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What is method? How should it be defined?

One of the tasks of scientonomy is to explain how methods change through time. Thus, a proper definition of method is in order.

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. Method (Barseghyan-2015) is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available definition of the term. Method (Barseghyan-2015) states "A set of requirements for employment in theory assessment."


In classical philosophy of science, although theories and methods are closely bound up with one another, theories change but the scientific method does not. According to Hoyningen-Huene,12 from the time of the Ancients until the second half of the 20th century science just was characterized by its method. Aristotle and his medieval successors identified science with absolute certainty guaranteed by axiomatic proof. In the Prior and Posterior Analytics as well as the Organon, Aristotle identified three determinants of scientific method: the aims of discovery/ordering/display of facts gained through passive observation, the nature of the knowledge pursued as well as the explanatory causes of that kind of knowledge, and a logical system to aid the proper arrangement of and inferences from observation.3 In the West, these ideas were perpetuated and refined by medieval thinkers like Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, Andreas Vesalius, and Giacomo Zabarella. They developed accounts of the acquisition of knowledge through observation and induction and rules for the justification and application of induction. Scholars from the East such as Al-Kindi, Alhazen, and Averroes were more critical of the Ancients.

The Scientific Revolution of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries involved serious reflection on the legitimacy of the methods that facilitated the rapid advancements in scientific knowledge at the time. Thinkers like Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon emphasized mathematical description and mechanical explanation as important constituents of a disinterested method. Isaac Newton’s Opticks (1704)4 and Principia Mathematica (1726)5 also excluded non-epistemic values and subjectivity from scientific practice through his implicit method of experiments and reasoning and his explicit methodological rules. Subsequent thinkers clarified and reinforced Newton’s approach, including Colin Maclaurin, Denis Diderot, and Francesco Algarotti. However, some criticized the self-effacement of the scientist and inductivism. These thinkers include the likes of George Berkeley (1734),6 who challenged the Newtonian image of science, and David Hume’s attack on induction (1739).7

A search for new foundations to undergird the empirical method ensued in response to these critics. The most notable example is Immanuel Kant’s (1781) reply to Hume in the Critique of Pure Reason.8 Kant’s contributions generated additional debates on science and methods. In centre stage during the 19th century was John S. Mill’s inductivism versus William Whewell’s hypothetico-deductivism. For both thinkers, theory acceptance and method employment remained closely bound up.

But the quantum revolution of the 20th century soon uprooted the security of commonsense intuitions, coaxing a renewed empiricism. From this emerged a methodological distinction by Hans Reichenbach (1938) between the contexts of discovery and justification.9 The literature focused on the latter, especially through such works as Rudolf Carnap’s logical positivism which attempted to axiomatize scientific theories.

Nevertheless, the distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification was challenged by the theory-ladenness of observation. Emphasis on the sociological, institutional, material, and political variables within science grew, thanks to the work of pioneers like Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lakatos, Dudley Shapere, Larry Laudan, and Ernan McMullin. They replaced the positivists’ rational image of science with historicism. Some sociologists went further, claiming that it was not methods but social ideologies or individual interactions/circumstances that primarily determined the beliefs that obtained to scientific knowledge (e.g., Latour and Woolgar (1979),10 (1986),11 Shapin and Schaffer (1985)12). In addition, philosophers of science increasingly specialized on specific fields within science.3 Combined, these changes culminated in the abandonment of a grand unifying scientific methodology. Furthermore, by the 1980s philosophers of science concluded that theories and methods change and, moreover, theories shape methods.

But philosophers like Larry Laudan rejected the notion that change in science occurs all at once. Instead, he proposed that theories and methodologies can change at different times. Contemporary studies attempt to reconcile sociological and rationalist accounts of scientific knowledge and method to understand how methods change, especially in relation to theory acceptance.


The original definition of the term was proposed by Barseghyan in 2015.13

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Scientonomy1 January 2016That's when the first scientonomic definition of the term, Method (Barseghyan-2015), became accepted, which is a indication that the topic itself is considered legitimate.Yes

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Method (Barseghyan-2015)A set of requirements for employment in theory assessment.2015
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ScientonomyMethod (Barseghyan-2015)1 January 2016

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Current View

In Scientonomy community, the accepted definition of the term is Method (Barseghyan-2015). It is defined as: "A set of requirements for employment in theory assessment."

Method (Barseghyan-2015).png

Any method is essentially a set of criteria which can become employed by an epistemic agent in theory evaluation. Methods can be very general and apply to theories of a variety of types (e.g. the hypothetico-deductive method), or very specific (e.g. the double-blind trial method of drug testing). Read More

Related Topics

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  1. ^  Hoyningen-Huene, Paul. (2008) Systematicity: The Nature of Science. Philosophia 36 (2), 167-180.
  2. ^  Hoyningen-Huene, Paul. (2013) Systematicity: The Nature of Science. Oxford University Press.
  3. a b  Andersen, Hanne and Hepburn, Brian. (2015) Scientific Method. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from
  4. ^  Newton, Isaac. (1704) Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Prince's Arms in St. Paul's Churchyard. Retrieved from
  5. ^  Newton, Isaac. (1999) The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. University of California Press.
  6. ^  Berkeley, George. (1992) De Motu and The Analyst: A Modern Edition with Introductions and Commentary. Springer.
  7. ^  Hume, David. (2000) A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford University Press.
  8. ^  Kant, Immanuel. (1781) Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge University Press.
  9. ^  Reichenbach, Hans. (1938) Experience and Prediction: An Analysis of the Foundations and the Structure of Knowledge. Literary Licensing.
  10. ^  Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve. (1979) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.
  11. ^  Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. 2nd Edition. Princeton University Press.
  12. ^  Shapin, Steven and Schaffer, Simon. (1985) Leviathan and the Air-Pump. Princeton University Press.
  13. ^  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.


Charlotte Marcotte-Toale (34.7%), Paul Patton (29.2%), Hakob Barseghyan (36.1%)