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Definition: scientific method from Dictionary of Energy

History. an organized approach to problem-solving that includes collecting data, formulating a hypothesis and testing it objectively, interpreting results, and stating conclusions that can be independently evaluated and tested by others. The roots of this method are traced to ancient Greece, especially Aristotle, and to the medieval scholar Roger Bacon, but its development is generally associated with 17th-century scientists such as Francis Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton.


Summary Article: Scientific method from Philosophy of Science A-Z

Science is supposed to be a distinctive human enterprise and achievement partly because of its method, but there has been considerable disagreement as to what this method amounts to. There have been several candidates: induction, the hypothetico-deductive method, inference to the best explanation, Mill’s methods, conjectures and refutations and others. On top of this, there has been considerable discussion concerning the justification of scientific method. Any attempt to characterise the abstract structure of scientific method should make the method satisfy two general and intuitively compelling desiderata: it should be ampliative and epistemically probative. Ampliation is necessary if the method is to deliver informative hypotheses and theories. Yet, this ampliation would be merely illusory, if the method was not epistemically probative: if, that is, it did not convey epistemic warrant to the excess content produced thus (namely, hypotheses and theories). The philosophical problem of the scientific method is whether and how these two desiderata are jointly satisfiable. Sceptics argue that they cannot be shown to be jointly satisfiable in a non-question-begging way. Popperians have tried to argue that the scientific method can refrain from being ampliative, by employing only the resources of deductive logic. Others (most notably Bayesians) have argued that a probabilistic account of the scientific method, known as conditionalisation, can avoid being ampliative while conferring justification on beliefs that have rich content. The followers of inductive logic have argued that the scientific method can capture an objective degree of confirmation of hypotheses given the evidence (via the notion of partial entailment). Others have aimed to face the sceptical challenge head on by trying to show how the scientific method can vindicate itself, by being self-corrective. Advocates of methodological naturalism have claimed that the scientific method can be vindicated instrumentally, by reference to its past successes.

See Ampliative inference; Bayesianism; Induction, the problem of; Mill; Naturalism; Objectivity; Peirce

Further reading
  • Nola, Robert, and Sankey, Howard (2000), ‘A Selective Survey of Theories of Scientific Method’, in Nola, Robert and Sankey, Howard (eds), After Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend: Recent Issues in Theories of Scientific Method, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000, pp. 1-65.
  • © Stathis Psillos, 2007

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