- Series: Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (August 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226300633
- ISBN-13: 978-0226300634
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 53 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series) 1st Edition
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From the Inside Flap
Intended for undergraduates and general readers with no prior background in philosophy, Theory and Reality covers logical positivism; the problems of induction and confirmation; Karl Popper's theory of science; Thomas Kuhn and "scientific revolutions"; the views of Imre Lakatos, Larry Laudan, and Paul Feyerabend; and challenges to the field from sociology of science, feminism, and science studies. The book then looks in more detail at some specific problems and theories, including scientific realism, the theory-ladeness of observation, scientific explanation, and Bayesianism. Finally, Godfrey-Smith defends a form of philosophical naturalism as the best way to solve the main problems in the field.
Throughout the text he points out connections between philosophical debates and wider discussions about science in recent decades, such as the infamous "science wars." Examples and asides engage the beginning student; a glossary of terms explains key concepts; and suggestions for further reading are included at the end of each chapter. However, this is a textbook that doesn't feel like a textbook because it captures the historical drama of changes in how science has been conceived over the last one hundred years.
Like no other text in this field, Theory and Reality combines a survey of recent history of the philosophy of science with current key debates in language that any beginning scholar or critical reader can follow.
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Another good thing about the book is the fact that it is very well written, and has a style that I happened to enjoy very much. It's somewhat personal, and reading the book sort of feels like having a private talk with the author - a person that knows a lot about what he's talking about. A part of this feeling comes from the fact that Godfrey-Smith constantly tells us what he feels about the themes discussed, and while some would prefer a more "pure" presentation of the facts without judgements, I think the author has managed to present his opinion in a very valuable way in this book. He is very clear about when he actually presents his own ideas, and he also lets us know that there are other views than his out there. This honesty makes sure the presentation is not plagued with bias, and Godfrey-Smith certainly seems qualified to give his opinions.
The title of this review will make it clear that the review so far has mostly been about the first 2/3 or so of the book. I personally think it all falls somewhat apart when he goes from presenting the essential ideas and persons in philosophy of science to presenting his "new" philosophy of science. Naturalism is what Godfrey-Smith prefers, and the chapters describing it feels far less strong than the previous ones. While I enjoy his input when discussing the other themes, I don't think the chapters consisting mostly of his opinions alone are as good. Others will probably disagree, though, as they may see more value in what I feel is basically a collection and re-branding of obvious strong-points from other theories covered earlier in the book. Me feeling this way can surely be caused by me not understanding what Godfrey-Smith is trying to say, but I still feel like I understand most of it, and it still feels like an act of product differentiation in order to make his contribution seem more novel than it really is.
Anyway, I still recommend the book wholeheartedly, as I truly enjoyed reading it, while learning a lot about philosophy of science.
On a closing note: I find the book more suited for self-study for anyone interested than as a text-book for class adaption, as the style and presentation in my opinion does not work as great for a text-book.
Life has taken me in different directions and now, retired, I looked for an introductory text that will help me reestablished and solidify former learning, update and inform on recent developments and, maybe, rekindle the flame.
Godfrey-Smith's book did a superb job for me. In a fluent and lucid prose, sprinkled with temperate wit and with idiosyncratic observations (more to this later) he discusses the main currents of thought in the philosophy of science, from the rise and decline of logical empiricism through the upheavals of Popper and Kuhn to contemporary schools of Bayesianism and modern theory of evidence.
Godfrey-Smith's order of presentation is mostly chronological (and when he departs from this order, he does so for good didactic reasons), but he takes care to make short references to the content of former and future chapters, so that his reader never loses his bearings in the maze.
Contrary to some of the other reviewers here I see it as a merit of the book that the author does not confines himself to discussion of the topics but offers - always explicitly with due transparency - his own point of view and beliefs. This helps not only to enliven the discussion but has the effect of stimulating the reader, so to speak, to weigh himself on the suject matter. When done with proper care and humility this is a goo way to progress, even for a beginner introducing herself or himself to the matter.
Godfrey-Smith's "naturalistic" approach allows for much influence from the working sciences on the philosophy of science. To me, at least, this sounds quite sensible. What I missed was a discussion of the opposite direction: What role, if any, should or could the philosophy of science assume in directing the researcher's path and choices? Godfrey-Smith's touches the matter only cursorily: Right a the beginning he intoduces the difference between a 'normative' and a 'descriptive' approach, here an there he clearly points to the limitations in the normative thinking of e.g. Karl Popper and on the other hand summarily discard Feyerabend's "everything goes" view as 'too wild'. But I on my part would like to see a more comprehensive handling of this topic.
All in all, I heartily recommend this book to everybody seeking an intelligent and readable introduction to the philosophy of science.