Some people regard science as the supreme form of knowledge, because science provides facts. People tend to see science as true, justified, reliable, precise and objective. However there is a significant difference between natural and social sciences. Natural sciences use ‘the basic scientific method’ to find the facts about the world we live in, the natural events and processes that take place in our world. The ‘basic scientific method’ or nai?? ve inductivism follows five stages which include observation, information, generalization, theory and explanation and prediction.
However though the basic scientific method seems perfectly reliable, there may be some problems which could challenge science as the supreme form of knowledge. Social sciences study human behaviour, relationships and society. These are very subjective and very difficult to measure. The results can be distorted by the scientists because completely objective observation is even more difficult in natural sciences because seeing what you want to see gives a distorted picture.
The famous philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) who was a very radical empiricist and sceptic was concerned with limits to knowledge. According to his theories science cannot give us accurate knowledge and thus should not have such a high status. The problems of natural sciences, basic scientific method and Hume’s theory of causation that challenges science as the supreme form of knowledge is going to be discussed further in this essay. The social sciences study human behaviour and their relationships.
There are several fields of social sciences including anthropology, political science, psychology, sociology and economics. However it is important to note that human behaviour is so inconsistent and influenced by so many variables that it is impossible to measure it precisely. The problem lies also in the social scientists themselves because they are humans as well as the subjects of their attention. It is virtually impossible for them to give a completely objective observation. Firstly they are studying things that can’t be measured in human behaviour such as ‘concentration’ or ‘motivation’.
Secondly there is the problem that if the subject of their study knows he or she is being watched, he or she can consciously or unconsciously behave in a different way than they would otherwise. Also if the person hears the prediction of the results of the experiments, they might deliberately behave in such a way either to fulfil it or not. That means that social scientists’ prediction can influence human behaviour. Simply being seen by the unhidden scientist distorts what is seen. Another problem of social scientists is that they see what they want to see.
They cannot separate their wishes, what they want to see, from what they see in the reality. Therefore social sciences are very imprecise and unreliable. The natural sciences use the basic scientific method which contains five stages that help the scientists to come to a conclusion. Firstly, they observe through their senses a particular set of events, they record the observation that they have made and after that they make certain generalisations which form a theory. The theory helps to form prediction for the future.
Natural sciences are regarded as much more reliable than social sciences because their theories can be tested more easily and the tests can be repeated several times under identical conditions. It is not so easy for the natural scientists to distort the results as for the social scientists. However, there are certain problems with this method that make it seem unreliable too. Firstly, it has to be mentioned that observation comes through our senses. Unfortunately, our senses can be quite easily deceived. It is impossible to make our senses completely objective.
We often see what we believe we should see or what we want to see or our hearing can be again influenced by our belief or a wish. This means that we cannot trust our senses completely. Secondly, science as an activity that is supposed to be detached from emotional content, however the scientists doing the experiments and the observations are humans an they cannot detach from their nature. Simply they can observe things that they want to observe because of many reasons such as political, financial, practical and also personal motives.
And thirdly there is the problem of the observational statement which means that the scientists have to put their observations into words, which can influence the effect that the observation makes on people. Then there is the problem of the way we treat and use our knowledge. The process of inductive reasoning that we use in our everyday life follows this pattern: the experience or the observation comes first and based on it a prediction for the future or a general statement is made. There is a big strength about this way of reasoning.
Firstly, science is based on this kind of reasoning and most of the people regard science as the supreme form of knowledge. Secondly it is quite obvious that the human race couldn’t function without inductive reasoning because most or even all of our thinking processes follow the rules of inductive reasoning. If inductive reasoning was wrong, then human beings couldn’t be classed as rational beings. However, there are weaknesses in this inductive reasoning that really raise doubts about human beings as rational beings.
It is important to see that there is no necessary connection between the past and the future and also that the observation made could have been mistaken. The unconnected past and future can be very well expressed in Bertrand Russell’story about an inductivist turkey1. This story explains that we cannot make predictions or statements based on our past experience and observations because they are absolutely independent from what will happen in the future. This flaw of inductive reasoning seriously challenges the knowledge obtained through science because science is based on past observations.
But if inductive reasoning is really wrong then science is based on very uncertain grounds. The philosopher David Hume created a theory which challenged the idea of causation. Causation means one event causing another, But can we really say that one event caused another? Usually when we see event A and then event B which followed event A, we tend to say that event B was caused by event A. But actually we observed just event A followed by event B, we didn’t observe the cause – the link between A and B. So to say that event B happened because of event A is not the same as to say that event A happened and then event B happened.
We never experience the cause. An example can be day followed by night. In the past, the day was always followed by night and yet the day is not the cause of night. Day and night are both caused by something else (rotation of the earth on its axis as it goes around the Sun). So the connection between these two things can be invariant without either of them being the cause of the other. If this all is right, then science is again put into a very strange position and it seems to be based on very uncertain foundations and we can never talk about anything with absolute certainty.
According to Hume, just the reason that we believe that the sun will rise every morning is based on our past experience and though it may be true that the sun has risen every morning of our lives, this is not enough evidence to guarantee the truth of the thesis that the sun will always rise. In social sciences the major problem is the inconsistency of human behaviour. If people regard social sciences as the supreme form of knowledge, they misunderstand the way social sciences work. It is impossible to rely completely on social sciences because there are too many variables that can influence the results.
However if people regard natural sciences as the supreme form of knowledge, they misunderstand knowledge very much because there are so many problems and mistakes in human reasoning and the way they process information and deduce conclusions from information that was processed in a wrong way or was inadequate to support the conclusion. This theory can be very much supported by the theory of David Hume, a famous philosopher, who challenged science very much by his laws of causation. 1″The turkey found that, on his first morning at the turkey farm, that he was fed at 9 a. m. Being a good inductivist turkey he did not jump to conclusions.
He waited until he collected a large number of observations that he was fed at 9 a. m. and made these observations under a wide range of circumstances, on Wednesdays, on Thursdays, on cold days, on warm days. Each day he added another observation statement to his list. Finally he was satisfied that he had collected a number of observation statements to inductively infer that “I am always fed at 9 a. m.
However on the morning of Christmas eve he was not fed but instead had his throat cut. ” http://marr. bsee. swin. edu. au/~dtl/het704/lecture3/logfals/node6. html, 20th September 2004