Fact and Method: Explanation, Confirmation and Reality in the Natural and the Social Sciences

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Princeton University Press, 1987 - Philosophy - 611 pages
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In this bold work of broad scope and rich erudition, Richard W. Miller sets out to reorient the philosophy of science. By questioning both positivism and its leading critics, he develops new solutions to the most urgent problems about justification, explanation and truth. Using a wealth of examples from the the natural and the social sciences, "Fact and Method" applies the new account of scientific reason to specific questions of method in virtually every field of inquiry including biology, physics, history, sociology, anthropology, economics, psychology and literary theory.

For the past quarter-century, the philosophy of science has been in a crisis brought on by the failure of the positivist project of resolving all basic methodological questions by applying absolutely general rules, valid for all fields at all times. "Fact and Method" presents a new view of science in which what counts as an explanation, a cause, a confirming test or a compelling case for the existence of an unobservable is determined by frameworks of specific substantive principles, rationally adopted in light of the actual history of inquiry. Although the history of science has usually been the material for relativism, Professor Miller uses arguments of Darwin, Newton, Einstein, Galileo and others both to undermine positivist conceptions of rationality and to support the positivists' optimism that important theoretical findings are often justifiable from all reasonable perspectives.

"Fact and Method" includes new accounts of causation, explanatory adequacy, approximate truth and confirmation, together with a defense of scientific realism freed from the positivist assumptions that Professor Miller locates on both sides of the realism controversy. Throughout, the new philosophical ideas are applied to specific topics confronting social scientists or natural scientists, for example: value-freedom, methodological individualism, functional explanation, the nature of evolutionary theory, and the scope of statistical inference. In a long final chapter, Miller uses the new notions of causation, confirmation and meaning to defend a realist, yet radically anti-classical, interpretation of quantum physics.

The explicit and up-to-date analysis of the leading alternative views, the clear explanations of technical and historical issues, and the wealth of examples makes "Fact and Method" an ideal introduction to the philosophy of science, as well as a powerful attempt to change the field. Like the works of Hempel, Reichenbach, and Nagel in an earlier generation, "Fact and Method" will challenge, instruct, and help anyone with an interest in science and its limits.

 

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Contents

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About the author (1987)

Miller is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University.

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