The Paradox of Normative Propositions
If methodologies are themselves theories that can be accepted by a community, then how can methods be deductive consequences of accepted theories, given that historically employed methods and accepted methodologies have often been inconsistent with one another?
Methodologies, the rules of theory assessment openly prescribed by a scientific community, are one species of normative propositions. Methodologies are prescriptive, as they prescribe how theory assessment within a scientific community ought to be performed. There are many historical cases where employed scientific methods are known to conflict with professed methodologies. For example: eighteenth and nineteenth century scientists openly accepted a version of the empiricist inductivist methodology, which required new theories to be deducible from phenomena and not posit any unobservable entities. However, these scientists still accepted theories that posited unobservable entities, such as phlogiston, electric fluid, or absolute space.1 This seems to violate either the third law or the zeroth law of scientific change. By the third law, employed methods are always deductive consequences of accepted theories. But, this seems impossible in cases where accepted methodologies and employed methods conflict. Under the zeroth law, all elements in the scientific mosaic are compatible with one another. But, that seems to be clearly not the case if methodologies and methods conflict with one another. How can this paradox be resolved?
In Scientonomy, the accepted answers to the question can be summarized as follows:
- The new third law resolves the paradox of normative propositions by making it clear that employed methods don't necessarily follow from all accepted theories, but only from some.
- A method becomes employed only when it is deducible from some subset of other employed methods and accepted theories of the time.
Within the scientonomic context, it was initially unclear whether normative propositions (such as those of methodology or ethics) fell within the scope of scientonomy and could hold a place within a scientific mosaic. The problem became acute when the paradox of normative propositions was identified by Joel Burkholder in 2014.2 As a result, in The Laws of Scientific Change Barseghyan left the question of the status of normative propositions open, by noting that further theoretical work coupled with historical evidence would be needed to settle the issue.1
The problem was that including methodologies in the scientific mosaic would result in violations of the third law of scientific change. At the time, the third law stated that "a method becomes employed only when it is deducible from other employed methods and accepted theories of the time". But if methodologies were to be considered theories, then, by the third law, employed methods would have to be deductive consequences of accepted methodologies. among other things. If employed methods were deducible from accepted methodologies, then how could there ever be any discrepancy between employed methods and accepted methodologies? This wouldn't make any sense from a logical perspective.
The theory of scientific change did not include normative propositions until a resolution to the paradox of normative propositions proposed by Zoe Sebastien was accepted by the scientonomic community in 2017. The modifications consequently accepted included changing the definition of theory from "a set of propositions that attempt to describe something" to "a set of propositions".3 This new definition of theory could include normative propositions and, as a result, methodologies.
|Community||Accepted From||Acceptance Indicators||Still Accepted||Accepted Until||Rejection Indicators|
|Scientonomy||1 January 2016||The question became de facto accepted by the community at that time together with the whole theory of scientific change.||Yes|
|Resolution to the Paradox of Normative Propositions (Sebastien-2016)||The new third law resolves the paradox of normative propositions by making it clear that employed methods don't necessarily follow from all accepted theories, but only from some.||2016|
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|Community||Theory||Accepted From||Accepted Until|
|Scientonomy||Resolution to the Paradox of Normative Propositions (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|
The paradox was resolved by Zoe Sebastien when she suggested a new formulation of the third law which made it clear that employed methods shouldn't follow from all accepted theories, but only from some.3
In Scientonomy, the accepted answers to the question are Resolution to the Paradox of Normative Propositions (Sebastien-2016) and The Third Law (Sebastien-2016).
Resolution to the Paradox of Normative Propositions (Sebastien-2016) states: "The new third law resolves the paradox of normative propositions by making it clear that employed methods don't necessarily follow from all accepted theories, but only from some."
The paradox of normative propositions arises from the following three premises:
- there have been many historical cases where employed scientific methods conflicted with professed methodologies;
- by the third law, employed methods are deducible from accepted theories, including methodologies;
- two proposition cannot be mutually inconsistent if one logically follows from another.
Sebastien's solution rejects premise (2), by clarifying that an employed method shouldn't necessarily follow from all accepted theories, but only from some. In those cases, when an employed method is in conflict with an accepted methodology, it is an indication that the former doesn't follow from the latter. As for their mutual inconsistency, that is allowed by the zeroth law.
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.1 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.3
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.1
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 Method Employment.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
- Burkholder, Joel. (2014) Protomethod, The Third Law, and Ethical Propositions. Unpublished manuscript.
- 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.