Word of the Week Wednesday: Duhemian Science

by Max Andrews

Word of the Week: Duhemian Science

Definition: A methodological approach to science that strips data of all religious and metaphysical import.

More on the word:  When considering the criterion of observable evidence I make the distinction between observation and what is empirical.  Something may be observed and qualify as evidence even though it’s not related to material causes.  This is where the distinction between Duhemian science and Augustinian science must be made. I would deny the use of Duhemian science.  This method, or philosophy, has a goal of stripping science from all metaphysical imports.  Augustinian science is open to metaphysical presuppositions with science.  In the mid 1800’s William Whewell was the first to restrict science to only mean natural science.  Pierre Duhem followed this idea and constructed a methodology, which barred explanations to material causes.  For instance, agent causation is completely compatible with Augustinian science but is prohibited as a scientific explanation in Duhemian science.  Agent causation is something that can be observed but isn’t necessarily reductionistic in the material sense as with material causation because agent causation has metaphysical import.

Concerning the Duhemian science, this methodology is incapable of being achieved across disciplines.  This would, by definition, remove psychological, sociological, and historical disciplines from being scientific since all require agent causation in explanation.  Thus, the constraints of Duhemian science are untenable across the spectrum of [scientific] disciplines.


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