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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
on December 23, 2006
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.
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.
on December 19, 2015
This was used in a class I took at a local college. Very thorough and easily red. Complex subjects were dealt with clearly and were well integrated throughout the text. This was my first "..A Very Short Introduction.." book. The quality of the content has led me to purchase several others.
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.
Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha
"Philosophy of Science " is the introductory study of the scientific branch of knowledge. If you are curious about how the methods of science work at a basic level this is the book for you. Professor of Philosophy of Science, Samir Okasha embarks upon a brief tour that addresses questions concerning assumptions that scientists take for granted. This 160-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. What is science?, 2. Scientific reasoning, 3. Explanation in science, 4. Realism and anti-realism, 5. Scientific change and scientific revolutions, 6. Philosophical problems in physics, biology and psychology, and 7. Science and its critics.
1. The Very Short Introduction series is a great way to get introduced to a wide spectrum of topics.
2. Well written and accessible for the masses.
3. The fascinating topic of philosophy of science.
4. Addresses the tricky question of what science is.
5. Educational insights on what led to modern physics.
6. Many illustrations that gives the book life.
7. The scientific revolution wouldn't be complete without the great Isaac Newton.
8. The importance of philosophy within science.
9. The difference between science and pseudo-science. The difficulties of establishing clear demarcations.
10. The value of scientific reasoning backed by examples.
11. The difference between deductive and inductive patterns of reasoning.
12. Thought-provoking insights from Hume. Hume's problem of induction.
13. The use and power of inference to the best explanation reasoning.
14. An explanation for the subjective interpretation of probability.
15. Hempel's covering law model of explanation versus the more accepted causality-based accounts.
16. The existing limitations of science are discussed.
17. Realism versus idealism. The arguments for and against.
18. The influential work of philosophy of science, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn. The shift from an old paradigm to a new one.
19. The dominant philosophical movement of the early 20th century, logical positivism.
20. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the philosophical problems in physics, biology and psychology. The author provides three corresponding discussions: Leibniz versus Newton on absolute space, the problem of biological classification, and is the mind modular?
21. The phenomenon of science worship.
22. Interesting take on the tension between science and religion and why that is so.
23. The author provides a comprehensive further reading section.
1. Some philosophical topics even at its most basic can be difficult to comprehend and will require repeat readings. The language of science doesn't necessarily correspond with the language of the layperson.
2. The book feels uneven; that is, some topics are covered with more depth and ease of expertise than others.
3. The author could have done a better job of establishing the existing scientific consensus of the topic of discussion.
4. Never really gets into the classic scientific method.
5. Charts summarizing or a timeline of philosophical views would have added value to the book.
6. The Kindle version suffered some editing mishaps.
7. Kindle links are limited to chapter jumping.
In summary, the author does an effective job of introducing the key task of the philosophy of science which is to analyze the methods of enquiry used in the various sciences. Philosophy is not everyone's cup of tea, it can be dry at times and some topics are more esoteric than others. That being said, the author does an overall commendable job of introducing key philosophical topics of scientific interest. Shortcomings aside, if you are interested in this topic it is a worthwhile read.