Accepted Methodology and Theory Pursuit
Is there any connection between an accepted methodology and the pursuit of a theory?
There may be a connection between theory pursuit and an accepted methodology. For example string theory receives little funding by comparison with other pursued theories. This might be because no one has yet identified a way of falsifying string theory. This goes against the falsificationist methodology that is currently widely accepted by the physics community.
In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan, Jennifer Whyte and Jacob MacKinnon in 2016. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. At the moment, the question has no accepted answer in Scientonomy.
Deriving directly from the mechanisms of theory pursuit, the relation between methodologies and pursued theories seems almost intuitive for authors like Imre Lakatos. Lakatos’ system of degenerating and progressive theories is largely based around the explanatory power of the program, which in turn is determined by the theory choice Lakatos outlines. This theory choice is based around progressive and regressive modifications in terms of unity, empirical content, and corroboration.1 To, at all, determine whether a program is degenerating or progressive, it is necessary that its theories be subjected to Lakatos’ criteria of theory choice. In essence, all pursued theories undergo evaluation of a methodology and are then judged irrational or rational to pursue based on status within this methodology.
A theory can never exit the scope of a methodology in such a system because determining the explanatory power of a program requires that this theory be expressly evaluated by the methodology of the time; in this case Lakatos’ singular and permanent methodology.
For Paul Feyerabend, a critic of Lakatos’ work, such a connection between methodology and pursued theories is nonexistent. Feyerabend being a critic of methodological monism, believed that any such methodology always consisted of the same four elements: falsification, empirical content, corroboration, and consistency. 2 These four elements in every case, when applied to history, implied no scientific progress. As such, Feyerabend believed in “anything goes,” the idea that any theory is worth pursuing.
In a simpler case, for an author like Thomas Kuhn, theory pursuit seems to once again have an intuitive connection to methodology. Since for Kuhn, scientific change happens sporadically and instantaneously, theories that are pursued within certain scientific paradigms always follow the same hierarchical system Kuhn laid out. From the top of the hierarchy: world views, methods, and theories. 3 Any proposed theories worth pursuit would always have to fit the method of the time lest they create a scientific revolution where everything is totally reconstructed from scratch.
A case of a harder to draw connection of theory pursuit and methodology lies in the works of Larry Laudan. Laudan never stated explicitly what the mechanisms of theory pursuit were for him, but he believed in a reticulated system where views, methods, and theories each have a distinct influence on each other. Here a more complex connection exists between pursued theories in that they must at least satisfy either the method or the view of the time, in this way having some connection to the method of the time.4
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This question is a subquestion of Mechanism of Theory Pursuit.
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-101.
- Motterlini, Matteo. (Ed.). (1999) For and Against Method. University of Chicago Press.
- Godfrey-Smith, Peter. (2003) Theory and Reality. University of Chicago Press.
- Laudan, Larry. (1977) Progress and Its Problems. University of California Press.