74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2003
Yet another excellent entrant in the VSI series. Okasha, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York, gives a well-organized quick tour of the main topics in the Philosophy of Science.
Starting with an introductory chapter on "What is Science", he takes the reader on a tour of "Scientific Reasoning", "Explanation in Science", "Realism and anti-Realism", "Scientific Change and Revolutions". He then adds a chapter on three specific historical philosophical disputes in the Philosophy of Science: (1) the dispute between Newton and Leibniz about the nature of space (absolute or relative), (2) the dispute among three different schools of taxonomic classification in biology and (3) the dispute among psychologists about the 'modularity' of the human mind. He then ends with a wrap up chapter on some of the disputes about science ('Scientism', or an over-reliance on 'science' as a model for all of (or the only legitimate kind of) 'knowledge'; Science and Religion; and the debate around whether Science is 'value-free').
In each case, he gives a very clear, even-handed overview of the arguments that have raged (since the 16th Century) about these topics. He is quite good at giving analogies or examples that make otherwise abstract propositions understandable. He deftly lays out (which is difficult to do) the reasons why philosophical questions about science are not resolvable by science itself, and thus why disputes over these topics continue even today (e.g., all 'empirical' scientific theories ultimately rest on concepts that are more or less 'metaphysical' - which doesn't mean that choosing among fundamental principals is simply a matter of taste, belief or faith (e.g., Creation Science is clearly not just as good a 'scientific' theory as Evolution), but it does help clarify the nature of the assumptions that serve as the foundations of our scientific beliefs). In Okasha's descriptions of the debates over these topics, I often couldn't tell from his writing anything about his own - one of the marks of a good introductory work.
Given the importance of science to modern life, understanding the debates around the core concepts on which modern science rests (and the enormously broad reach (as well as the limits) of science as a way of generating knowledge), is something every educated modern person should do at some level. This little book is an excellent way to get started.
60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2005
What this book claims to do, it does well. It is in the Oxford "Very Short Introductions" series, and so does not pretend to be anything but a cursory introduction to the field of Philosophy of Science. Given that caveat, the book is well-written, great fun to read, and is still likely to give us mere "laymen" in the field something to think about.
Okasha assumes some scientific and philosophical knowledge on the part of the reader. There is not the space to dedicate explanations of specific scientists or scientific theories. The book appears to be for scientists rather than philosophers - he clearly goes into more detail describing the philosophical aspects than the scientific ones. At the same time, he tries not to take sides in the debates of the field, such as the importance of direct observation, the ideas of Kuhn (on scientific revolutions), Popper (on the definition of science), etc. He also covers the basic scientific issues such as causality, inductive vs. deductive reasoning, and how conflict can arise between science and religion.
I'm not sure if a non-scientist will follow all Okasha's examples. However, it's probably unlikely that a non-scientist will pick up this book. This book has helped me immensely in preparing lectures for a module in "The Nature of Scientific Enquiry" for a general science course we have started this year. The clarity and conciseness with which the author presents the material makes this a nice little book, well worth the low cost.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2007
I am a layman learning about Evolutionary Biology. Naturally I've been drawn into the ID/Evolution debate (in some cases on this site) and as part of that debate you end up talking a lot about what science really is, and particularly, what is a Theory. Lots of opponents of evolution cry out that it is ONLY A THEORY. True, but it is a theory (as I learned from this book) in the same sense as all other "theories"; such as the theory of gravity, theory of electricity, etc.! And so on... so anyway, I felt I needed to understand more about the "science of science".
I picked this up to get that brief education and I was richly rewarded. It provides a thorough but concise introduction to the Philosophy of Science. It covers the main topics and gives summaries of the major points of view. It gives references to further reading and even provides some charts and graphics. I now feel equipped to at least discuss the basic problems of the philosophy of science and now know where to go get more information.
My only criticism is the chapter that describes a specific problem in the philosophy of science from 3 of the main branches of science (Physics, Biology, and Psychology). I thought the Biology and Psychology examples were pretty weak - they didn't seem like much of a controversy today or terribly relevant. The controversy in Biology between Cladistics and Phenetics has some historical interest, but doesn't seem to be a pressing current issue (but I'm not a professional biologist, either, in all fairness).
That small issue aside, it was a great read. I recommend it and I'm going to go buy and read some more of the books in this series.
42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2006
What do philosophers think about science? This book provides a brief history of the philosophy of science, describes some logical assumptions in the practice of science and problems in science, and discusses Thomas Kuhn's scientific revolutions. The book concludes with a discussion on science and society.
Philosophy of science, as described in this book, seems to have become a rather esoteric subject removed the daily practice of scientists and the everyday use of science. Some questions that spring to mind but which are not covered in this book: Does the publication and independent verification of results lead to the self-correcting nature of science? Why is the simplest explanation the best? How can scientists who cannot easily perform experiments, such as astronomers and sociologists, make verifiable theories?
Chapter 6 presents three problems in science: Newton's view of absolute space, the classification (by feature or by genetics) of living creatures and the whether the mind is modular or not. It's not clear to me how the philosophy of science can help in resolving these problems. Newton's view was probably driven by his desire to prove the literal truth of the Bible. In this day and age of automated indexing systems, does it really matter which method is used to classify creatures? Finally, shouldn't scientists collect more data before deciding if the mind is modular or not?
This book covers a number of topics in the field but fortunately doesn't get bogged down in a deep technical discussion on any single topic. It is a reasonable overview of the topic for the interested reader and one of the better books in the "Very Short Introduction" series.
Kam-Hung Soh, 19 January 2006.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
In my opinion, this book is probably among the best available introductions to the philosophy of science. It is also suitable for review purposes for those who already have some familiarity with the subject.
The book manages to cover much ground in a short space because it is written very concisely, yet it is also easy to read because the writing style is very clear and straightforward.
I warmly recommend this book without hesitation.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2014
I am giving this review only two stars because of the author's embarrassingly skewed anglocentric bias in writing this book. If you only read this book, you would believe that the history and philosophy of science was largely a British pursuit, without key contributions from German, French, American and other thinkers. He does mention the iconic figures such as Einstein, and does outline Kuhn's contributions, but painfully ignores the significant influence of continental thought. For example, the author spends the better part of a chapter discussing Hume, and astoundingly does not even mention Kant's response to Hume, which for the philosophy of science is even more important than Hume himself. Before Okasha I couldn't have imagined anyone even attempting a legitimate philosophy of science intro without the central contributions by German philosophy of science, which for modern science are far more important than the numerous British writers mentioned by Okasha. If Okasha had titled his book "The Philosophy of Science in England" the book could be accepted as a worthy introduction, but as it stands it is very misleading indeed.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2009
By their very nature, books of the "Very Short Introduction" series cannot possibly deliver an in-depth treatment of any of their subject matters. Then again, this doesn't mean an author cannot use this accessible format to stimulate and inform the reader, while maintaining as much rigor as one can expect from books aimed at a general audience. That is exactly what Samir Okasha manages to do here. The reader will find standard sections on what science is, the basics of scientific reasoning, and the nuances of what counts as an explanation in science. But Okasha also gets into a bit more tricky territory, such as the disputes between realists and anti-realists, and even takes a balanced look at science critics (believe me, it's not easy to be fair and balanced there!). Chapter six, on sample problems in the philosophy of physics, biology and psychology, gives the reader a flavor of what actual philosophical investigation looks like. This is, of course, no substitute for more substantive books on the philosophy of science, but it sure counts as a very good short introduction.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2011
An honours student, American for a good undergraduate student, came to me for a project in Statistics. We narrowed down to a topic on Philosophy of Science with focus on the foundations of statistics, in particular Bayes' Methodology. However, he had not read philosophy before so I looked around, found Philosophy of Science: a very short introduction, and we read it.
The book is very readable and gives an excellent introduction to some of the important issues in philosophy of science. It provides great examples of how to look at issues from various perspectives, which is what I wanted him to do. It was a most appropriate choice and an excellent preparation for him to take on the philosophical issues surrounding Bayes' Methodology, discussing its pro and cons. Moreover, it provides an outstanding example of well written English. I encouraged him to follow Okasha's example for clarity and language.
We enjoyed the book very much. It stimulated a lot of debate. It's a great book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2009
This book represents really very, very short introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Anyone who is beginner in this field should read this text as it really will help in acquiring basic insights about the most important debates within the history and philosophy of Science. As for me, of the particular interest were the issues of theory construction, hypothesis testing and assessing progress within the scientific fields. Most interesting points are made when discussing the issues of falsificationism and theory construction. Also the book discusses in great details Thomas Kuhn and his contribution to the History and Philosophy of Science.Overall this book is worth reading . . .
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2008
At just 134 small (4.5 x 6.5") pages this book is a bargain in both time and cost. The book starts with a short history of modern science (Aristotle, Copernicus, and onward). Using some of the work of Karl Popper and falsifiability, Okasha proceeds to define science, but also points out the failures of Popper's demarcation. There is a short summary to deduction and induction, but counters induction with Hume's problem. The major problems of explanation in science including covering law, symmetry, irrelevancy, and causation, are all discussed. The chapter on realism and anti-realism, perhaps becomes more esoteric, but is an important topic. Thomas Kuhn, and "The structure of scientific revolutions" is an important topic, but perhaps the pages on Kuhn's legacy is not thorough, (but the reader is left with references to pursue!). The paragraphs on biology and "science and religion" in light of "Intelligent design" debates, are of most interest, but coverage is cursory, and other sources are available (I recommend Edward Larson's Summer for the Gods on the Scopes Trail). Photographs and diagrams throughout the book, give some historical examples. Well worth the time!