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Physics Colloquium on Science and Philosophy

Lectures: Colloquium by Dr Basit Bilal Koshul (Lahore University of Management Sciences) on 'Does Science Need Philosophy?'


Dr Basit Bilal Koshul
Lahore University of Management Sciences
Lahore, Pakistan

Does Science Need Philosophy?

The talk will consider this question as it has been framed by a historian of science (Gerald Holton) from the perspective of Max Weber’s sociology of culture and Charles Peirce’s philosophy of science. Weber’s description of cultural evolution suggests that the answer to the question is “No!” and Peirce’s description of “science” and “philosophy” suggests that the answer is “Yes!”. By taking Holton’s reflections on the “space” of scientific inquiry into account, we see that the Weberian and Peircean positions do not negate but rather complement each other.

Weber notes that “Scientific progress is a fraction – indeed, the most important fraction – of that process of intellectualization to which we have been subject for thousands of years...” While they were originally an integrated whole, at the present stage of cultural evolution, science and philosophy have become two distinct and autonomous areas. Holton was a practicing physicist who became a trained historian. With this dual training, he studied the historical development of physics from Kepler to Einstein (with a special focus on the period between 1900-1930). Based on evidence gathered from these studies, Holton showed that all scientific inquiry is indeed composed of “analytic” (mathematical) and “phenomenic” (empirical) elements. But there is a third (almost always neglected) element, the “thematic” (the “philosophical” commitments of the scientist). This third element has played a central role in the emergence and evolution of modern physics.

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Sponsored by: Department of Physics and Astronomy