Philosophical Locutions in Scientific and Scholarly Activity 2000 Nov. 4
Peter Naur and Erik Frøkjær
In the investigation, the first of its kind, information on the importance of philosophical locutions in their work has been obtained by inquiry from 80 active scientists/scholars. The responses show that only a minority of the respondents attach any positive value to philosophical locutions. In a further analysis the philosophical locutions have been seen in relation to several aspects of the scientific/scholarly activity: forms of description employed, thinking going on, manners or methods of proceeding, ideology, and consequences to human welfare. In each case the understanding of the philosophical locutions displayed in the responses is found to be unclear, misleading, or contradictory. As a contrast, Naurs antiphilosophical theory of science/scholarship, coherent description, is shown to establish a clear description of the scientific/scholarly activity. In the conclusion it is shown how the confusions and contradictions around the philosophical locutions arise from the dogmatic, presumptuous philosophical ideology.
The report describes an investigation in which 80 active scientists and scholars have answered questions about the importance of philosophical locutions for their scientific and scholarly activity. Following an account of the background of the investigation, the questions posed to the scientists and scholars are given. This is followed by an account, with quotations, of the answers received. The following analysis of the answers is centered around several different aspects of the scientific/scholarly activity. In a final conclusion the importance of philosophical locutions in scientific/scholarly activity is dismissed.
2. Filosofikum in the Danish university education
The background of the present investigation is a debate in Danish public media concerning a course given at Danish universities known as Filosofikum. Filosofikum was a compulsory course for any student, usually taken during the first year of the studies, given by a professor of philosophy, on selected topics of psychology, logic, and philosophy. It was a fixed part of the university curriculum for centuries until it was discontinued in 1971.
The recent debate concerning Filosofikum was initiated by a feature article in the daily newspaper Politiken on 2000 Febr. 12, titled The Necessity of Filosofikum, by Claus Emmeche, Simo Køppe and Frederik Stjernfelt. They wrote here among other things: The most important reason to introduce a new Filosofikum is to us in the last resort a question of science/scholarship. There are important connections between philosophy and science/scholarship, and a new Filosofikum in the longer run would be able to strengthen research. And later: The question of reductionism and of the relation between scientific/scholarly descriptions and complex phenomena as a whole is in itself a philosophical problem of which philosophy and the theory of science/scholarship may supply fundamental analyses.
A notable contribution to this debate was published in Universitetsavisen on 2000 May 4: Deliver Us From Philosophy, by Peter Naur. Here it is said: The philosophers claim that their theories of science/scholarship are important to the work of scholar/scientists is pure nonsense, originating in the presumptuous imaginations of philosophers. And later: It may be testified both by myself and by most other active scholar/scientists that the philosophers talk neither has nor has had the slightest value to what we are doing in our ongoing work. The understanding of how creative scientific/scholarly work takes place can only come from those who are able to do it, that is from active scholar/scientists. This contribution gave rise to a heated debate in Universitetsavisen on 2000 May 18, June 2 and 15.
In this debate none of the contributors argued in terms of their experience as active scholars/scientists. In a wider context it is remarkable that the importance for scientific/scholarly activity of something that may be called philosophy never seems to have been investigated empirically. The closest to such an investigation of which we are aware is Anne Roes book The Making of a Scientist from 1953. In this the author, who is a psychologist, tells of her extended conversations with 64 outstanding American scholar/scientists from biology, physics, and social science. The conversations are concerned with anything that may have been of importance to the scientific/scholarly activity of these men in their early life, their manner of work, and their thinking. In these conversations there occur no philosophical locutions, nothing about logic or method.
For this reason we have undertaken to investigate the importance of philosophical locutions to scientific/scholarly activity by direct addresses to those who have been active in such activity. As evidence that a person has been scientifically/scholarly active we have chosen to take that the persons activity is manifest in written scientific/scholarly contributions.
3. The questionnaire
The investigation was centered around a questionnaire titled: Investigation of the importance of philosophical locutions in scientific/scholarly activity, by direct addresses to scientists and scholars. In translation from the original Danish version, with the addition, within sharp brackets, of some notes, mostly on the translation into English, this read as follows:
To [name of scientist/scholar] Date of reply: _________________________
We, Erik Frøkjær and Peter Naur, address you with an invitation to contribute to an investigation of philosophical locutions [talemåder] in scientific/scholarly [videnskabelig] activity. The background of the investigation is briefly outlined on the back side of this sheet [giving an account similar to the one in section 2 above]. In principle we address anyone who has been actively productive in scientific/scholarly [videnskabelig] activity. In practice we have sent this address to a random selection of full professors at Copenhagen University.
We ask you to give information about your personal experience of the importance of philosophical locutions [talemåder] for your scientific/scholarly [videnskabelige] work. We ask you to reply by insertions in the form below, or in any other form you might prefer.
Information on the submission is given on the back side [asking for reply as soon as possible, and stating Erik Frøkjærs mail, email, and fax addresses].
In case you do not otherwise wish to contribute information in this context, we would be grateful to have your reasons for this:
My year of birth: _________ I have been scientifically/scholarly [videnskabeligt] active during the years: _______________________
My scientific/scholarly [videnskabelige] activity has led to the production of written scientific/scholarly [videnskabelige] contributions to the following extent: appr._______ articles/papers in scientific/scholarly [videnskabelige] journals and/or congress proceedings, appr. ____________ books, and additionally: ____________________
My scientific/scholarly [videnskabelige] contributions primarily lie within the following fields:__________________________________________________
About the importance of philosophical locutions [talemåder] (such as deductive method [deduktiv metode], (theory of) knowledge [erkendelse(steori)], falsification [falsifikation], formal logic [formel logik], phenomenology [fænomenologi], paradigm [paradigme], reductionism [reduktionisme], relativism [relativisme], structuralism [strukturalisme], (theory of) science/scholarship [videnskab(steori)], scientific method [videnskabelig metode], scientific truth [videnskabelig sandhed], scientific proof [videnskabeligt bevis]) for my scientific/scholarly [videnskabelige] activity, and of the sources of my familiarity with these locutions [talemåder], I can say as follows:
Name, address, phone no. and email:_____________________________________________
In addition to describing the background of the investigation the back side of the questionnaire also said:
We are interested in any form of accounts that may contribute to indicating the importance of philosophical locutions to scientific/scholarly [videnskabelig] activity. The form on the other side merely serves to show what information we primarily are looking for. Accounts submitted directly to us with this form, or in other forms, we will regard as public statements, which we may edit for publication. In this there may be a need for bringing examples and quotations from the accounts received. Such material we will publish in anonymous form, unless agreed otherwise with the particular respondent.
4. Answers received from 80 scientists and scholars
The questionnaire was sent individually to each of the 240 full professors of the Copenhagen University on 2000 July 18. Answers started coming in immediately and by 2000 Sept. 21 we had received altogether 80 answers to our query.
Of the 80 respondents, 73 gave a number of their published scientific/scholarly articles/papers. The average of these numbers for the 73 respondents is 140. The lowest figure is 25, for a respondent who in addition has been the author of 4 books. In the following description of the responses we shall pay no more attention to these figures; they give us ample reason to trust that practically all of our respondents are speaking from a background of solid first hand experience of scientific/scholarly activity.
The substance of the 80 answers to our query is given below, in the form of an account, mostly a quotation, of each. These accounts have in most cases been made by extracting from the response the answer to our main question about the importance of philosophical locutions to the respondents activity. The identity of each respondent is given at the end of each account by one of the numbers #10 to #89, followed by the respondents name and field of scientific/scholarly activity, in so far as each respondent has granted us the permission to make his or her identity public. These permissions were obtained in a second address to the respondents, in October 2000, in which each respondent was asked to accept our quotation from his or her answer.
According to the tenor of the answer in relation to our main question about the importance of philosophical locutions, the accounts of the answers have been divided into the following 7 groups:
A. Refusal to answer the question posed
B. Answer unclear in relation to scientific/scholarly activity
C. Indications of positive importance of specific philosophical locutions
D. Indication of positive importance of unspecific philosophical notions
E. Of philosophical issues only formal matters of logic etc. important
F. Philosophical locutions are of only marginal importance
G. Philosophical locutions of no importance
Within each of the groups the answers are given in a random order.
A. Refusal to answer the question posed, 4 responses.
Four respondents explicitly refused to answer the question posed in our investigation, and also did not give any evidence of their personal scientific/scholarly activity. Their responses may be summarized thus:
I have received your somewhat peculiar letter Even just the demagogic formulation of the title, in the style of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" contrasts strangely to the critical mention of the lack of scientific/scholarly investigations of the importance of philosophy to scientific/scholarly activity. You cannot seriously consider that your questionnaire letter represents such? My own field biostatistics is in daily confrontation with epistemological [erkendelsesteoretiske] problems activity concerning possible formalizations of causality considerations #10, biostatistics.
I do not think that answers to a questionnaire concerning locutions may contribute to clarifying the importance of philosophy to my scientific/scholarly activity. #11, Allan Krasnik, public health.
One respondent presents a diatribe against our investigation:
This is an absurd initiative, which is executed in an entirely unacceptable way. The response form is clumsy. Of course philosophy and theory of science/scholarship [videnskabsteori] are entirely central to science/scholarshipreflection and understanding of how knowledge is produced cannot be distinguished in this way. I wish to advise you against concluding anything upon this "empirical" basis. #12, public health.
Another respondent presents a lengthy description of the development of courses in medical theory of science/scholarship (medicinsk videnskabsteori) at Danish universities and then continues:
One should not, as you say, consider whether philosophy may contribute to scientific/scholarly activity. As a matter of fact any scientific/scholarly activity (whether the scientist/scholar is aware of it or not) takes place within a theoretical frame of thought, which one ought to make as explicit as possible. And this activity must be termed philosophical. When I first saw your letter I decided not to answer it, since it (excuse me for saying so) quite simply was too naïve. #13, Henrik R. Wulff, clinical decision theory and ethics.
B. Answer unclear in relation to scientific/scholarly activity, 7 responses.
Seven respondents failed to give a clear answer to the question about their personal experience. The substance of their responses is given by the following summaries:
In the medical education of today some time is spent on theory of science/scholarship [videnskabsteori], scientific method, etc. This is not unimportant to the daily work after graduation. #14, Henrik S. Thomsen, radiology.
One respondent merely mentions the sources of his knowledge of philosophical issues:
filosofikum; course of the basic subjects of medical science/scholarship: theory of science/scholarship, clinical decision theory, statistics, medical ethics; reading and discussions. #15, Henrik E. Poulsen, medicine, pharmacology, clinical investigations.
One respondent merely describes some of the contents of his archive of articles:
science generally, creativity, serendipity, honesty, persistence, falsification. Theory of science/scholarship one may learn in one hour, practice is harder. Additionally: mathematics, statistics, language, computing, isotope techniques, and others. I do not think philosophy belongs here, with a few exceptions: Popper #16, Niels Juel Christensen, physiology/patophysiology.
My field has a long tradition of systematic work with methodology and theory. This inevitably leads to theory of science/scholarship [videnskabsteori], to history of philosophy, and, not the least, to logic. #17, Niels Lund, mediaeval history, historical methodology.
All students of medicine are given a course of topics of the theory of science/scholarship [videnskabsteori] regular scientific methods are entirely decisive in "coordinating" infections with symptoms of disease. #18, experimental and patient-oriented (clinical) virology.
Evidence-based medicine is a "hit". The truth of diagnostic methods. Theory of science/scholarship [videnskabsteori] is part of the educationand knowledge of basic scientific method is a prerequisite of part of science/scholarship. #19, Torben Veith Schroeder, medicine, surgery, vessel surgery.
Philosophy is indispensable for theology. I have for a period of several years been professor of philosophy #20, theology, history, philosophy.
C. Indications of positive importance of specific philosophical locutions, 15 responses.
Fifteen respondents expressed positive importance for their scientific/scholarly work of one or more of the locutions mentioned in the questionnaire: deductive method [deduktiv metode], (theory of) knowledge [erkendelse(steori)], falsification [falsifikation], formal logic [formel logik], phenomenology [fænomenologi], paradigm [paradigme], reductionism [reduktionisme], relativism [relativisme], structuralism [strukturalisme], (theory of) science/scholarship [videnskab(steori)], scientific method [videnskabelig metode], scientific truth [videnskabelig sandhed], scientific proof [videnskabeligt bevis]. Their responses may be summarized as follows.
Most of these philosophical locutions have been central to my scientific/scholarly work, which concerns the philosophy of science/scholarship. #21, philosophy of science/scholarship, of language.
In my works in basic science/scholarship (including the thesis) knowledge [erkendelse] and/or falsification of hypotheses have always been the methods of work Recognized scientific methods and scientific truth have a natural place #22, Poul Bretlau, medicine (cancer)basic scientific and clinical research.
The locutions are used regularlyparticularly orally. #23, Ralf Peter Hemmingsen, clinical psychiatry, neurobiology.
I have used most of the conceptsexcept phenomenology and scientific truth. #24, linguistics.
Particularly in my work in phylogenetics and biogeography philosophical locutions play an important role of the terms you mention first and foremost falsification, but also paradigm and epistemology #25, Henrik Enghoff, biology, zoology, systematics, phylogenetics, biogeography.
particularly in the doctoral thesis I have made use of ways of thinking and terminology from the domains of knowledge that presumably are covered by several of your headings, including deductive method, theory of knowledge, structuralism, videnskabsteori, scientific method, and scientific truth, #26, Mads Bryde Andersen, jurisprudence of indenture.
in my research I have used deductive method, falsification, formal logic, (theory of) science/scholarship. #27, Jens Henrik Henriksen, health, patophysiology, nuclear medicine.
Poppers concept of falsification has been useful for me in selecting good questions (hypotheses). #28, Gorm Greisen, circulation of the brain, diseases of the newborn.
All of the concepts referred to above enter quite naturally in my work activity. Kuhns contribution about theory of science/scholarship was a bible to me. Marxist nonsense the bugbear. Statistical method is my daily concern. #29, Christian Wichmann Matthiesen, geography, regional development, planning, system analysis.
falsification, formal logic, phenomenology, paradigm, (theory of) science/scholarship, scientific method, scientific truth, scientific proof enter as necessary elements in most of my works. #30, Jan Ulrik Prause, ophthalmology, pathology, oncology.
I have profited greatly from having learned formal logic I have studied Marxist economy This has been very profitable in my epidemiological work. #31, epidemiology.
Philosophical locutions (concepts, problems, etc.), as well as philosophical investigations (analytic and methodological approaches) are entirely indispensable in my work. #32, Ove Kaj Pedersen, political science.
I used philosophic phrases in my work: deductive method, formal logic, etc. #33, Igor Dmitrevich Novikov, gravitational physics, astrophysics, cosmology.
Would I have managed in my work without philosophical knowledge? I dont know. I use expressions such as knowledge, falsification, phenomenology, paradigm, scientific method, etc. and I feel that I have an idea what these locutions signify. #34, Elisabeth Bock, neurobiology.
filosofikum course of scientific method Particularly of importance to the understanding of causality in epidemiological research #35, Marianne Schroll, epidemiology, geriatry.
D. Indication of positive importance of unspecific philosophical notions, 8 responses.
Positive importance of philosophical notions without attachment to specific locutions was expressed in 8 responses, summarized below.
These words I use extremely rarely in scientific/scholarly publications. As concepts the words have been of great importance in my scientific/scholarly work. #36, Finn Gyntelberg, epidemiology, cardiovasculary risk factors, room climate.
I have used Platos allegory of the cave directly H. R. Wulffs "Videnskabsteori" og "Den samaritanske Pligt" are highly profitable to me in teaching and research like also K. E. Løgstrups "Den etiske Fordring". #37, Ib Christian Bygbjerg, international health, tropical medicine, infection diseases.
For my own research of the environment the philosophical dimension may be highly useful #38, environmental jurisprudence, Danish, EU, and international.
my thinking has not been tied to specific philosophical concepts. But I use, unconsciously, and even consciously, logic in producing science/scholarship (e.g. method, "truth" and proof). #39, Anders Larsson, respiration physiology under anaesthesia and intensive therapy.
In a strict sense I use epistemological concepts only to a slight extent. But in a wider sense my work in the history of science, history of ideas, and history of medicine is much influenced by certain directions within epistemology and moral philosophy. #40, Thomas Söderqvist, history of science, of medicine.
in my research philosophical locutions and methods have been secondary, but increasingly used in relating the research to the past, the present, and the future. #41, Niels Tommerup, genetics and diseases.
I have always been interested in philosophy, but I find it difficult to state concretely its importance in my research. The importance lies not so much in the analysis of concrete problems, but at a higher level. It is, for example, difficult to do clinical research, in which human beings are used as "guinea pigs", without having engaged in certain philosophical queries. the Helsinki declaration builds predominantly upon principles of the ethics of duty first formulated clearly by the German philosopher Kant #42, Asger Dirksen, medical science.
Philosophical "locutions"concepts, arguments, considerationshave always been an integral part of my work in anthropology, which has always included probing the limits of understanding. #43, anthropology.
E. Of philosophical issues only formal matters of logic etc. important, 6 responses.
Positive importance of formal logic and other formal matters, but of no other philosophical locutions, was expressed in 6 responses:
Mathematical proofsand thus formal logicplay an essential role in large parts of my scientific/scholarly activity. Apart from that philosophical locutions and concerns have had no importance whatever. #44, Michael Sørensen, theoretical statistics and applied probability theory.
Formal logic is important in many branches of mathematics The remaining philosophical locutions have been without interest to my research. #45, Christian Ulrik Jensen, mathematics (algebra, theory of numbers, logic).
The deductive method and formal logic have a certain importance The rest are to me of no importance whatever. #46, Christian Berg, mathematics.
I use formal logic in mathematics and theoretical physics. I believe I use the scientific method, including scientific proof and, hopefully, truth, in all my scientific/scholarly activity. I see no direct connection between my day to day scientific/scholarly work and the philosophical importance of modern physics. #47, Jørn Dines Hansen, experimental particle physics.
Physics, mathematics and formal logic have been of importance. Philosophical "locutions" have no importance in my scientific/scholarly activity #48, O. Siggaard-Andersen, clinical biochemistry.
From the formal mathematical approaches I best remember the following fields and their mutual relations: set theory, group theory, Boolean algebra, theory of mappings, formal logic, falsification, and proof. These theoretically-abstract, and in themselves philosophical, modes of thought have been to me an invaluable source of argumentation in my publications. It would seem to me highly desirable if all students of science in a suitable way would be introduced to at least the most basic aspects of logical thinking, as well as to the gathering of knowledge as mapping processes in the brain in relation to an external world. #49, Richard Egel, classical and molecular genetics.
F. Philosophical locutions are of only marginal importance, 7 responses.
Slight or marginal importance of philosophical locutions, was expressed in 7 responses:
The importance of philosophical locutions, such as those you mention, has largely been marginal to my scientific/scholarly activity. The exceptions are falsification and to some extent scientific method #50, N. P. Kristensen, insect anatomy, systematics/evolution.
Concerning the importance of philosophical locutions:
Very modestwhile I have had profited considerably from reading theory of science/scholarship. #51, Tim Knudsen, politology and history.
I do not think these "philosophical locutions" have had significant importance for my scientific activitybut I cannot entirely exclude it. #52, Jørgen Viby Mogensen, anaesthesiology.
As far as possible I do not use these locutions. But I have liked and profited from theory of science/scholarship. #53, social medicine, paediatrics.
Even though some of the subjects you mention, such as deductive method, scientific method/proof and logical thinking, of course enter as natural elements in research activity, it would be an exaggeration to claim that these concepts were presented in the former filosofikum in such a way that they might be used, much less form the basis of methods in my field of research. These methods, which often are specific to the field, rather are acquired through work in the field in the course of many years. #54, Gert Due Billing, theoretical chemistry, molecular dynamics.
This was an interesting question to be asked Philosophical locutions play no visible role in my daily activity as scientist, but I do believe that some notions play an indirect role. Of those mentioned, the locution that appeals most strongly to me is scientific truth Philosophical locutions sometimes play a negative role. They may act as strategies by which to floor colleagues or poor students ("Are you a structuralist?" Or still worse: "Are you a functionalist?"). And they may be inflated so as to form essential barriers to doing any sensible work at all. #55, public administration, organization theory.
In my opinion locutions have no special importance, what is hidden in the locutions may perhaps have it. #56, gastroenchology, endocrinology, surgery.
G. Philosophical locutions of no importance, 33 responses.
Importance of philosophical locutions for their scientific/scholarly work was entirely dismissed by 33 respondents:
In summary I can say: 1) philosophy has played no role in my scientific/scholarly production, 2) I am a convinced positivistin spite of the contempt in which the concept is held by some people, 3) philosophy as such interests me. #57, Jørgen Rygaard, immunology, pathology, cancer.
Generally I can say that the philosophical terms you list as examples have been of no importance to my scholarly work. #58, Christopher Toll, Semitic philology.
[The locutions] have no value and no importance for my research. #59, Mirko Tos, otorhinolaryngology.
I have not a single example that any of the terms mentioned have had any significant importance to my research in 40 years. #60, solid state physics, X-ray physics, diffraction methods.
No importance. #61, scientific computing, numerical analysis.
minimal/no importance. #62, jurisprudence.
Philosophy and the vocabulary of the theory of science/scholarship has in practice no importance in my research and I find that in many ways philosophers description of scientific/scholarly activity and motivation is not in accord with my experience. I do not believe philosophy is of any importance to natural scientific/scholarly research activityneither for theoretical nor experimental work. #63, Tom Fenchel, marine biology, esp. microorganisms.
Long ago I took filosofikum, but it has had very slight influence upon my scientific/scholarly work. #64, Christian Hjort-Andersen, economics.
Philosophical locutions have no importance for my scientific/scholarly activity. #65, geography, environment/agriculture, archeology.
I do not believe I have used the above mentioned concepts in my articles. #66, Gudrun Margrethe Boyesen, neurology, cerebrovascular diseases.
No importance. The word "paradigm" is used sporadically, although not strictly in its philosophical meaning (was it introduced by Kuhn?). Within my field the word is some sort of slang meaning "the things the scientific community currently believe is correct". I have only seen the word used once in the title of a paper from 1981. The paper proposed a new way to interpret the quantitative role of bacteria in the oceans and incorporate bacteria into "the classical paradigm of the plankton food web". #67, Morten Søndergaard, freshwater biology, microbial ecology.
So far philosophy has been of no importance to my research. #68, Øjvind Moestrup, cytology and ultrastructure, phylogeny.
I was forced to "learn" theory of science through Uffe Juul Jensens "Videnskabsteori 1+2" It builds upon Marxism and dialecticsand represents pure waste of time. it is hard to see how it should be possible to revive "Filosofikum"it is unnecessary and plays no role in the daily science/scholarship. #69, medicine.
They [the locutions quoted] are of no importance. The only word that tells me something in this context is method, understood as a consistent application ofin my casethe tools of mathematics. #70.
On the locutions quoted:
Mostly wordsdo not entirely disagree with the second paragraph of the back side notes [remarks by P. Naur quoted in section 2 above]. #71, health, diseases of uterus etc.
concepts such as "scientific truth" have played no role in my medical research. #72, Flemming Skovby, clinical genetics, paediatrics.
Apart from formal logic, which by the nature of the matter I am somewhat familiar with, these words play no role in my work. #73, Gert Kjærgård Pedersen, mathematics, linear operators in Hilbert space.
"philosophical locutions" and philosophy as such have been of no importance whatever in my research #74, Morten Møller, neuroanatomy.
On the locutions quoted:
I never use them! But: deduction, induction, but they rather are mathematical concepts of proof theory. For the rest I quite agree with Peter Naur! #75 C. C. Tscherning, geodesy.
On the locutions quoted:
Do not belong to my vocabulary. #76, human physiology, temperature control, circulation, environmental physiology.
Philosophical locutions have had no importance to my works. #77, Poul Olesen, theoretical particle physics.
None of these locutions have been of importance to my scientific/scholarly activity. #78, protein chemistry, molecular and structural biology.
I do not consider that the locutions mentioned have been of any importance to my scientific/scholarly activity. #79, chemistry of atmosphere, reaction kinetics.
I cannot say that these "locutions" or any philosophical considerations whatever have been of any importance to my scientific/scholarly activityand besides I do not know much about these locutions. #80.
In do not consider that the locutions mentioned have been of any importance. #81, Niels Borregaard, cell biology in relation to the function of leucocytes.
These locutions and concepts have not had any direct influence on my scientific/scholarly production or form of work. But I have read with interest various books by Kuhn, Popper, Ziman, and others. #82, Nils O. Andersen, atomic physics.
My work has been very concrete, with well defined problems, and thus has not involved properly philosophical locutions. #83, medical decision theory and radiology.
The philosophical locutions quoted, and others, have not been of any importance to my scientific/scholarly activity. #84, plastics, adhesion.
While a student I took part in several initiatives concerning theory of science/scholarship and philosophy but there is exceeding little of this that I can use in my scientific/scholarly work. #85, ecology, genetics, microbiology.
On the locutions quoted:
I do not use them #86, physiology.
Most of the -isms you mention I have no opinion about. #87.
My speciality is in eskimology, and it goes (almost) without saying that the philosophical locutions you inquire into have had no particular relevance to my research until now. #88, eskimology.
my works do indeed carry the stamp of "scientific method" but "philosophical locutions" (if I understand them correctly) have had entirely no importance to my scientific activity. #89, Jakob Krarup, operational research, combinatorial optimization.
5. The answers to the main question
In a first crude analysis of the responses to our query we may consider the philosophical claim: that philosophy is important to the scientific and scholarly activity. We may try a simple count, based on the groupings of the responses, leaving out groups A and B, but including group E of responses that refer merely to formal logic:
Responses in groups C, D, and E: 29 yes, it is important.
Responses in groups F and G: 40 no, it is not important.
We might leave it at that. Clearly the philosophers general claim about the importance of philosophy to the scientific/scholarly activity cannot be sustained.
However, a result in this vein cannot be accepted as more than a suggestion. The issues at hand cannot be taken to be merely matters of personal opinion; the differences of opinion displayed in the figures indicate that there are misunderstandings of some kind involved. As it has happened the responses to our query offer ample material for clarifying these matters. This will be pursued in the following sections.
6. What the philosophical locutions are taken to denote
The present section will consider the use of certain terms, particularly those said to be philosophical, in the responses to our query. In the way the query has been conducted the issue of the use of these terms has deliberately been left open; we have not by definition or otherwise committed ourselves to their use. This has been achieved in our query by talking about, not philosophy, but philosophical locutions, made definite by giving a sample of them.
In dealing with this issue we explicitly dismiss the common (philosophical) notion that each word means or denotes something definite. Instead we adhere to the notion, discussed more fully in (Naur, 1999), that the meaning of each word generally makes sense only as an experience had by a person in a certain context and situation. It then makes sense to use the responses to our query as empirical data in clarifying what the philosophical locutions are taken to denote by our respondents in the context of their scientific/scholarly activity.
As the first issue in a clarification along this line, even just saying that the sample locutions given in our query are philosophical is problematic. However, this problem is resolved by the response from #21, in which our sample of locutions has been accepted to be philosophical by a scholar whose work lies in philosophy of science/scholarship, of language.
This, however, still leaves the main question of what the philosophical locutions are taken to denote by our respondents, if anything. It may here be noted first that respondent #80 effectively says that he attaches no meaning to them, while #89 suggests that he may not understand them correctly.
In analyzing the remaining responses to our query from the point of view of what the philosophical locutions are taken to denote, we have found it appropriate to distinguish between a number of different concerns displayed in the notes from our respondents, as follows:
1) Forms of description employed in the scientific/scholarly activity,
2) Thinking going on in the scientific/scholarly activity,
3) Manners or methods of proceeding in the scientific/scholarly activity,
4) Ideology influencing the scientific/scholarly activity,
5) Consequences to human sensibility and welfare of the scientific/scholarly activity.
1) Forms of description employed in the scientific/scholarly activity. Any scientific/scholarly activity makes use of descriptions of the matters of concern. Such descriptions come in an unlimited variety of forms which may be, for example, verbal, pictorial, graphic, tabular, quantitative, or formal. In any particular description various forms most often are used together, side by side. This matter is commonly taken to be philosophically relevant, in that certain forms of description, notably formal logic, are said to be matters of philosophy. This is brought out by several respondents who mention formal logic as the only philosophical locution of those listed in our query that is importance to their scientific/scholarly activity: #31, #44, #45, #47, #73, and #75.
However, which forms of description are philosophical and what makes them so? On this there is no agreement. Several respondents mention other forms of description side by side with formal logic: #29: statistical method; #33, #46: deductive method; #48: physics, mathematics. However, #16 in his response appears to exclude mathematics, statistics, language, and computing, from philosophy.
Taken together, these respondents pronouncements about forms of description being philosophical are unclear and contradictory. The source of this confusion is brought to light in the discussion of human thinking of the following section.
2) Thinking going on in the scientific/scholarly activity. The issue of philosophical forms of expression is taken up more fully in the response from #49:
set theory, group theory, Boolean algebra, theory of mappings, formal logic, falsification, and proof. These theoretically-abstract and in themselves philosophical, modes of thought have been to me an invaluable source of argumentation in my publications all students of science in a suitable way should be introduced to at least the most basic aspects of logical thinking, as well as to the gathering of knowledge as mapping processes in the brain in relation to an external world.
These statements imply an understanding of formal matters of logic and others as indicating aspects of human thought. They imply that it makes sense to talk of each of the locutions quoted as denoting a theoretically-abstract and in itself philosophical, mode of thought. However, describing human thinking in terms of modes of thought such as set theory, theory of mappings, or formal logic, is merely a philosophers conceit. It makes no psychological sense, being contradictory to the very first principle of descriptive psychology (William James, 1890; cf. also Naur, 1999; Naur, 2000), a principle that may be confirmed introspectively by anyone at any moment, to wit that thinking is something going on, not something done by something or someone. The issue might be tested empirically just by asking any person who claims to be able to think logically such questions as: How can you be sure you are thinking logically when you think you are doing it?, and by testing the performance of such persons in doing things that involve merely formal manipulation, such as copying of text, or arithmetic operations. Such a test would undoubtedly show that logical thinking is a myth. However, such a test is never carried out, and the myth continues to corrupt the understanding of the scientific/scholarly activity. In other words, descriptive psychology has no place for such locutions as logical thinking.
Thus the source of the confusion in the respondents pronouncements about such matters as formal logic, statistical method, and deductive method, is here traced to the fallacious philosophical notion that it makes sense to distinguish modes of human thinking.
Properly speaking, matters such as set theory, theory of mappings, and formal logic, are of interest to the scientific/scholarly activity merely as forms of descriptions that the scientist/scholar may decide to use, while issues such as falsification and proof relate only to properties of some of these forms.
3) Manners or methods of proceeding in the scientific/scholarly activity. This issue is a central one in an investigation of the importance of philosophical locutions in scientific/scholarly activity. Indeed, it is commonly stated or implied, e.g. in the quotation from #13, that the distinctive characteristic of scientific/scholarly activity, that characteristic which makes it worthy of the name, is that it is done according to a particular manner of proceeding, the scientific method. With this in mind it is remarkable that of the 80 respondents only 13 wish to indicate that the locution scientific method is of any importance to their activity.
This indication is given as merely a brief mention by 7 respondents: #22, #26, #30, #34, #35, #50, #54.
Three other respondents use the locutions scientific method or method, not in referring to their activity generally, but about something else: #18: regular scientific methods are entirely decisive in "coordinating" infections with symptoms of disease.; #22: In my works in basic science/scholarship (including the thesis) knowledge [erkendelse] and/or falsification of hypotheses have always been the methods of work ; #70: method, understood as a consistent application ofin my casethe tools of mathematics.
Still other respondents talk of scientific method, not as a guide to their activity, but as a descriptive characterization of their habitual manner of proceeding, thus #47: I believe I use the scientific method, including scientific proof and, hopefully, truth, in all my scientific/scholarly activity, and #89: my works do indeed carry the stamp of "scientific method" but "philosophical locutions" (if I understand them correctly) have had entirely no importance to my scientific activity. Understood in this way as merely a descriptive characterization of work habits, scientific method of course has no active importance to the activity.
Respondent #39 talks of logic rather than method as a guide:
I use, unconsciously, and even consciously, logic in producing science/scholarship (e.g. method, "truth" and proof).
In this pronouncement the phrase I use, unconsciously, logic is particularly telling. It suggests that #39 adheres to the notion that human mental activity takes place according to rules. This notion is the one behind the talk of artificial intelligence. The psychological impossibility of this notion has long been established (see e.g. Naur, 1992, 1999). The notion is yet another example of the fallacious notions about human thought commonly adhered to by philosophers.
In this context we find it relevant to comment on the remarks on the present investigation from #10:
Even just the demagogic formulation of the title, in the style of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" contrasts strangely to the critical mention of the lack of scientific/scholarly investigations of the importance of philosophy to scientific/scholarly activity. You cannot seriously consider that your questionnaire letter represents such?
In reply to this we wish to say, first, that the initial remark on our title fails to make sense to us. Second, concerning our letter: no, we do not take our letter to represent a scientific/scholarly investigation, it is merely a part of such an investigation. And in the way we have conducted our investigation we have adhered to no given method; we have, as we always do, proceeded at each step in what has seemed to us the way best suited to our purpose. The main activity of the investigation has been, partly, a collection of relevant information on our issue of concern, and partly the formulation of texts, first the questionnaire letter and then the present description of the responses. This formulation activity has consisted in a series of sketchings and revisions of the texts, guided by one single goal: clarity.
Accordingly we suggest that the scientific/scholarly quality of our investigation is judged from the result, the present report: primarily the clarity with which it identifies the matters described, the clarity with which it describes them, and the coherence of what it says with other relevant descriptions (in particular the notes from our respondents). In addition, we suggest that our investigation is judged from the relation of our report to the existing scientific/scholarly literature. We suggest that our investigation is an original contribution, in that the matters of concern seem not to have been described in this or a similar manner before.
As a summary of the present section: there is no agreement among the respondents on what methods are or on their importance for their scientific/scholarly activity. The issue is confused.
4) Ideology influencing the scientific/scholarly activity. Eight of the respondents mention ideological concerns among the philosophical issues of their scientific/scholarly activity. Two of them mention causality: #10: My own field biostatistics is in daily confrontation with epistemological [erkendelsesteoretiske] problems activity concerning possible formalizations of causality considerations . #35: course of scientific method Particularly of importance to the understanding of causality in epidemiological research .
Truth is taken to be of positive importance to one respondent, #19: The truth of diagnostic methods. . Respondent #55 stresses the mixed value to the scientific/scholarly activity of philosophical/ideological locutions, including truth:
Philosophical locutions play no visible role in my daily activity as scientist, but I do believe that some notions play an indirect role. Of those mentioned, the locution that appeals most strongly to me is scientific truth Philosophical locutions sometimes play a negative role. They may act as strategies by which to floor colleagues or poor students ("Are you a structuralist?" Or still worse: "Are you a functionalist?"). And they may be inflated so as to form essential barriers to doing any sensible work at all.
Similar mixed reactions to certain ideological locutions are expressed by three other respondents: #29: Kuhns contribution about theory of science/scholarship was a bible to me. Marxist nonsense the bugbear. . #31: I have studied Marxist economy This has been very profitable in my epidemological work. #67:
The word "paradigm" is used sporadically, although not strictly in its philosophical meaning (was it introduced by Kuhn?). Within my field the word is some sort of slang meaning "the things the scientific community currently believe is correct". I have only seen the word used once in the title of a paper from 1981. The paper proposed a new way to interpret the quantitative role of bacteria in the oceans and incorporate bacteria into "the classical paradigm of the plankton food web".
One respondent accepts a particular ideology, but does not grant it any importance: #57: In summary I can say: 1) philosophy has played no role in my scientific/scholarly production, 2) I am a convinced positivistin spite of the contempt in which the concept is held by some people,
One respondent explicitly rejects ideology: #69: I was forced to "learn" theory of science through Uffe Juul Jensens "Videnskabsteori 1+2" It builds upon Marxism and dialecticsand represents pure waste of time.
In summary it appears that the importance to the respondents of philosophical/ideological notions is slight and mixed.
5) Three respondents refer among philosophical issues of their scientific/scholarly activity to consequences to human sensibility and welfare of the scientific/scholarly activity: #15: medical ethics .; #40: in a wider sense my work in the history of science, history of ideas, and history of medicine is much influenced by certain directions within epistemology and moral philosophy.; #42 writes:
I have always been interested in philosophy, but I find it difficult to state concretely its importance in my research. The importance lies not so much in the analysis of concrete problems, but at a higher level. It is, for example, difficult to do clinical research, in which human beings are used as "guinea pigs", without having engaged in certain philosophical queries. the Helsinki declaration builds predominantly upon principles of the ethics of duty first formulated clearly by the German philosopher Kant
Considering that most scientific/scholarly activities involve consequences to human sensibility and welfare, the small number of responses in this group is remarkable. The explanation must be that the issue is not commonly regarded to be one of philosophy. It again confirms that there is no common understanding of so-called philosophical issues.
7. Philosophical attitudes
Our query was directed explicitly at clarifying the importance of philosophical locutions. However, to our surprise the query has also brought out significant evidence concerning attitudes held to be philosophical by certain people. This evidence is found in the responses from #12 and #13 who refused to answer our query, group A. In these responses the respondents refusal to answer our query is explained as the query being unnecessary, the answer is already known: #12: Of course philosophy and theory of science/scholarship [videnskabsteori] are entirely central to science/scholarship; and #13: As a matter of fact any scientific/scholarly activity (whether the scientist is aware of it or not) takes place within a theoretical frame of thought, which one ought to make as explicit as possible. And this activity must be termed philosophical.. In these responses we may note, first of all, the explicit dismissal of an empirical investigation of the question at hand.
Let us consider the statement made by #13 a bit further. It says that any scientific/scholarly activity takes place within a theoretical frame of thought. But what is a frame of thought? And what makes it theoretical? And what does it mean that an activity takes place within a (theoretical) frame of thought?
None of these questions has an answer. By their reference to thought any answer to them would lie within the province of psychology, which is the science of mental activity, of thinking. But nothing in psychology gives any meaning to talking about frames of thought within which some kind of activity may take place.
And so the allegedly philosophical activity of making a theoretical frame of thought as explicit as possible at closer analysis has turned out to refer to nothing. The matter of fact stated by #13 at closer look has turned out to be (excuse us for saying so) merely pretentious nonsense.
The statement is yet another case of the philosophers misguided understanding of human thinking and displays what we have denoted the philosophers presumption, in this case the dismissal of an empirical investigation in favor of matters of fact (known to the philosopher), issues we have discussed in much fuller detail elsewhere (Naur, 1999).
And so by our query, said by #13 to be naive, we have succeeded, beyond our expectation, in bringing out a striking expression of the philosophical presumption.
8. Coherent description as the core of the scientific/scholarly activity
As an additional perspective on the observations of sections 6 and 7 we shall here present an overview of a form of description, or theory, of the scientific/scholarly activity that explicitly rejects the philosophical locutions. This theory we have presented more fully elsewhere (Naur, 1995). According to this theory the core of scientific/scholarly activity is coherent description. A description is here taken to denote an expression in some form of certain properties of some aspect of the world. By the coherence of scientific/scholarly descriptions is meant the way various descriptions support one another. What distinguishes a field of inquiry is what aspect of the world is taken up for description in the field. Any one description will make use of certain forms of description, selected or invented by the scientist/scholar.
As the first issue, the present view of the scientific/scholarly activity is firmly based upon the description of human thinking presented in classical, introspective psychology (William James, 1890). According to this description an aspect of the world may be singled out for consideration by a person through the mental function of conception. Once singled out as a concept, the aspect may, in the persons mind, become associated with any number of properties. Any such property may, in the persons mind, become further associated to one or more elements of some form of description. In a description such elements are given concrete expression, for example in writing.
According to this form of description of the mental activity of description, the issues of the scientific/scholarly activity considered in section 6 are understood in the following way.
First, the forms of description employed in the scientific/scholarly activity are selected or invented by the scholar/scientist as an important part of the scientific/scholarly activity. No particular form, such as formal logic, is accorded any special status. Certain particular description forms depend in their use on special techniques to such an extent that they form the subject matter of scientific/scholarly fields of their own, e.g. mathematics, computing, spectroscopy, and X-ray crystallography.
Second, the thinking going on in the scientific/scholarly activity is not different from that going on in any other activity.
Third, no manners or methods of proceeding are specific to the scientific/scholarly activity; the activity is similar to any other human activity oriented towards a constructive goal. What distinguishes the scientific/scholarly activity is the character of the goal: formulation of coherent descriptions. In other words, in the present view what makes an activity scientific/scholarly is neither the way it is pursued, nor the forms of description employed, but that it is concerned with descriptions of a certain character.
The word theory may be used, and is thus commonly used, to denote a description of an aspect of the world that comprises classes of similar items.
Formal matters, such as deduction and proof, belong to certain particular forms of descriptions, those building upon elements taken from mathematics and formal logic. These forms of description are advantageous for describing certain aspects of the world, but are not more characteristic of the scientific/scholarly activity than any other forms.
Fourth, in the present view ideology is alien to the scientific/scholarly activity. This holds both for such philosophical ideas as truth and causality, and for political and religious ideologies. More particularly, a description is a representation, usually approximate, of merely certain properties of the matter described, so no issue of its truth or completeness comes up, and the coherence of the description with other relevant descriptions is not a matter of any formal relation. Thus the crucial test of a theory, prominent among Poppers notions of science, does not apply. The relevant issue is that one description (theory) may be better than another one in some particular respects.
Fifth, consequences to human sensibility and welfare of the scientific/scholarly activity are related, neither to the descriptions produced in the activity, nor to the form of the descriptions, but to the aspect of the world selected for description.
Viewing the scientific/scholarly activity to be a matter of description makes clear that the primary quality of a valid contribution is not that it is true, but that it is clearly descriptive, in other words that it makes clear what is talked about and is clear in what it says about that. Further important qualities of scientific/scholarly contributions are their descriptive coherence with other relevant descriptions and their originality. A contribution may be original by describing aspects of the world that have not be described before, or by making use of a new form of description.
Viewing the scientific/scholarly activity to be a matter of description further indicates how the validity of a scientific/scholarly description is a matter of a context of human understanding in a certain scientific/scholarly community. The choice of descriptive elements must be made such that, for the most part, they are part of the habitual understanding of the members of that community. When a description makes use of new descriptive elements, these must be introduced explicitly, for example by definition, as part of the description.
9. The dogmatic, presumptuous philosophical ideology
In summary of the responses to our query we have found that only a minority of our respondents attach any importance for their scientific/scholarly activity to philosophical locutions. Further, that those respondents who do consider the locutions to be important are uncertain and in disagreement about what the locutions denote, whether they refer to the human thought activity or to the scientific/scholarly activity itself. In other words, within a highly competent group of 80 scientists and scholars there is no common understanding of philosophical locutions, neither of what they denote, nor of their importance to their activity.
As the conclusion of our discussion we suggest that this unclarity and confusion in the understanding of the locutions derive from philosophical misconceptions and dogma, from philosophical fallacies.
The central philosophical fallacy is the dogmatic claim, attitude, or ideology, that there are certain particular persons, philosophers, who possess insight into matters of the world without needing empirical support of it, thus eliminating the need to investigate the matters. This dogma is directly antithetic to the scientific/scholarly attitude of open inquiry. It finds direct expression in the present context, both by the fact that the kind of evidence presented in our investigation never seems to have been collected and considered before, and by the denunciation of our investigation by certain respondents to our query.
In relation to the scientific/scholarly activity the philosophical dogma is particularly obnoxious in the way it claims that the human activity of dealing with the matters encountered in the world may be described in terms of such locutions as knowledge, truth, and logical thinking. These locutions display fallacious notions about human thinking, such as the claim that it makes sense to talk of different modes of thinking, such as logical thinking, and the claim that thinking can be described as a rule-controlled activity. These fallacious notions lead to a form of description of the scientific/scholarly activity that builds upon mythical elements of description, such as scientific method.
The philosophical fallacies appear in strong relief if viewed on a background of a description, or theory, of the scientific/scholarly activity that is centered around coherent description. In this perspective the misleading philosophical locutions are replaced by (coherent) description(s), and forms and elements of description.
As our final conclusion we suggest that philosophical locutions should be eliminated from any discussion of scientific/scholarly activities, being confused and misleading, and replaced by carefully chosen locutions that are descriptive of the scientific/scholarly activities, as derived from the insight of those people who actually pursue them.
We wish to express our gratitude to each of the 80 scientists and scholars, some named, some left anonymous, who, by letting us share their expression of important aspects of their experience, have made the present investigation possible.
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