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Scientific reasoning

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Scientific reasoning

Pure formal type

According to Immanuel Kant, formal logic is “science that sets out in detail and proves strictly, only the formal rules of all thought.” Mathematics and formal logic compose this type of reasoning. This class also relies on two constitutive principles of formal systems: the axiom and deduction rules and the concept of syllogism, first expressed by Aristotle and linked to the “deductive reasoning” (also known as “hypothetical-deductive reasoning “), he exhibits in his Topics, and in his treatise on logic: The Analytics. This is also the type that is most suitable to the reality, the one who did the most proven by the particular technique. The keyword of pure formal type is the logical and non-contradictory demonstration (understood as the demonstration we can not drift into the system under study any proposal). In other words, it is not strictly speaking a reasoning on the subject but rather a method to treat facts in scientific demonstrations and carrying on proposition and postulates.

We can distinguish two fundamental disciplines in such type:

  1. logic natural deduction;
  2. combinational logic.

The formal type was particularly developed in the twentieth century, with the logicism and analytic philosophy. Bertrand Russell develops indeed an “atomic method” (or logical atomism) that seeks to divide language into its component parts, its minimal structures, the simple sentence in sum. Wittgenstein was planning indeed to develop a common formal language to all sciences to prevent the use of natural language, and whose propositional calculus is the result. However, despite the epistemological stability, in contrast to other, pure formal type is also largely dependent on the historicity of science

Empirical-formal type

The model of this type, based on empiricism, is the physics. The object here is concrete and outside, not constructed by the discipline (as in the case of pure formal type). This type is actually the combination of two components:

  • on one hand it is based on formal theory, mathematics (basic physics, for example);
  • secondly, the experimental dimension is complementary (scientific method).

The empirical-formal type and progress of the theory – given as a priori – the empirical, then returns to the first via a circular argument intended to support or refute the axioms. The “model” is then the intermediary between theory and practice. It is an oversimplification to promptly test the theory. The notion of “theory” has long been central in philosophy of science, but it is replaced, in the empiricist impetus, by the model, from the mid-twentieth century. The experience (in the sense of practicing) is central here, in the words of Karl Popper: “A system which is part of empirical science must be refuted by experience.”

Among the empirical sciences, there are two main science families: the natural sciences and the humanities. Nevertheless, empiricism alone cannot by itself, by cutting of the imagination, to develop innovative theories, based on the intuition of the scientist, to overcome the contradictions that the mere observation of facts could not solve.

However, there are debates about the empirical nature of certain human sciences, such as economics or history, which are not based on an entirely empirical method, the object being virtual in both disciplines.

Hermeneutic type

Hermeneutical sciences (the Greek hermeneutike, “art of interpretation”) decode the natural signs and establish interpretations. This type of scientific discourse is characteristic of the humanities, where the object is the man. In the hermeneutic method, the visible effects are considered a text to decode the hidden meaning. Phenomenology is thus the closest philosophical explanation of this type, which includes, among others, sociology, linguistics, economics, anthropology, game theory, etc. These may therefore be two categories of speech:

  1. the primary intention is then the subject of the hermeneutics research, eg in psychology;
  2. interpretation is also possible: the theory predicts phenomena, relationships and simulates the effects but the object remains invisible (as in psychoanalysis).

Compared to the other two formal types, the scientific status of hermeneutic type is contested by proponents of a mathematical science, known as “hard”.

In the design of the unity of science postulated by positivism whole current of thought goes, following Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), to affirm the existence of a radical break between the natural sciences and science of the mind. The natural sciences seek only to explain their purpose, while the human sciences, particularly history, also ask to understand from the inside and therefore to consider the experience. These do not have to adopt the method in use in the natural sciences because they have an object that is totally different to him. The social sciences must be the subject of introspection, that Wilhelm Dilthey called a “hermeneutic approach”, that is to say an interpretation process of the concrete manifestations of the human spirit. The hermeneutic type marks the twentieth century, with authors such as Hans-Georg Gadamer, who published, in 1960, Truth and Method that, opposing almighty empiricism, says that “the method is not enough.”


The scientificness is the quality of practices and theories that seek to establish reproducible, measurable and refutable regularities in the phenomena by means of experimental measurement and to provide an explicit representation.

More generally, it is the “nature of this that meets the criteria of science.” Generally in all the sciences, the scientific method is based on four criteria:

  1. it is systematic (the protocol must apply to all cases, in the same way);
  2. it is objective (the principle of “double-blind”: the data must be controlled by fellow researchers – this is the role of the publication);
  3. it is rigorous, testable (through experimentation and scientific models);
  4. and finally, it must be consistent (theories must not contradict, in the same discipline).

Nevertheless, each of these points is problematic and questions of epistemology focus on the criteria of scientific nature. Thus, on the internal coherence to disciplines, the epistemologist Thomas Kuhn demolishes this criterion of scientific character, asking that paradigms undergo “scientific revolutions”: a model is only valid as long as it is not called into question. The principle of objectivity, which is often presented as the preserve of science, is likewise a source of questions, especially in the humanities. Psychoanalysis example is thus not accepted as science to the proponents of the scientificness. Karl Popper as well as Ludwig Wittgenstein denied it this status because of its non-rebuttable nature through experience. Popper adds in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934) that “the scientific attitude [is] the critical attitude”, which forms the core of the scientificness.

For the sociologist of science Roberto Miguelez: “It seems that the idea of ​​science presupposes, first, that of a logic of scientific activity; second, that of a syntax of scientific discourse. In other words, it seems that in order to talk about science, we must postulate the existence of a set of rules – and only one – for the treatment of scientific problems – what was then called “the scientific method” – and a set of rules – and only one – for the construction of a scientific discourse.” The sociology of science studies indeed increasingly scientific nature of the criteria, within the scientific social space from an internal vision, that of epistemology, to a more global vision.

Translated from Wikipedia

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