The Nature of Methodological Variance: From Commensurable Canons to Incommensurable Strategies

  • G. L. Pandit
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 73)


Ever since its coming into existence as a relatively independent enterprise, science has been characterized by a relentless dynamic quest for epistemologically effective and methodologically stable patterns of description/explanation. The task of critically selecting such relatively stable patterns of description has been from the very beginning entrusted to the system of scientific method. Thus the relatively short history of modern science is replete with interesting episodes of interaction between (a) the system of scientific method and (b) the scientific problems and the patterns of description proposed from time to time. As a consequence, two things are noteworthy in the growth of science ever since its inception in the modern period. First, the system of scientific method, which developed gradually to promote and regulate the selective growth and proliferation within the corpus of empirical science, has had to be an open system subject to constant negative-feedback-type evolutionary pressures from what it, as a rule, operates upon, viz., the open theory-problem interactive systems. Thus there is not only considerable historical evidence in favour of a constant growth of the system of scientific method in the past but also sufficient reason to believe in unlimited possibilities of its progressive transformation in the future. Secondly, considered as an interactive system of theoretical problems and their attempted solutions, science is best understood as a perpetually growing system not only in the usual specific theoretical sense of conceptual innovations that take place in its different fields, but also in the methodological sense of progressive transformations in its canonical patterns of description themselves.


Scientific Theory Physical Theory Classical Physic Physical Concept Empirical Science 
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    I am indebted to Arthur Koestler for borrowing the terms canon’ and strategy’ from his (1969) which uses them in a different sense in a general systems-theoretical context.Google Scholar
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    While every science must keep asking similar questions according to its unique subject-matter, there nevertheless remain fundamentally common questions between them such as: What distinguishes a scientifically permissible theory from a scientifically impermissible one? Any doctrine that denies that there is a fundamental methodological problem of demarcation in the sense of this question inevitably leads to a consequence of incommensurability in Kuhn’s sense. According to Kuhn each paradigm and the associated practice of puzzle-solving has its own unique demarcation criterion that is internal to it. Hence on this view, each paragidm must be incommensurable with the other.Google Scholar
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    Since “science connecting theory and experiment really began with the work of Galileo” — cf. A. Einstein and L. Infeld (1961), p. 52 — Galileo’s contribution in this context is undoubtedly of considerable methodological significance. Indeed in so far as it is Galileo who said that “Nature is a book and the characters in which it is written are triangles, circles, and squares”, his anticipations of the idea of the physical world as a vast system capable of detached scientific study in terms of a unitary system of abstract physical theory and abstract mathematical models come close to those of Descartes, the seventeenth century staunch advocate of the doctrine of the essential methodological unity of all science. Arguing from his basic epistemological doctrine of “the clear and the distinct ideas,” Descartes defines matter as all those kinds of things that are characterized and distinguished by `extension’. The great philosophical significance of this definition lies in the fact that it lays down a whole methodological and epistemological framework for the kind of physical theory that has to be of an abstract geometrical character. Cf. V. F. Lenzen (1931), p. 231.Google Scholar
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    Adolf Grünbaum’s criticism of operationism in his (1956), pp. 84–94, is similar to this. According to him it seeks to absorb the semantics of a physical theory into its pragmatics. For other recent criticisms to the effect that operationism does not serve the purpose for which it was originally introduced, see F. Suppe (1972), pp. 129164.Google Scholar
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    This is particularly true of Braithwaite’s quite influential interpretation. Thus, while discussing this passage from Dirac’s (1958), he writes in his (1968), p. 93: “If there is a doubt as to the self-consistency of the highest level hypotheses of a scientific theory, an interpretation of the calculus representing the theory by means of a model may serve to establish their consistency.” My attention was also drawn to this kind of interpretation in the comments by an anonymous referee of Philosophical Studies on the manuscript of my (1975).Google Scholar
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    Epistemology is in the context of this requirement taken strictly in its traditional subjectivistic sense. In this sense, its subject-matter is subjectivistically conceived of and its problems formulated in terms of the pragmatical predicates of ‘belief’, certainty’, experience’, etc.Google Scholar
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    See G. L. Pandit (1975), pp. 209–224 and G. L. Pandit (1976), pp. 409–36.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. L. Pandit
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of DelhiIndia

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