Philosophy of Science and Language

Philosophy of science and language correlate on two main grounds. First, scientific discoveries lead to the development of scientific vocabulary and necessitate the development of confirmatory and explanatory language in scientific discourse. Philosophy of science draws insight into the semantic and epistemic features of this discourse by explaining how scientific vocabulary acquires its meaning and how it is related to reality. There are two distinct kinds of vocabulary used in science. These are observational and theoretical vocabulary. Scientists employ observation vocabulary to report on objects that can be perceived directly, and theoretical vocabulary to describe unobservable entities often postulated in scientific theory to explain observable phenomena in the universe.

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In philosophy of science, this distinction has been the subject of a contentious debate. On the one hand, philosophers of an empiricist persuasion believe that this difference marks an essential semantic and epistemic difference. Application and definition of observational terms can be derived from experience. Neither the meaning nor the truth behind a theoretical term can be established based on experience alone as it relates to unobservable entities. For philosophers with little inclination towards empiricism, this distinction bears no significance as theoretical terms may be applied to observable entities and vice versa. For these philosophers, while there may exist contextual differences between the meaning of observational terms, no semantic difference exists between theoretical and observational terms.  In my opinion, the meaning of observational terms should not depend upon context. It should be fixed, independent of theory. In the presence of a shared observational language, then claims made by alternative theories about a similar subjects can be compared and rationalized.

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Feminist interest in science is inspired by a desire to understand the conditions that affect women’s lives. Science provides an essential resource for the legitimization of gender inequality. For instance, male-dominated gender research in primatology painted a passive picture of women’s sexual and social lives; as more or less controlled by males. However, after female influx into primatology, research revealed that female sexual and social behavior was much more sophisticated than elucidated by previous research. Feminists believe that science has contributed significantly to the way men and women are viewed in society. As it facilitates the inherent androcentrism in scientific institutions practices and content of scientific theories. Feminists raise epistemological questions regarding the objectivity of scientific theory, the status of evidence, implications, and role of orienting contextual values.

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Despite this significant overlap, feminists in philosophy have received considerable criticism. Several critics have argued that the very idea of feminist philosophy of science is a direct contradiction of the objective neutrality of science. In my opinion, despite the desire of the scientific community to achieve objectivity and impartiality, contextual values have considerable epistemic power in every stage of scientific research. Understanding their influence allows us to shift from conforming a false idea of objectivity to a conscious identification of these values and the way they might affect the knowledge gathered from research.

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Robert K. Merton’s Sociology of Science attempts to describe the social construct of science. He identifies four fundamental values that govern the scientific community. These social values include organized skepticism, communism, disinterestedness, and reward (Merton, 1973). Values can play a significant role in determining the probability of getting funding for scientific research, the rate of progress in scientific discovery, and the likelihood of arriving at a consensus on particular scientific theory. For instance, Merton claimed that the highest reward for scientific discovery is recognition. In the philosophy of science this value can guide the progress of scientific research by acting as a motivating factor for scientists to carry out scientific research.

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