Mechanism of Method Employment
When the classical philosophy of science finally came to terms with the fact that methods of theory assessment do in fact change through time, the question became how exactly they change. Since circa 1980, explaining the process of transitions from one employed method to the next has been one of the most challenging tasks for any theory of scientific change. A proper answer to this question helps to shed light on one of the key aspects of scientific change.
In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is:
- A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.
A number of philosophers of science addressed the question of method employment before the inception of scientonomy. Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Dudley Shapere, Larry Laudan, and Ernan McMullin all suggested that our theories about the world shape our methods of theory evaluation.
Dudley Shapere greatly developed the idea of beliefs affecting methods of theory evaluation in his The Character of Scientific Change, where he argued that the criteria scientists employ in theory assessment are not transcendent to science but are an integral part of it.2
Similarly, in his Science and Values, Larry Laudan argued that the discovery of previously unaccounted effects (such as placebo effect or experimenter's bias) resulted in the formulation of new methods of drug testing.3
The same idea has been expressed around the same time by Ernan McMullin. In his account of the transition from the Aristotelian Medieval method to the hypothetico-deductive method in the early 18th century, McMullin shows that the employment of the hypothetico-deductivism was a result of accepting that the world is more complex than it appears in our observations.4
In this formulation, it wasn't clear whether employed methods follow from all or only some of the accepted theories and employed methods of the time. This led to a logical paradox which was resolved by Zoe Sebastien in 2016. In her reformulation of the law, Sebastien made explicit that an employed method need not necessarily follow from all other employed methods and accepted theories but only from some of them.10 This made it possible for an employed method to be logically inconsistent and yet compatible with openly accepted methodological dicta.
|Community||Accepted From||Acceptance Indicators||Still Accepted||Accepted Until||Rejection Indicators|
|Scientonomy||1 January 2016||This is when the community accepted its first answer to this question, The Third Law (Barseghyan-2015), which indicates that the question is itself considered legitimate.||Yes|
|The Third Law (Barseghyan-2015)||A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.||2015|
|The Third Law (Sebastien-2016)||A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.||2016|
|The Law of Method Employment (Rawleigh-2022)||A method becomes employed only if it is derivable from a non-empty subset of other elements of the mosaic.||2022|
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|Community||Theory||Accepted From||Accepted Until|
|Scientonomy||The Third Law (Barseghyan-2015)||1 January 2016||21 January 2017|
|Scientonomy||The Third Law (Sebastien-2016)||21 January 2017|
|Modification||Community||Date Suggested||Summary||Verdict||Verdict Rationale||Date Assessed|
|Sciento-2016-0001||Scientonomy||3 September 2016||Accept a new formulation of the third law to make it clear that employed methods do not have to be deducible from all accepted theories and employed methods but only from some.||Accepted||There was a community consensus that "the new formulation of the third law does bring an additional level of precision to our understanding of the mechanism of method change".c1 The community agreed that the new formulation "makes a clarification that, on its own, warrants this modification's acceptance".c2 Importantly, it was also agreed that the modification "solves the paradox of normative propositions".c3||21 January 2017|
|Sciento-2022-0002||Scientonomy||28 February 2022||Accept the new law of norm employment that fixes some of the issues of the current law of method employment and makes it applicable to norms of all types.||Open|
The Third Law (Sebastien-2016) states: "A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time."
The initial formulation of the law, proposed by Barseghyan in The Laws of Scientific Change, stated that a method becomes employed only when it is deducible from other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.9 In that formulation, it wasn't clear whether employed methods follow from all or only some of the accepted theories and employed methods of the time. This led to a logical paradox which this reformulation attempts to solve.10
This reformulation of the law makes explicit that an employed method need not necessarily follow from all other employed methods and accepted theories but only from some of them. This made it possible for an employed method to be logically inconsistent and yet compatible with openly accepted methodological dicta.
In all other respects, this formulation preserves the gist of Barseghyan's original formulation. According to the third law, a method becomes employed when:
- it strictly follows from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories, or
- it implements some abstract requirements of other employed methods.
This restates Barseghyan's original suggestion that accepted theories shape the set of implicit criteria employed in theory assessment. When a new theory is accepted, this often leads to the employment of an abstract requirement to take that new theory into account when testing relevant contender theories. This abstract requirement is then specified by a new employed method.
The evolution of the drug trial methods is an example of the third law in action. For example, the discovery of the placebo effect in drug testing demonstrates that fake treatment can cause improvement in patient symptoms. As a result of its discovery the abstract requirement of “when assessing a drug’s efficacy, the possible placebo effect must be taken into account” was generated. This abstract requirement is, by definition, an accepted theory which stipulates that, if ignored, substantial doubt would be cast on any trial. As a result of this new theory, the Single-Blind Trial method was devised. The currently employed method in drug testing is the Double-Blind Trial, a method which specifies all of the abstract requirements of its predecessors. It is an apt illustration of how new methods are generated through the acceptance of new theories, as well as how new methods employ the abstract requirements of their predecessors.9
In Barseghyan’s explication of the Aristotelian-Medieval method, he illustrates how Aristotelian natural philosophy impacted the method of the time. One of the key features of the Aristotelian-scholastic method was the requirement of intuition schooled by experience, i.e. that a proposition is acceptable if it grasps the nature of a thing though intuition schooled by experience. The requirement itself was a deductive consequence of several assumptions accepted at the time. One of the assumptions underlying this requirement was the idea that every natural thing has a nature, a substantial quality that makes a thing what it is (e.g. a human's nature is their capacity of reason). Another assumption underlying the requirement was the idea that nature of a thing can be grasped intuitively by those who are most experienced with the things of that type. The requirements of the intuitive truth followed from these assumptions. The scholastic-Aristotelians scholars wouldn’t require intuitive truths grasped by an experienced person if they didn’t believe that things have natures that could be grasped intuitively by experts.
The third law has also proven useful in explicating such requirements as Confirmed Novel Predictions (CNP). According to the hypothetico-deductive method, a theory which challenges our accepted ontology must provide CNP in order to become accepted. However, the history of CNP has been a point of confusion for some time. By the Third Law, one can show that the requirement of CNP has not always been expected of new theories. When Newton published his Principia, CNP were not a requirement of his professed method, yet they were still provided. On the other hand, Clark’s law of diminishing returns had no such predictions. This is because Newton’s proposal of unobservable entities, such as gravity and absolute space, challenged the accepted ontology of the time, while Clark’s simply accounted for the data already available. Thus, in utilizing the Third Law, one can discover both when certain criteria become an implicit rule and under what conditions they are necessary.
This question is a subquestion of Mechanism of Norm Employment.
It has the following sub-topic(s):
- Deducibility in Method Employment
- Implementation vs. Employment of Methods
- Methodology and Methods
- Role of Used Theories in Method Employment
- Synchronism vs. Asynchronism of Method Employment
- The Paradox of Normative Propositions
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
- Shapere, Dudley. (1980) The Character of Scientific Change. In Nickles (Ed.) (1980), 61-116.
- Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
- McMullin, Ernan. (1988) The Shaping of Scientific Rationality: Construction and Constraint. In McMullin (Ed.) (1988), 1-47.
- Lindberg, David. (2007) The Beginnings of Western Science. The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, Second Edition. University Of Chicago Press.
- Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve. (1979) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.
- Barnes, Barry; Bloor, David and Henry, John. (1996) Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis. University of Chicago Press.
- Feyerabend, Paul. (1975) Against Method. New Left Books.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
- Sebastien, Zoe. (2016) The Status of Normative Propositions in the Theory of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 1, 1-9. Retrieved from https://www.scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/26947.