Subtypes of Epistemic Element

From Encyclopedia of Scientonomy
Jump to navigation Jump to search

What are the subtypes of an epistemic element?

In principle, the process of scientific change can concern many different types of epistemic elements. 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 epistemic elements that are part of the process 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. The subtypes of Epistemic Element currently accepted in Scientonomy are:

Broader History

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.23pp. 293-319 Kuhn himself confessed that he had confusingly used the term in several different senses.3pp. 293-294 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.3p. 297 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.

Scientonomic History

Barseghyan present the the redrafted ontology

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.6p. 5 According to this initial ontology, "at any moment of time, there are certain theories and certain methods employed in theory assessment".6p.5 In that ontology, theories and methods were the only types of elements that undergo scientific change, while the class of theories only included descriptive theories; normative theories and definitions were left out of the ontology.

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".

In 2018, William Rawleigh argued that questions too are types of epistemic element.7 When his suggested modification became accepted, the resulting ontology of epistemic elements included three basic elements:

Ontology of Epistemic Elements (Rawleigh-2018).png

Later that year, Barseghyan suggested a redrafted ontology where methods are considered a subtype of normative theory.8 In the resulting ontology, the two fundamental epistemic elements are questions and theories.

Ontology of Epistemic Elements (Barseghyan-2018).png

In this ontology, 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.

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this question (it includes all the instances when the question was accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by a community):
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 January 2016The question of Subtypes of Epistemic Element became accepted by virtue of the acceptance of Epistemic Element. The term epistemic element has been de facto accepted since the inception of the community, as indicated by the fact that there has been an accepted ontology of epistemic elements from the outset.Yes

All Theories

The following answers have been added to this encyclopedia:
TheoryFormulationFormulated In
Theory Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Barseghyan-2015)Theory is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of theory.2015
Method Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Barseghyan-2015)Method is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of method.2015
Question Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Rawleigh-2018)Question is a subtype of Epistemic Element, i.e. epistemic element is a supertype of question.2018
If a theory concerning the subtypes of an epistemic element is missing, please click here to add it.

Accepted Theories

The following theories have been accepted as answers to this question:
CommunityTheoryAccepted FromAccepted Until
ScientonomyMethod Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Barseghyan-2015)1 January 20161 September 2019
ScientonomyTheory Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Barseghyan-2015)1 January 2016
ScientonomyQuestion Is a Subtype of Epistemic Element (Rawleigh-2018)26 September 2018

Suggested Modifications

Here is a list of modifications concerning this topic:
Modification Community Date Suggested Summary Date Assessed Verdict Verdict Rationale
Sciento-2018-0002 Scientonomy 12 May 2018 Accept the ontology of epistemic elements with theories, methods, and questions as distinct epistemic elements. 26 September 2018 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

Current View

In Scientonomy, the accepted subtypes of Epistemic Element are:

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.7p. 4

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.7p. 4

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.

Related Topics

This topic is a sub-topic of Ontology of Scientific Change.


  1. ^  Popper, Karl. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Hutchinson & Co.
  2. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  3. a b c  Kuhn, Thomas. (1977) The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. University of Chicago Press.
  4. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-101.
  5. ^  Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
  6. a b  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  7. a b c  Rawleigh, William. (2018) The Status of Questions in the Ontology of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 2, 1-12. Retrieved from
  8. ^  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2018) Redrafting the Ontology of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 2, 13-38. Retrieved from