Ontology of Scientific Change
What is the ontology of scientific change? What are the fundamental entities, processes, and relations of scientific change?
In the process of scientific change, we are dealing with different epistemic agents, taking different epistemic stances towards different epistemic elements. For instance, we can say that the Paris community of 1720 accepted Cartesian natural philosophy. In this example, Paris community is the epistemic agent, acceptance is their epistemic stance, and Cartesian natural philosophy is the epistemic element. There are a number of important ontological questions that arise here:
- What types of epistemic agents can there be? I.e. can epistemic agents be communal, individual and/or artificial (instruments, AI)?
- What types of epistemic elements can there be in the process of scientific change? I.e. are there theories, method, values, research programmes, paradigms, etc.?
- What are the different epistemic stances that an agent can take towards an element? I.e. do these include acceptance, use, pursuit, employment, commitment, neglect, rejection, etc.?
Addressing these questions is the main task of the ontology of scientific change.
In Scientonomy, the accepted answers to the question can be summarized as follows:
- The subtypes of epistemic agent are epistemic community and individual epistemic agent.
- The subtypes of epistemic element are explicit, implicit, question and theory.
- The subtypes of epistemic stance are compatibility, norm employment, question acceptance, theory acceptance, theory pursuit and theory use.
- The stance of compatibility can be taken towards an epistemic element.
- The possible outcomes of theory assessment are satisfied, not satisfied, and inconclusive.
- 1 Broader History
- 2 Scientonomic History
- 3 Current View
- 4 Related Topics
Historically, theories of scientific change differed not only in their explanations of how science changes through time, but also in their views on what exactly underwent change in science. Thus, a range of different ontologies of scientific change have been suggested over the years.
In the early twentieth century, logical positivists formulated an ontology of scientific change. While they individually held varying views, we can summarize their ontology by generalizing from the overlap between authors. The positivists generally supposed that there was a single scientific method that did not change through history or across disciplines so that the only epistemic elements capable of change in their ontology were scientific theories.1 A similar ontology was championed by many non-positivist authors, including Karl Popper.2
Despite its inherent vagueness, Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions can be interpreted as suggesting a number of new ontological elements, including methods, values, questions, standards, and problems. It is not quite clear whether these are all meant to be independent epistemic elements in their own right. Kuhn also famously used a whole range of words denoting epistemic stances, such as embraced, universally received, acknowledged, and committed among many others.3 It remains to be seen whether he meant them as synonyms, or whether he ascribed different meanings to at least some of them.4
Imre Lakatos generated a holistic account of scientific change slightly regressive to previous ontologies. Lakatos kept Kuhn’s view of the fluidity of paradigms within scientific communities however, with two small modifications. Firstly, Lakatos saw paradigms as research programmes, of which many simultaneously existed, and secondly Lakatos believed they followed a more rational model of change, i.e. modifications were judged as regressive or progressive based on certain conditions.5 With regards to regression, Paul Feyerabend criticized Lakatos for once again suggesting that theories can only be pursued. The whole system Lakatos built was a high functioning competition between research programmes.6 As such, per Lakatos, theories could never really be accepted, and thus they carried the potential to threaten science with a potentially infinite number of theories all of which are rational to pursue.
Finally, Larry Laudan paints the closest picture to the ontology scientonomy posits today. Laudan recognized values, theories, and methodologies as epistemic elements with relations to scientists as epistemic agents. Theories could be accepted under his view and methodologies could be employed. Each epistemic element under Laudan’s reticulated model could be modified. Laudan did not recognize the potential of theories to be used but not accepted but he did recognize pursued and accepted theories in contrast to Lakatos and the logical positivists.7
In Barseghyan's The Laws of Scientific Change, the question of the ontology of scientific change is discussed without being explicitly formulated. While the question has been accepted and discussed at length by the scientonomy community ever since its inception, it wasn't until the early 2017 when the question was openly formulated and documented.
Barseghyan's original ontology included:
- Theories and methods as the only two types of epistemic elements that undergo scientific change;4
- Three epistemic stances towards theories: acceptance, use, and pursuit,4 as well as one epistemic stance towards methods, employment;4
- Community as the sole epistemic agent capable of taking these stances towards theories and methods.4
Only descriptive theories were included in Barseghyan's original ontology, while the status of normative theories was left indeterminate due to the the paradox of normative propositions. Once the paradox of normative propositions was resolved, the original ontology was extended by Sebastien to also include normative theories.8
In 2018, Rawleigh suggested that questions are to be accepted as a separate type of epistemic element; the suggestion became accepted later that year and the ontology was modified to include theories, methods, and questions.9
The ontology was further modified by Barseghyan in 2018. In his redrafted ontology, he suggested that methods are a subtype of normative theory. He also suggested including definitions as a subtype of theory.10 As a result of the acceptance of that modification, theories and questions became the two basic subtypes of epistemic elements, with definitions, normative, and descriptive theories being subtypes of theory.
|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|
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In Scientonomy, the accepted answers to the question are Epistemic Community Is a Subtype of Epistemic Agent (Barseghyan-2018), Individual Epistemic Agent Is a Subtype of Epistemic Agent (Patton-2019), Question Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Rawleigh-2018), Theory Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Barseghyan-2015), Explicit Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Mirkin-2018), Implicit Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Mirkin-2018), Theory Acceptance Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2015), Norm Employment Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2018), Question Acceptance Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Rawleigh-2018), Compatibility Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Fraser-Sarwar-2018), Theory Use Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2015), Theory Pursuit Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2015), Epistemic Stances Towards Epistemic Elements - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018) and Theory Assessment Outcomes (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017).
Epistemic Community Is a Subtype of Epistemic Agent (Barseghyan-2018) states: "Epistemic Community is a subtype of Epistemic Agent, i.e. epistemic agent is a supertype of epistemic community."
Individual Epistemic Agent Is a Subtype of Epistemic Agent (Patton-2019) states: "Individual Epistemic Agent is a subtype of Epistemic Agent, i.e. epistemic agent is a supertype of individual epistemic agent."
According to Patton, individuals are "capable of taking epistemic stances towards epistemic elements, with reason, based on a semantic understanding of the elements and their available alternatives, and with the goal of producing knowledge".11
Question Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Rawleigh-2018) states: "Question is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of question."
A study of the process of scientific change reveals many cases when a question that was considered legitimate in a certain time-period became illegitimate in another period. For example, the questions such as “what is the weight of phlogiston?” or “why does some matter gain mass as it loses phlogiston?” were accepted as legitimate topics of inquiry for the most part of the 18th century. Yet, once the phlogiston theory was rejected, these questions became illegitimate. Another examples is the question “what is the distance from the earth to the sphere of stars?” that was once considered legitimate by astronomers, but is no longer accepted.9
Similarly, there are questions which are considered legitimate these days but weren't accepted even a few centuries ago. An example of this is the question “what’s the underlying mechanics of the evolution of species?” - a perfectly legitimate topic of biological research nowadays that would have been deemed illegitimate three hundred years ago.9
These examples suggest that questions are part of the process of scientific changes. More specifically, they are a subtype of epistemic element.
Theory Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Barseghyan-2015) states: "Theory is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of theory."
According to this theory, theories are a subtype of epistemic element. Among other things, this assumes that epsitemic stances can be taken by epistemic agents towards theories.
Explicit Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Mirkin-2018) states: "Explicit is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of explicit."
Implicit Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Mirkin-2018) states: "Implicit is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of implicit."
Theory Acceptance Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2015) states: "Theory Acceptance is a subtype of Epistemic Stance, i.e. epistemic stance is a supertype of theory acceptance."
Norm Employment Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2018) states: "Norm Employment is a subtype of Epistemic Stance, i.e. epistemic stance is a supertype of norm employment."
Question Acceptance Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Rawleigh-2018) states: "Question Acceptance is a subtype of Epistemic Stance, i.e. epistemic stance is a supertype of question acceptance."
Compatibility Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Fraser-Sarwar-2018) states: "Compatibility is a subtype of Epistemic Stance, i.e. epistemic stance is a supertype of compatibility."
According to Fraser and Sarwar, "compatibility is a distinct epistemic stance that agents can take towards elements".12 They show this by arguing that it is possible to take the stance of compatibility towards a pair of elements without taking any of the other stances towards these elements. Thus, compatibility is distinct from acceptance, since two elements need not be in the same mosaic, or even accepted by any agent to be considered, in principle, compatible. For example, an epistemic agent may consider Ptolemaic astrology compatible with Aristotelian natural philosophy without accepting either Ptolemaic astrology or Aristotelian natural philosophy. Compatibility is also different from use, since a pair of theories can be considered compatible regardless of whether any of them is considered useful. For instance, one can consider quantum mechanics and evolutionary biology compatible, while finding only the former useful. Finally, compatibility is also distinct from pursuit, since an agent can consider a pair of theories compatible with or without pursuing either. An agent, for instance, may find two alternative quantum theories pursuitworthy while clearly realizing that the two are incompatible.
Theory Use Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2015) states: "Theory Use is a subtype of Epistemic Stance, i.e. epistemic stance is a supertype of theory use."
Theory Pursuit Is a Subtype of Epistemic Stance (Barseghyan-2015) states: "Theory Pursuit is a subtype of Epistemic Stance, i.e. epistemic stance is a supertype of theory pursuit."
Epistemic Stances Towards Epistemic Elements - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018) states: "The stance of compatibility can be taken towards an epistemic element."
Fraser and Sarwar argued that, as an epistemic stance, compatibility can be taken towards epistemic elements of all types.12
Theory Assessment Outcomes (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017) states: "The possible outcomes of theory assessment are satisfied, not satisfied, and inconclusive."
According to this ontology of theory assessment outcomes, when a theory is assessed by a method, one of the three following outcomes can obtain:4
- Satisfied: the theory is deemed to conclusively meet the requirements of the method employed at the time.
- Not Satisfied: the theory is deemed to conclusively not meet the requirements of the method employed at the time.
- Inconclusive: it is unclear whether or not the requirements of the method employed at the time are met.
While the first two assessment outcomes are conclusive, the third outcome is inconclusive, as it permits more than one possible course of action. Thus, in this view, a theory's assessment outcome is not necessarily conclusive; an inconclusive outcome is also conceivable.
This ontology is assumed by the second law of scientific change as formulated by Patton, Overgaard, and Barseghyan in 2017.
It has the following sub-topic(s):
- Bearers of Mosaic
- Epistemic Stances Towards Epistemic Elements
- Existence of Method Hierarchies
- Hierarchy of Theories
- Status of Multiple Mutual Delegation
- Status of Non-Hierarchical Authority Delegation
- Subtypes of Epistemic Agent
- Subtypes of Epistemic Element
- Subtypes of Epistemic Stance
- Theory Assessment Outcomes
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Schlick, Moritz. (1931) Die Kausalität in der Gegenwärtigen Physik. Die Naturwissenschaften 19, 145-162.
- Popper, Karl. (1963) Conjectures and Refutations. Routledge.
- Kuhn, Thomas. (1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: Second Edition, Enlarged. University of Chicago Press.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
- Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-101.
- Feyerabend, Paul. (1970) Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 4 (2), 17-129.
- Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
- 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.
- Rawleigh, William. (2018) The Status of Questions in the Ontology of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 2, 1-12. Retrieved from https://scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/29651.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2018) Redrafting the Ontology of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 2, 13-38. Retrieved from https://scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/31032.
- Patton, Paul. (2019) Epistemic Tools and Epistemic Agents in Scientonomy. Scientonomy 3, 63-89. Retrieved from https://scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/33621.
- Fraser, Patrick and Sarwar, Ameer. (2018) A Compatibility Law and the Classification of Theory Change. Scientonomy 2, 67-82. Retrieved from https://scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/31278.