What are the fundamental epistemic elements that undergo scientific change?
In principle, the process of scientific change can concern many different types of entities. One important question is to establish the most fundamental units that undergo scientific change. Over the years, it has been argued that the fundamental units of scientific change include theories (Popper), paradigms (Kuhn), research programmes (Lakatos), research traditions (early Laudan), methods (Kuhn, Shapere, later Laudan), and values (Kuhn, later Laudan). This is not surprising, as any theory of scientific change needs to establish a basic ontology of scientific change.
In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. Epistemic Elements - Questions and Theories (Barseghyan-2018) is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available answer to the question. It is formulated as: "The two basic classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are questions and theories, where each theory is an attempt to answer a certain question, and method is a subtype of normative theory."
Karl Popper’s theory of scientific change took theories to be the basic units of scientific change. According to Popper, as well as many other philosophers of science of the pre-Kuhnian era, it is theories that become accepted and rejected during the process of scientific change. 1
Thomas Kuhn's theory of scientific change identified the ontological units of scientific change as frameworks which he referred to as paradigms, which can be defined as a characteristic set of beliefs and preconceptions held by a scientific community including instrumental, theoretical, and metaphysical commitments all together.23 Kuhn himself confessed that he had confusingly used the term in several different senses.3 In an attempt to clarify matters he sought to replace his broadest definition of the paradigm, given above, with the concept of disciplinary matrices, defined as those shared elements that account for the relatively unproblematic professional communication and relative unanimity of professional judgment within a scientific community.3 For Kuhn, then, a theory of scientific change ought to deal with disciplinary matrices and their changes over time.
In Imre Lakatos’ theory of scientific change, the ontological elements were individual scientific theories and his so-called scientific research programmes4 which were reducible to distinct families of scientific theories. For Lakatos, a scientific research programme consisted of all theories which shared a common hard core of empirical content and a peripheral protective belt of potentially distinct empirical content such that a small change in the protective belt would not impact the ontology of the theory. The hard core of empirical content constituted that which links together all theories in the research programme as subscribing to the same physical ontology. Within this framework, the units of scientific change are piecemeal changes in the peripheral elements of research programmes, and the rejection of these programmes themselves.
Larry Laudan also proposed a theory of scientific change, namely his reticulated model,5 wherein there are scientific theories, scientific methods, and scientific values, all interdependent. In this model, the epistemic elements are theories, methods, and values, and this model posits that the values of the community are reflected in the methods, and the methods determine which theories become accepted. However, he also notes that the accepted theories influence which methods the community will employ, and can equally change the values of the community. In this respect, the reticulated model is a fully dynamic, covariant theory of scientific change wherein all epistemic elements influence one another. This was notably one of the first attempts at a theory of scientific change that included a dynamic method and acknowledged that such a dynamic method could itself be influenced by the theories that become accepted under it.
Initially, the ontology of scientific change was posited in the Metatheory of the LSC through the definition of scientific mosaic as a set of all accepted theories and employed methods.6 Towards the end of 2016, it gradually became clear that the ontology of a field cannot and should not be postulated via definitions. What constitutes the elements of a certain ontology must be established by empirical research and, thus, is not a matter of definitions. In other words, the question of what constitutes the ontology of a certain field is a descriptive question, not definitional. Indeed, what sort of elements change during the process of scientific change is not something that should be decided by a definition, but should be formulated as a descriptive theory that says "Such-and-such elements undergo scientific change".
|Community||Accepted From||Acceptance Indicators||Still Accepted||Accepted Until||Rejection Indicators|
|Scientonomy||1 January 2016||The question was tacitly accepted even before its explicit formulation in 2017. Thus, it has the same acceptance date as the rest of the original TSC.||Yes|
|Epistemic Elements - Theories and Methods (Barseghyan-2015)||The two classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are accepted theories (as a set of propositions that attempts to describe something) and employed methods (as a set of criteria for theory evaluation).||2015|
|Epistemic Elements - Theories and Methods (Sebastien-2017)||The two classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are accepted theories - both descriptive and normative - and employed methods.||2017|
|Epistemic Elements - Theories Methods and Questions (Rawleigh-2018)||The three classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are theories, methods, and questions.||2018|
|Epistemic Elements - Questions and Theories (Barseghyan-2018)||The two basic classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are questions and theories, where each theory is an attempt to answer a certain question, and method is a subtype of normative theory.||2018|
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|Community||Theory||Accepted From||Accepted Until|
|Scientonomy||Epistemic Elements - Theories and Methods (Barseghyan-2015)||1 January 2016||15 February 2017|
|Scientonomy||Epistemic Elements - Theories and Methods (Sebastien-2017)||15 February 2017||26 September 2018|
|Scientonomy||Epistemic Elements - Theories Methods and Questions (Rawleigh-2018)||26 September 2018||1 September 2019|
|Scientonomy||Epistemic Elements - Questions and Theories (Barseghyan-2018)||1 September 2019|
|Modification||Community||Date Suggested||Summary||Verdict||Verdict Rationale||Date Assessed|
|Sciento-2017-0002||Scientonomy||23 January 2017||Accept a new ontology of scientific change where the two fundamental elements are theories - both descriptive and normative - and methods.||Accepted||The community has agreed that after the solution of the paradox of normative propositions, there are no obstacles for including normative propositions into the ontology of scientific change.c1 c2 c3 It was also agreed that including normative propositions into the ontology of scientific change "would allow us to grasp the role that methodological and ethical rules play in science".c4||15 February 2017|
|Sciento-2018-0002||Scientonomy||12 May 2018||Accept the ontology of epistemic elements with theories, methods, and questions as distinct epistemic elements.||Accepted||Following several focused discussions - both in-person and on the discussion page of this modification - it was finally decided that the modification is to be accepted. Three important clarifications were made. First, it was noted that Rawleigh only shows that questions cannot be reduced either to methods or to theories, but it is still conceivable "that questions may be functions of both theories and methods simultaneously".c1 Second, it was decided that accepting the modification is still warranted, since currently we don't have any idea how questions could be reduced to a conjunction of theories and methods.c2 Third, scientonomists are actively encouraged to pursue the question of possibility of reducing questions to a conjunction of theories and methods.c3||26 September 2018|
|Sciento-2018-0006||Scientonomy||8 October 2018||Accept the new ontology of epistemic elements with, theories and questions are the two basic epistemic elements where and each theory is an attempt to answer a certain question, theories can be of three types – descriptive, normative, or definitions, and methods are a subtype of normative theory.||Accepted||Following a series of off-line discussions, a consensus emerged concerning this modification: it was agreed that the modification is to be accepted.c1 It was mentioned that most of the elements of this new ontology "has already been accepted by the scientonomic community".c2 It was also stressed that "the consensus has been manifested on several occasions, including the first scientonomy conference in May 2019 in Toronto, where several of the presenters treated this new ontology as accepted."c3 The fact that the consensus concerning this modification has been achieved primarily off-line, i.e. outside of the discussion pages of this encyclopedia suggests that the scientonomic "workflow must have a way of accommodating these discussions".c4||1 September 2019|
In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is Epistemic Elements - Questions and Theories (Barseghyan-2018).
Epistemic Elements - Questions and Theories (Barseghyan-2018) states: "The two basic classes of elements that can undergo scientific change are questions and theories, where each theory is an attempt to answer a certain question, and method is a subtype of normative theory."
In this ontology of epistemic elements, theories are conceived of as attempts to answer certain questions. Theories can be of three types – descriptive, normative, or definitions. Method is understood as a subtype of normative theory. The ontology also posits that both questions and theories of all types – including methods – can be accepted. Finally, the ontology suggests that normative theories of all types can be employed.
This question is a subquestion of Ontology of Scientific Change.
It has the following sub-topic(s):
- Reducibility of Definitions
- Status of Disciplinary Boundaries
- Status of Models
- Status of Normative Propositions
- Status of Questions
- Status of Tacit Theories
- Status of Technological Knowledge
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Popper, Karl. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Hutchinson & Co.
- Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
- Kuhn, Thomas. (1977) The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. University of Chicago Press.
- Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-101.
- Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.