating its propositions, there
is likely to come a time when the political creed and the scientific creed conflict
with each other.
(Moore 1954, p. 35)
Values Internal to Science
Barrington Moore left open whether the scientific creed itself embodied values.
Richard Rudner did not leave open this question in his anthology chapter
titled: ‘Value Judgments in the Acceptance of Theories’, where he wrote:47
I think that such validations do essentially involve the making of value judgments
in a typically ethical issue. And I emphasize essentially to indicate by feeling that
not only do scientists, as a matter of psychological fact, make value judgments in
the course of such validations – since as human beings they are so constituted as
to make this virtually unavoidable – but also that the making of such judgments
is logically involved in the validation of scientific hypotheses; and consequently
that a logical reconstruction of this process would entail the statement that a value
judgment is a requisite step in the process.
(Rudner 1954, p. 24)
This was a direct challenge to the long-held positivist view that values were
outside the scientific kernel of theory validation; Moore brought values into
the scientific castle’s keep. He concluded:
What is proposed here is that objectivity for science lies at the least in becoming
precise about what value judgments are being made and might have been made
in a given inquiry – and stated in the most challenging form, what value decisions
ought to be made.
(Rudner 1954, p. 28)
On one interpretation, the claim was straightforward: scientists who make
or advise on science-related policy clearly have to make value judgements.
What is the trade-off between money and health in advising on how much
fluorine to add to a town’s water supply to ensure effective protection against
teeth cavities? When recommending a new drug for government approval,
scientists need to quantify the trade-off between securing immediate, known,
186 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
good effects and delaying approval because of possible, unknown, bad
consequences. These are indisputably value judgements made by scientists.
Fifty years ago, philosophers made this point in response to Rudner, saying
that science covers the estimated probability of some illness in some
circumstance; the ‘policy’ advice will raise or lower that probability, depending
on cost and threat to life, but the policy advice is not given qua scientist (Levi
1960). The issue has subsequently been clarified, but ‘value freedom’ is still
debated in the philosophy and policy communities.48
Another way of construing the arguments, from Bacon through to the early
positivists, is that they were about identifying and separating values that
deformed and inhibited science from those that enhanced science. Yes, there
could be values (non-empirical claims and judgements) in science, but it was
important to isolate the illegitimate ones from the legitimate, science-enabling
Thomas Kuhn took on this task in his 1973 Machette lecture on ‘Objectivity,
Value Judgment, and Theory Choice’ (Kuhn 1977). He began by stating the
obvious: scientists want to formulate or adopt good scientific theories,
and goodness is inescapably evaluative. He listed five charactistics of good
• Accuracy: consequences deducible from a good theory should be in
demonstrated agreement with existing experiments and observations.
• Consistency: good theories are internally consistent and consistent with
currently accepted theories.
• Breadth: good theories are widely applicable; they need to extend beyond
local or particular cases.
• Simplicity: good theories should bring order to phenomena that, in their
absence, would be isolated or confused.
• Fruitfulness: good theories should disclose new phenomena and suggest
new relationships.
These were all values and they are internal to science, not external.
Importantly, Kuhn is at pains to point out that they are not rules: ‘the criteria
of choice . . . function not as rules, which determine choice, but as values,
which influence it’ (Kuhn 1977, p. 331). And, as with all applications of ethical
value, there is room to move: people, even experts, can disagree in how they
weigh up competing values – simplicity versus breadth – or just how consistent
are two competing theories.
Ernan McMullin’s 1983 elaboration and critique of Kuhn’s account is
much anthologised. He identifies Kuhn’s list as epistemic values, because they
are concerned with the pursuit of knowledge, truth or the improvement of
cognition that aims at understanding the natural and social worlds. He
contrasts them with the non-epistemic values. The latter include the features
indentified by Merton as necessary for the social pursuit of science – honesty,
openness, inclusiveness – and also the enormously wide list of ‘political, social,
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 187
moral and religious’ values that can be appealed to to close the gap between
underdetermined theory and evidence in explaining a scientist’s choice of
theory (McMullin 1983, p. 19).
McMullin ‘reworks his [Kuhn’s] list just a little’ and proffers the following
list of epistemic or cognitive values:
• Predictive accuracy – but only to a degree; in the early stages, all precise
theories are refuted by evidence.
• Internal coherence – there should be no contradictions or unexplained
• External consistency – theories should be expected to cohere with current
best theories and assumed ontology.
• Unifying power – as witnessed in Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory or
plate tectonics.
• Fertility – sustained ability to generate and incorporate new findings.
• Simplicity – a desirable feature, but more easily expressed than
McMullin agrees with Kuhn that these values function just as values do: they
are not rules that can be applied without judgement, and there are, typically,
trade-offs between one and the other that reasonable scientists can disagree
over (McMullin 1983, p. 16).
McMullin rightly draws attention to ‘non-standard’ epistemic values that
are pervasive in science; foremost among these are metaphysical and religious
commitments. The case of Newton has been discussed above; the Einstein–
Bohr debates on the interpretation of quantum theory, the ‘punctuated
equilibria’ debate in evolutionary biology and numerous other such debates
also illustrate the operation of ‘non-standard’ values.
Peter Kosso introduces his discussion of ‘internal and external virtues’ in
these terms:
Theories are like apples; there are good ones and bad ones. . . . Apples have all
sorts of features that are indicative of goodness . . . Similarly, theories have features
that are indicative of their truth, and the task of justification is to identify these
features and use them to guide choices as to which theories to believe.
(Kosso 1992, p. 27)
Kosso provisionally separates internal from external features of good theories.
By ‘internal’, he means features of theories that can be identified and evaluated
by looking just at the theory, not at the world. So, logical consistency ‘is a
clear example of an internal feature’ (Kosso 1992, p. 30). Other internal
truth-conducive virtues that Kosso lists are:
• Entrenchment – a conservative value where credit is given for a theory’s
consistency with established theory and knowledge.
188 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
• Explanatory cooperation – credit accrues because a theory explains why
established theories can themselves explain phenomena.
• Testability – any good theory must have empirically testable consequences;
this does not guarantee truth, but is a necessary condition for truthful
• Generality – assuming a simple, natural and social world of few basic
mechanisms, then the more general over space and time, the more likely
the theory could be true; without the assumption of simplicity, then
generality is just a pragmatic or aesthetic virtue.
• Simplicity – if the world is simple, then simple theories are more likely to
be true; this is the reason why ‘lines of best fit’ and their equations are
preferred over lines that join all data points; it is the reason behind the
use of Ockham’s razor.
All of the above, and additional ones such as aesthetics, have to do with the
appearance of the theory; degrees of them can be determined by looking at
the theory and its intellectual milieu. In contrast, external virtues ‘are relevant
to the theory’s relation to the world’ (Kosso 1992, p. 31). For Kosso, these
are explanation and confirmation.
Clearly, the identification, weighing, commitment and inculcation of epistemic values are dependent on particular visions of science. All of the foregoing
virtues listed by Kuhn, McMullin and Kosso are contingent on agreement
about the truth-seeking goal of science. This might be seen as a more
fundamental value, one that authorises some or all of the variously listed
epistemic virtues. If folk are committed to other goals for science – maintenance of traditional culture, boosting of company profits, enrichment of the
state, support of a religion, ‘knowing where to put the soufflé in an oven’,
etc. – then the associated virtues will change. Of course, some of these extraepistemic goals will require truthfulness, and so even having a social goal as
fundamental will not negate the operation of epistemic virtues. The state
will not be too long enhanced if its subservient science fails to tell the truth
about the world: the state is not enhanced by rockets failing to lift off (North
Korea) or by massive crop failure (Soviet Union). Realism about science
and rationalism about scientific decision-making assist with the easier
identification and inculcation of epistemic values. And the values have to be
established on empirical grounds, not on psychological or ideological grounds;
their operation has to be seen as contributing to scientific success. Hence,
recognising science as value-laden does not mean saying that it cannot be
universal or objective.
Feminist Theory and Science Education
In the past half-century, many significant feminist critiques of science have
been published; there has developed an identifiable ‘feminism and science’
research programme whose arguments have had a significant impact in
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 189
philosophy, in philosophy of science and in science education (Noddings
2009). This feminist research programme has had three broad streams. First,
a ‘practical’ stream, which is concerned with increasing the participation of
women in school, university and industrial science and with the recovery
of ‘lost’ women scientists in textbooks and histories of science. This stream
accepts orthodox science and seeks to increase the participation of women in
it by having ‘girls only’ science classes, kitchen-focused experiments and so
on (Rosser 1986, 1993).
Second, there is a ‘critical’ or ‘empiricist’ stream that seeks to improve
orthodox science by recognising and correcting mechanisms whereby
masculine bias has corrupted different elements of science. These feminists
accepted the standard normative picture of science as being a rational pursuit
of universal and objective truths about the world; their critiques concentrated
on how, in particular cases, this normative ideal was compromised by
unacknowledged gender biases in the identification of research fields, the
framing of research questions, the methods employed and the interpretation
of results. The studies of Ruth Hubbard (1979), Carol Gilligan (1982), Donna
Haraway (1989), Nancy Tuana (1989a) and Kathleen Okruhlik (1994) on
bias and gender ideology in, respectively, evolutionary theory, Kolberg’s moral
development research, primatology, reproductive theory and biological
sciences are well-known examples of this genre.
Empirical feminists believed that current science was corrigible and that
feminist understandings could advance its truth-seeking goals. This work
connected with, and drew some inspiration from, Marxist studies of the
putative ideological deformation of economics and social science by ‘hidden’
class assumptions (Hartsock 1983). For Marxists, their own political economy
was simply better economical science because it had a more informed ‘grip’
on the world, it attended to factors that routine, ‘bourgeois’ economics
neglected. For empiricist feminists, their science was likewise better science
because it recognised more about mechanisms in the world and it had better
ways to study them.
These empiricist feminists were scientific realists, and, as such, the worth
of their specific analyses was an empirical question about how much
understanding was gained about their subject matters by feminist-informed
and corrected science. Some of the particular studies were lauded; others were
energetically contested. Susan Cachel, in a critical review of Haraway’s very
popular and widely prescribed primatology book, writes that, for Haraway:
Primatology is not science but narrative or story-telling. The author interprets
‘texts’ and ‘subtexts’ in the way that literary critics offer readings or multiple
perspectives on a text. The idea that facts should be the focus of attention is foreign
to this book – the author treats ‘facts’, instead. One theory is as valid as another,
and there is nothing to check or constrain narratives except personal taste or
political agendas. . . . If one did not already possess some background, this book
would give no lucid history of anthropology or primatology.
(Cachel 1990, pp. 139, 141)
190 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
For Cachel, Harraway’s feminism assuredly did not enable her to make any
distinct contribution to our understanding of primates or to the science of
primatology. As with all scientific claims, other feminist contributions need
to be looked at on a case-by-case basis and appraised against nature: has the
work expanded knowledge of the subject matter?
Third, there has been a more ‘philosophical’ tradition in feminism in which
a good deal of the orthodox understanding of science and its goals is simply
rejected. Early contributions to the feminist philosophical programme were
made by, among others, Ruth Bleier (1984), Evelyn Fox Keller (1985, 1987),
Sandra Harding (1986), Helen Longino (1989) and Jane Roland Martin
(1989).50 Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka promised that feminist theory
would bring about ‘lock, stock and barrel’ changes in science, in its methodology as well as its choice of problems to investigate. In the introduction to
an influential anthology, they wrote:
A more fundamental project now confronts us. We must root out sexist distortions
and perversions in epistemology, metaphysics, methodology and the philosophy
of science – in the ‘hard core’ of abstract reasoning thought most immune to
infiltration by social values.
(Harding & Hintikka 1983, p. ix)
A few years later, Harding would write that this improved, ‘feminised’
science brings what were previously considered Baconian ‘idols’ into the core
of the enterprise, but this is not a problem, because feminist science:
Seeks a unity of knowledge combining moral and political with empirical
understanding. And it seeks to unify knowledge of and by the heart with that
which is gained by and about the brain and hand. It sees inquiry as comprising
not just the mechanical observation of nature and others but the intervention of
political and moral illumination ‘without which the secrets of nature cannot be
(Harding, S.G. 1986, p. 241)
It was this orientation that led Harding directly to her adoption of Marxistinfluenced ‘standpoint epistemology’ (Harding 1991, Chapter 5). In this theory
of science, bias cannot be overcome; there is no ‘view from nowhere’;
knowledge can only be advanced by a multiplicity of views; and the feminist
view or standpoint has special epistemological merit. Harding wrote:
The distinctive features of women’s situation in a gender-stratified society are being
used as resources in the new feminist research . . . to produce empirically more
accurate descriptions and theoretically richer explanations than does conventional
(Harding 1991, p. 119)
The commitments of this programme are well captured by Nancy
Brickhouse, who wrote:
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 191
Feminist epistemologies [have had] a significant impact on science education. The
work of feminists such as Evelyn Fox Keller, Donna Haraway, and Sandra
Harding showed the ways in which scientific knowledge, like other forms of
knowledge, is culturally situated and therefore reflects the gender and racial
ideologies of societies. Scientific knowledge, like other forms of knowledge, is
gendered. Science cannot produce culture-free, gender-neutral knowledge
because Enlightenment epistemology of science is imbued with cultural meanings
of gender. This feminist critique of Enlightenment epistemology describes how
the Enlightenment gave rise to dualisms (e.g., masculine/feminine, culture/nature,
objectivity/subjectivity, reason/emotion, mind/body), which are related to the
male/female dualism . . . in which the former (e.g., masculine) is valued over the
latter (e.g., feminine). These dualisms are of particular significance to scholars
writing about science because culturally defined values associated with masculinity
(i.e., objectivity, reason, mind) are also those values most closely aligned with
science (Keller, 1985). As such, not only was masculine culturally defined in
opposition to feminine, but scientific was also defined in opposition to feminine.
(Brickhouse 2001, p. 283)
In this single paragraph, Brickhouse makes at least twelve distinct and muchdisputed, indeed widely rejected, historical and philosophical claims. These
claims are commonplaces in feminist educational writing; merely stating them
should suffice to show that their appraisal involves historical and philosophical
considerations, because the claims themselves are all about HPS. It then
follows that science teachers and administrators should have some familiarity
with HPS in order to critically engage with and evaluate such claims.
Another feminist writing about science education and citing Sandra Harding
and Evelyn Fox Keller says:
Radical feminism is important from an historical perspective because second and
third generation feminist perspectives have been influenced by it. Radical feminism
argues that in the case of science, scientific ideologies and philosophies are based
on androcentric foundations. This has led to a masculine way of viewing science
which in most cases also means Eurocentric science, a predominately white AngloSaxon male perspective.
(Parsons 1999, p. 991)
Understandably, there is a connection between feminism and constructivism;
initially, they reinforce each other. As Nancy Brickhouse attests: ‘feminists
have found constructivist views of learning to be compatible with feminist
epistemologies or pedagogies’ (Brickhouse 2001, p. 284). As will be elaborated
in Chapter 8, constructivism has many philosophical problems. There are only
a few short epistemological steps from a multiplicity of views, to a multiplicity
of knowledges, to a plurality of sciences, and then to complete relativism about
science. Many take the steps in one bound, with some taking a further
ontological bound to the claim that there are as many worlds as there are
192 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
According to radical constructivism, we live forever in our own, self-constructed
worlds; the world cannot ever be described apart from our frames of experience.
This understanding is consistent with the view that there are as many worlds as
there are knowers. . . . Our universe consists of a plenitude of descriptions rather
than of an ontological world per se.
(Roth 1999, p. 7)
It is a puzzle that such claims are made in the name of ‘authentic science
education’. Was there a plenitude of descriptions at the beginning of the
universe? Whose descriptions were they? It might be that, in Christian
cosmology, ‘In the Beginning was the Word’, but this does not mean ‘in the
beginning were descriptions’. Doubtless, it is of zero comfort to Japanese
people to know that it was a wave of ‘descriptions’ that destroyed their towns,
homes and people in the 2011 To¯hoku tsunami, much less that it was a cloud
of descriptions that broke over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It
is mysterious why science educators would talk this way; more explicit,
meaningful and sensible things could be said. However, not all feminists are
constructivists, with many warning against the feminist embrace of constructivism (Koertge 2000, Pati & Koertge 1994).
Taking pedagogical or curriculum initatives based on such claims, without
the claims being closely evaluated, is a great disservice to all students, not just
women. Many women philosophers of science have taken the lead in critical
evaluation of all of the above feminist claims. Not all feminists ascribe to
feminist epistemology.
Some Evaluations of Feminism in Science Education
Many women reject the claim that objectivity, rationality and analytic thinking
are alien to them. Norette Koertge, a prominent philosopher of science who
has also written on science education (Koertge 1969, 1998), maintains that
science needs more unorthodox ideas and a greater plurality of approaches.
This is a standard Popperian position, which does not in itself constitute an
argument for a new epistemology of science. Against certain feminists, Koertge
warns that:
If it really could be shown that patriarchal thinking not only played a crucial role
in the Scientific Revolution but is also necessary for carrying out scientific inquiry
as we now know it, that would constitute the strongest argument for patriarchy
that I can think of.
(Koertge 1981, p. 354)
And then: ‘I continue to believe that science – even white, upperclass, maledominated science – is one of the most important allies of oppressed people’
(Koertge 1981, p. 354).
Cassandra Pinnick, also a philosopher of science who has written on science
education (Pinnick 2008a), echoed this observation when she wrote that the
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 193
history of science provides no grounds for Sandra Harding’s epistemological
privileging of the feminist ‘standpoint’:
Rather, the history of science, patently dominated by male achievers, amounts to
a thumping good induction to the conclusion that male bias – whatever it is and
to the exclusion of identifiably different kinds of bias – ought to be maximised
in science.
(Pinnick 2008b, p. 187)
There may be other, non-epistemological, social or political reasons for the
privileging of a feminist standpoint, but these need to be separately argued
for and not confused with epistemological grounds. However, such arguments
are themselves going to be disputed, beginning with the basic problem of which
women’s standpoint will be taken as the feminist standpoint. Class, ethnicity,
religion, nationality, all overlay any particular woman’s standpoint or even
interest. And the philosophical arguments for standpoint epistemology have
also been disputed. As Pinnick concludes:
But the idea of a gendered standpoint on science is bankrupt, beset with formal
contradictions and wholly lacking an empirical track record to provide even weak
inductive support. Despite the failure of the arguments associated with it to rest
on anything other than unsubstantiated promises about the significant positive
impact that women will have on science, the continued high profile of feminist
standpoint theory risks the conclusion that hard won efforts to promote women
in science – in education and in careers – amount to misallocated scarce resources.
(Pinnick 2008a, p. 1062)
This chapter has discussed some aspects of the intimate connection of science
and philosophy and has suggested that this interaction be suitably introduced
to students in science classrooms and in teacher education programmes. This
is part of learning about the nature of science, a topic in all science curricula.
It is not just a matter of learning about philosophy, although this is important,
but also the opportunity can be provided to do philosophy. Philosophy begins
with the questions such as, ‘What do you mean by?’ and ‘How do you know?’.
Students can be encouraged to ask these questions at each stage of their
education, in whatever subject. Such questions lead naturally into the sphere
of logic and the appraisal of arguments; there is a good deal of evidence that
students’ naive thinking in these areas needs to be trained and informed;
logical thinking is not natural. The philosophical questions listed by Robert
Ennis in 1979 – concerning explanation, structure of disciplines, values, theory
and observation, scientific method – are of perennial interest to science teachers
and can be made interesting to students. This chapter has indicated a number
of areas in contemporary curricula that have a rich philosophical dimension
194 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
to which students can easily be introduced; these include: ethics and values,
logical and critical thinking, science and metaphysics, thought experiments.
The chapter has also introduced some debates in which teachers and cur –
riculum writers are frequently engaged, in particular those occasioned by
sociological and feminist critiques of science. Here, philosophy has an explicit
role to play, and teachers need to be so informed and prepared.
Beyond these topics, there are other lively areas of theoretical debate among
science educators to which philosophy of science can contribute. Argument
over constructivism, particularly its epistemological claims, is an obvious
area, and will be dealt with in Chapter 8. Arguments about science and
worldviews, about religious belief and scientific commitment, and deliberation
about appropriate multicultural science education are other areas to which
philosophy can contribute, and will be so seen in Chapter 10. All of this taken
together supports the core thesis of this book: that science education and HPS
need to develop a more intimate relationship.
1 Some useful studies on the philosophical dimension of science are: Amsterdamski
(1975), Buchdahl (1969), Burtt (1932), Cushing (1998), Dilworth (1996/2006), Gjertsen
(1989), Mayr (1988), Shimony (1993), Smart (1968), Trusted (1991) and Wartofsky
2 The famous Paul Arthur Schilpp anthology of commentary on Einstein is titled Albert
Einstein: Philosopher–Scientist (Schilpp 1951).
3 See, for instance, Bohm (1980), Bohr (1958), Boltzmann (1905/1974), Born (1968),
Duhem (1906/1954), Eddington (1939), Heisenberg (1962), Jeans (1943/1981), Mach
(1883/1960), Planck (1936) and von Helmholtz (1995).
4 See, for instance, Bridgman (1950), Bunge (1973, 1998a, 1998b), Campbell (1921/
1952), Chandrasekhar (1987), Cushing (1998), d’Espagnat (2006), Holton (1973),
Margenau (1950, 1978), Rabi (1967), Rohrlich (1987), Weinberg (2001) and Shimony
5 For instance, Bernal (1939), Birch (1990), Haldane (1928), Hull (1988), Mayr (1982),
Monod (1971), Polanyi (1958) and Wilson (1998). One recent contribution to the genre
is by Francis Collins, the geneticist and leader of the Human Genome Project (Collins
6 See, for instance, Susan Stebbing’s classic critique of the idealist philosophical
conclusions drawn by the renowned British physicists James Jeans and Arthur Eddington
(Stebbing 1937/1958). See also Mario Bunge’s critiques of the idealist and subjectivist
conclusions drawn from quantum mechanics by David Bohm, Niels Bohr and many
proponents of the Copenhagen school (Bunge 1967, 2012). The criticisms underline
the point that the scientists were primarily scientists engaged with philosophy, not
professional philosophers.
7 There are countless books on the worldview of modern physics: see, for example,
contributions to Cushing and McMullin (1989), especially Abner Shimony’s
contribution ‘Search for a Worldview Which Can Accommodate Our Knowledge of
Microphysics’ (Shimony 1989). See also the contributions to the special issue of Science
& Education dealing with ‘Quantum Theory and Philosophy’ (Vol.12, Nos.5–6, 2003)
and the special issue on ‘Science and Worldviews’ (Vol.18, Nos.6–7, 2009).
8 For informative discussion, see at least: Agassi (1964), Burtt (1932), Collingwood
(1945), Holton (1988) and Wartofsky (1968).
9 It needs to be said that the recognition of the cultural dependence of science does not
mean acceptance of relativity or incommensurability between sciences or theories,
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 195
although this inference is frequently drawn. This is akin to saying that, because there
is a cultural input into Korean school mathematical performance, then this performance
cannot be compared with other nations.
10 See Lipman (1991), Lipman and Sharp (1978), Matthews, G.B. (1982) and Sprod
(2011, 2014).
11 See McDermott and Physics Education Group (1995) for such demonstrations. On
Galileo’s inclined plane experiments, see Palmieri (2011); on their classroom use, see
Turner (2012).
12 For an elaborate and informative discussion of this argument, see Buckley (1971).
13 On medieval impetus theory, see Clagett (1959) and Moody (1975).
14 A classic discussion is Clavelin (1974).
15 See Ellis (1965) and Hanson (1965) for excellent discussions of Newton’s formulation
of inertia. On force, see Ellis (1976), Hesse (1961), Hunt and Suchting (1969) and
Jammer (1957).
16 See especially those of Arnold Arons (Arons 1977, Chapters 14–15, 1990, Chapter 3),
Gerald Holton and Stephen Brush (Holton & Brush 2001, Chapter 9), James Trefil
(1978) and the Harvard Project Physics texts (Holton et al. 1974).
17 Ricardo Lopes Coelho, in a recent publication, discusses both the historical and
pedagogical literature on this topic (Coelho 2007); Calvin Kalman (2009) elaborates
and adjusts some of Coelho’s arguments.
18 Mach’s argument is discussed in Matthews (1989), and Scheffler’s argument is discussed
in Matthews (1997).
19 The classic treatments of thought experiments in the history of science are Koyré
(1953/1968, 1960), Kuhn (1964) and Mach (1896/1976). More recently, their historical
and philosophical function has been discussed by Bokulich (2001), Brown (1991),
Brown and Fehige (2011), Gendler (2000, 2004), Norton (2004), Schlesinger (1996)
and Sorensen (1992). Martin Cohen (2005) lists and discusses twenty-six thought
experiements; see also contributions to the Thought Experiments in Science and
Philosophy anthology edited by Horowitz and Massey (1991).
20 It is important to distinguish the then ‘received view’ from that of Aristotle, with which
it is often confused. The common view is perhaps an Aristotelian one, but, as Lane
points out, there is little textual evidence to attribute it to Aristotle himself. Galileo,
on p. 68 of the New Sciences, attributes to Aristotle the claim that a ‘hundred-pound
iron ball falling from the height of a hundred braccia hits the ground before one of just
one pound has descended a single braccio’. No one has been able to find this text in
Aristotle. Lane calls it ‘a sheer invention’ by Galileo. The episode is discussed in
Brackenridge (1989).
21 For Aristotle’s conception of natural motion, see Graham (1996).
22 For Einstein’s use of thought experiment, see Brown (1991/2010, pp. 15–20) and
Norton (1991).
23 Mach’s own account of thought experiments is in Chapter 11 of his Knowledge and
Error (Mach 1905/1976). Expositions of his views can be found in Hiebert (1974).
24 Particularly useful articles are: Blown and Bryce (2013), Galili (2009), Helm and Gilbert
(1985), Helm et al. (1985), Özdemir and Kösem (2014), Reiner and Burko (2003),
Reiner and Gilbert (2000), Stephens and Clement (2012), Velentzas and Halkia (2011,
2013) and Winchester (1990). The whole tradition of thought-experiment research is
reviewed in Asikainen and Hirvonen (2014).
25 It is depressing to read what is learned in typical school experiment classes. See at least:
Carey et al. (1989), Hodson (1993, 1996) and Jenkins (1999).
26 See at least: Hooker (2011), Parker (2008), Wimsatt (2007) and Winsberg (2010).
27 See at least: Arriassecq et al. (2014), De Jong et al. (2013), Scalise et al. (2011) and
Smetana and Bell (2012).
28 See, for instance, Siegel (1995).
29 Erduran and Jiménez-Aleixandre (2008) and Khine (2012).
196 Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms
30 See at least: Böttcher and Meisert (2011), Bricker and Bell (2008), Jiménez-Aleixandre
and Erduran (2008), Kuhn (2010), Nielsen (2012, 2013) and Sampson and Clark
(2008). The tradition of research is reviewed in Adúriz-Bravo (2014).
31 On these exercises, see Scriven (1976, Chapter 3). Half of David Stove’s first-year logic
course at University of Sydney, in 1966, consisted of just such exercises; they were
invaluable for atuning teenage minds to the structure and evaluation of argument inside
and outside philosophy.
32 Pierre Duhem’s To Save the Phenomena: An Essay on the Idea of Physical Theory from
Plato to Galileo (1908/1969) is an excellent source book on this tradition.
33 See Gillies (1998) on the difference between Duhem’s thesis and Quine’s thesis.
A collection of papers on the Duhem–Quine thesis is Harding (1976).
34 As early as the 1970 Postscript to his Structures, Kuhn acknowledged that there were
‘aspects of its initial formulation that create gratuitous difficulties and misunderstandings’. He later explicitly regreted writing these ‘purple passages’ (Kuhn 1991/2000),
but, by then, the irrationalist horse had bolted into uncountable philosophical,
sociological and educational paddocks.
35 For a sample of cogent defences of rationalism and the truth-seeking function of science
see, among many: Brown (1994), Devitt (1991), Musgrave (1999), Newton-Smith
(1981), Nola and Irzik (2005), Scheffler (1982), Shapere (1984), Shimony (1976),
Siegel (1987) and Smith and Siegel (2004).
36 Two reviews of the first wave of sociological literature, each citing hundreds of articles,
are Mulkay (1982) and Shapin (1982). For critiques of the strong programme, see,
among many: Brown (1984), Bunge (1991, 1992), Nola (1991, 2000) and Slezak
(1994a, 1994b).
37 Some commentators maintain that Foucault considers his ‘power is knowledge’ thesis
applies only to the social sciences and humanities, and it was not meant to cover the
natural sciences (Gutting 1989, p. 4).
38 An account of the development of intelligence testing and theory can be found in
Matthews (1980, Chapter 6).
39 See Birstein (2001), Graham (1973, 1998), Joravsky (1970), Lecourt (1977) and
Lewontin and Levins (1976).
40 See Cross and Price (1992), Musschenga and Gosling (1985), Ratcliffe and Grace
(2003) and contributions to Zeidler (2003) and Zeidler and Sadler (2008).
41 The exchange between Eger, Hesse, Shimony and others (Zygon 23(3), 1988) on
‘rationality in science and ethics’ (reproduced in Matthews 1991) shows the benefits
of striving for a modicum of philosophical sophistication in these matters. The philos –
ophers Alberto Cordero (1992) and Michael Martin (1986/1991) provide insightful and
disciplined discussion of the interplay of science, ethics and education. The research
field is reviewed in Couló (2014).
42 These are ‘Mapping and Sequencing the Human Genome: Science, Ethics and Public
Policy’ (BSCS 1992), ‘Genethics – Ball State Model’ (Ball State University, Muncie, IN)
and ‘Teacher Education in Biology’ (San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA).
The programmes are discussed in Blake (1994).
43 The Nazi case is depressingly documented in Diarmuid Jeffreys’ 2008 book, the subtitle
of which is: IG Farben and the Making of Hilter’s War Machine (Jeffreys 2008). See
also John Cornwell’s 2003 book, the subtitle of which is Science, War and the Devil’s
Pact (Cornwell 2003).
44 The Soviet Union case is equally depressingly documented in Vadim Birstein’s The
Perversion of Knowledge (Birstein 2001).
45 Among countless good books, see: Robert Bell’s Impure Science (Bell 1992), D.S.
Greenberg’s Science, Money and Politics (Greenberg 2001) and David Noble’s America
by Design (Noble 1979).
46 Bacon did not believe that such influences needed to be denied or eradicated, just that
they had to be recognised and corrected for where necessary; he was happy for the new
science to serve social ends and promote welfare. For an informative discussion of
Philosophy in Science and in Science Classrooms 197
Bacon’s texts and their philosophical context, see Gaukroger (2001, pp. 118–131) and
Urbach (1987, Chapter 4).
47 The chapter repeats the more-discussed argument of Rudner (1953).
48 See at least: Carrier (2013), Davson-Galle (2002), Develaki (2008), Doppelt (2008),
Douglas (2009), Kitcher (2001), Lacey (2005), Longino (1990, 2008), Machamer and
Douglas (1999), Resnik (1998, 2007), Rooney (1992) and Ruphy (2006). See also
contributions to Carrier et al. (2008) and Dupré et al. (2007).
49 Mario Bunge warns: ‘The simpler hypothesis may also be the most simple-minded, and
the simpler methods the least exact and exacting’ (Bunge 1963, p. 86).
50 Other early contributions can be seen in anthologies such as J. Harding (1986), Harding
and Hintikka (1983), Keohane et al. (1982), Lowe and Hubbard (1983) and Tuana
Aalberts, J., Koster, E. and Boschuizen, R.: 2012, From Prejudice to Reasonable Judgement:
Integrating (Moral) Value Discussions in University Courses, Journal of Moral
Education 41(4), 437–455.
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