- Paperback: 260 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 13, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521644119
- ISBN-13: 978-0521644112
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #752,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science
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"Cartwright's book provides an account of science that does well to bring matters related to scientific practice into the philosophy of science." Review of Metaphysics
"The Dappled World is Nancy Cartwright's latest and...best exposition of an approach to philosophy of science she has been developing for two decades." Ronald N. Giere, Philosophy of Science
"The Dappled World offers an inspiring picture of the nature of reality, and stimulating advice on how to interpret scientific theories....Fans of Cartwright's earlier books will find some of theri major themes further elucidated here." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
In this book Nancy Cartwright argues against a vision of a uniform world completely ordered under a single elegant theory, and proposes instead a patchwork of laws of nature. Combining classic and newly written essays, The Dappled World offers important methodological lessons for both the natural and the social sciences, and will interest anyone who wants to understand how modern science works.
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Top customer reviews
Having said that, I find the book well-written, referenced, and closely argued. The author is up-front and explicitly lays out the three main theses she wishes to convey in the Introduction.
These theses, very briefly, are:
1) Empirical success of physics theories argues for their truth but not necessarily their universality.
2) Laws, where they do apply, hold only ceteris paribus.
3) Our most wide-ranging scientific knowledge is the knowledge of the nature of things, not our knowledge of laws. The former being far more generative.
Continuing from her previous book, "How the Laws of Physics Lie", the author argues that the 'laws' comprising science are not pieces of a grand unitary hierarchical schema of laws (towards the completion of which science is usually presumed to be headed), but rather that the relationship between laws is tenuous at best (hence, "Dappled" in the title). That the laws of nature are true ceteris paribus, and that their validity relies on "successful repeated operations of a nomological machine" (p. 50). A nomological machine being the selected components, capacities and situations that will repeatedly display the same behavior (the behavior that the resultant laws encode - typically with an implicit universal quantifier in front of them).
This is not anti-science or anti-realism or social constructivism. It is, however, explicitly anti-scientific-fundamentalism. The laws of science are not absolute and final, and an ideological belief in that absolutist view is misplaced. Science is a more complicated act than that and it is possible that "reality may well be just a patchwork of laws" (p. 34)
Which (certainly to the extent this book purports to be aimed at the popular market, and probably even where it doesn't) is a large part of the problem. Perhaps in feeling the need to prove her credentials, Cartwright not only chooses highly arcane, technical and therefore, to readers like me, obscure examples, but then expounds them in mind-numbing, greek-alphabet fetishising, detail. The level of assumed knowledge to follow the worked examples in physics and econometrics is too high certainly for the mass market, but also I suspect for many professional philosophers. While I'm not one of those, I'm read enough professional philosophy in this field to know that I ought to be able to keep up with most of it, and that a better job might have been done in keeping me along for the ride than was actually done here.
Nor is Cartwright a particularly elegant writer. The concepts she is asking the reader to accept are radical, and whilst I thought they were pretty clever and - for the part where I could keep up - compelling, they're not especially well expounded, assuming as they do a familiarity with Cartwright's earlier work which it really isn't safe to assume. A greater faculty for expounding difficult concepts - such as that possessed by a Daniel Dennett - would have been an advantage here. Cartwright's is pretty leaden prose.
To the extent I understood it, Cartwright's programme really interested me: to invert the usual wisdom that scientific laws drive and explain physical events in the universe, and observe that physical regularities precede and therefore drive the composition of scientific laws - the laws are convenient models for making sense of pre-existing regularities, and not vice versa - but that even this is a step too far; that in order to even observe the regularities we need to devise "nomological machines" - a pretty phrase, I'm sure you'll agree - which prescribe the conditions in which regularities will be observed. We should talk in terms of capacities rather than regularities, though I couldn't really derive much more insight than that, despite repeated attempts.
The early chapters are just about manageable for the lay reader; after about half-way through I hit a brick wall when talk moved to the technical details of quantum theory, and never seemed to re-emerge.
It is certainly true that this book is beyond my grasp and almost certainly wasn't targeted at people like me, so those with the requisite background should disregard my vote and look into this book, but those more used to browsing the popular science section might want to steer clear.