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Progress and Its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520037212
ISBN-10: 0520037219
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Larry Laudan is a contemporary philosopher of science and epistemologist. He has strongly criticized the traditions of positivism, realism, and relativism, and he has defended a view of science as a privileged and progressive institution against popular challenges.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 27, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520037219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520037212
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #618,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Laudan's project in this book is to construct a normative model of scientific progress which is responsible to the historical facts, but does not lead to relativism. He argues against many contrary views by pointing to historical counterexamples. He constructs a model in which science is a highly rational enterprise, yet its rationality does not depend on the truthfulness of it's claims, but on its progressive ability to solve the problems it is confronted with. Thus his picture of science is a pragmatic one. As well as his positive model, the book has many excellent criticisms of reletivism and the 'strong program' in the sociology of knowledge. Laudan's biggest influences seem to me to be thinkers like Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend, but he is probably more traditionally 'rationalistic', and more historically knowledgable than any of them. His writing is very systematic, straight forward, and easy to read. He does not try to impress you by overwhelming you.
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This is a required text for my class and it has been valuable in bringing the topics Theory and Science together
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Format: Paperback
This book pretends to be historically informed philosophy of science but it is nothing but a disgrace to its field. It is a parade of stupidity and error interspersed with long plateaus of verbose banalities.

Laudan's model of science is based on the concept of a "research tradition," which is a set of metatheoretic commitments (methodological, ontological, metaphysical, etc.). Theories are of minor importance; they are merely "designed to particularize" (p. 81) the research tradition in which they were conceived. These little particulars don't matter much; it is the research tradition that scientists care about: "a scientist's cognitive loyalties are based primarily in the research tradition rather than in any of its specific theories," which means that "he generally has no rational vested interest in hanging onto those individual theories" (p. 96).

History shows that in reality the priorities are the reverse, so Laudan is forced to falsify history to fit his model. For example, he claims that Leibniz and others "were seriously prepared to dismiss Newtonian physics because its ontology was incompatible with the accepted metaphysics of the day." (p 64). Leibniz was certainly uncomfortable with action at a distance (as was Newton), but to say that he was prepared to "dismiss" Newton's theory is ridiculous. Indeed, Laudan provides no evidence for his interpretation and gives no reference to support it. (This is not the only time Laudan provides an imaginative interpretation of history without giving any reference to support it; see, e.g., p. 88.)

The idea that theories are "designed to particularize" metatheoretic commitments also requires tinkering with history.
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It's a great read. I used it for my PHI317 class and I honestly felt like it was a recreational read.
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