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Alistair Isaac

Eric, thank you very much for the interest in my work, and for this kind discussion of it.

Just a couple points of elaboration to further the conversation:

I take the basic idea of interest to be this: (i) the (experimental / statistical / etc.) methods of a science may presuppose substantive philosophical positions; (ii) insofar as these methods are robust across changes in high-level theory, the presuppositions that support them suggest more robust philosophical implications of the science at issue than the prima facie claims of high-level theory; and (iii) these presuppositions may only be uncovered through historical work, and are often only explicitly discussed when the method is first introduced.

I initially became interested in this idea not so much as a suggestion for how philosophy of science should proceed, but for how science should inform philosophy in general, especially areas of philosophy other than philosophy of science (eg philosophy of mind or metaphysics). This is not to say there aren’t implications for philosophy of science as well, but I think Eric is right that there is already a burgeoning HPS literature that focuses on methods and their implications. My own ideas here have been heavily influenced by several figures in HPS, especial Patrick Suppes, Hasok Chang, and George Smith. The last of which has worked closely on the question of “backward compatibility of evidence,” see for instance his “Closing the Loop” in Biener and Schliesser (eds) Newton and Empiricism.

In the paper Eric discusses, there is really a two-fold appeal to measurement. On the one hand, I take the psychophysical methods for measuring perceptual qualities to be the appropriate target for extracting implications for the philosophy of perception (rather than current theories in perception science). On the other, I draw an analogy between measurement and its key features (basically as articulated in the “representational theory of measurement”) and the key features of perception. This analogy is meant to help articulate the first-order claim that “epistemic structural realism” is the appropriate position within the perceptual realism debate implied by psychophysical methods. Eric is exactly right, however, to dissociate this first-order conclusion from the second-order claim that it is scientific methods we should be examining as philosophers trying to extract substantive conclusions from science, rather than high-level theory. I would love nothing more than to find an interlocutor who agrees on the second-order point, but disagrees about its first-order implications.

[While I also agree with Eric that the analogy between “structural realism for secondary qualities” as I articulate it and structural realism about, say, physics, is loose at best, I do think these views share a common historical origin in 19th century post-Kantian psychology. I’m currently engaged in an ongoing project to trace these origins, especially a strand of influence from Joh. Müller, through Helmholtz, to Hertz.]

Finally, returning to the question of whether there is an interesting methodological project here for HPS — I think one place to see it is in the recent surge of interest in scientific measurement from an HPS perspective. Measurement is the practice by which we connect theory to world and (even when theory-mediated) may be the source of evidence robust across theory change. The intuition that the methods of measurement and data analysis are a potential source for deep insights on scientific progress and the epistemology of evidence, seem to me implicit endorsements of the view. Like Eric, I would love to hear of any related or explicit methodological pronouncements to this effect.

David Duffy

"...methods of measurement and data analysis are a potential source for deep insights on scientific progress and the epistemology of evidence..."

Perhaps not exactly what you were thinking of, but the kind of measurement model (SEM) I am most used to:


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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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