Lessons Learnd From Other Studies Of Science

As the least developed study of science, psychology has much to learn from the more established metascientific disciplines of history, philosophy, and sociology of science. The most important lesson comes from knowing the general stages that any scientific discipline goes through in its path toward maturity. Guiding the discussion of the development of each study of science, I make use of but modify Nicholas Mullins’s stage model of theory or network development.

Mullins argued for four potentially overlapping stages of development in theories and/or scientific networks in sociology. I propose only three stages and apply them not just to one field (sociology), but to all of the metasciences (history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology).

In addition, I simplify the components of each stage and focus only on each stage’s intellectual leaders, social-organizational leaders, research-training centers, and intellectual successes. In stage, Isolation, scholars work on the same problem in isolation, with the founding intellectual figures setting the stage.

There is no social organization in terms of training centers, conferences, or societies.

Late in stage and early in stage, a core group of scholars may be working in the field, but doing so implicitly rather than explicitly, not yet labeling themselves as members of the field. In stage, Identification is reached, as the intellectual success of the founding figures provides explicit theoretical and conceptual parameters for the field that attracts a wider range of students and other scientists who start to explicitly identify themselves with the field.

Semi-regular meetings are organized and the first training-research centers may form.

Such training centers are usually highly centralized around an intellectual leader, whose students have begun to have a major impact on the field.

A leading journal becomes necessary as the outlet for the increased level of productivity of the field. In stage, Institutionalization, the field becomes well established and institutionalized. Meetings become annual conferences because societies have now formed with their own social structure and hierarchy. Often multiple societies, some of them international, become necessary.

Training centers proliferate and become less centralized, and at least one journal is now required for the expanding productivity of the field. Indeed, splinter movements, with different foci or agendas, may form and either break away or stay on the edge of the central field.

Although philosophy of knowledge (that is, epistemology) was a central theme in ancient Greek philosophy, the field of the philosophy of science is a much more recent development. Its origins are seen in three trends: classification of the sciences, methodology, and the philosophy of nature. The intellectual leaders, in the sense of writing the first books on the topic, were William Whewell in England and Auguste Comte in France.

Whewell actually wrote two books on the philosophy of science and coined the terms “scientist” and “physicist” in the process.

He took a modified Kantian view that there are laws of nature independent of our understanding and that by our inductive intuitions, rather than raw empiricism, we can come to understand the laws of nature. John Stuart Mill developed his own positivist position in reaction to Whewell’s inductivist position. Indeed, the two major proponents of positivism were Comte and J. S. Mill. Positivism holds that nature has no ultimate purpose and there is no “essence” to be discovered a priori.

All scientific knowledge must be based in observable and positive facts. Positivists, at their core, are refuting the purely reflective method of acquiring knowledge, believing that only what comes through the senses is valid, scientific knowledge.

Comte, in particular, put a historical spin to the positivist argument and claimed that the history of ideas passes through three phases—theological, metaphysical, and positivist (scientific)—with positivism being the penultimate stage of knowledge.

In so doing, Comte was taking a classic empiricist stance by arguing that human nature was modifiable and capable of progress. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the publication of books in the philosophy of science went from a trickle to a fast drip, with some major works, including William Jevons, Ernst Mach, and Karl Pearson.

At the turn of the century scholars began to organize more formally and establish the philosophy of science as an independent field of study. For instance, the first congresses on the philosophy of science were held in Paris.