Lecture 005

epistemology: study about knowledge and justification

Topic 1: Observation as the basis for our knowledge of the world

worries about epistemology:

worries about instruments:

problem of under-determination of theory by evidence: for one set of data, we can come up with many theories that give us exactly the same inferences.

Topic 2: Ontology and Metaphysics

ontology(metaphysical) questions: questions about the ultimate constituents

ontology; set of views about ultimate constituents

ontological stance: view points about ontology

metaphysics: ontology and its justification

Topic 3: Reductivism and Anti-Reductivism

Methodological individualism: all social phenomena are explained by "beliefs", "desires", and "actions" of individuals. (reductionism about social phenomena)

Methodological holism: not explainable with only "beliefs", "desires", and "actions".

reductive explanation: explain phenomena at ontological level. reductionism: good explanatory theories should give a causal account on the ontological level. anti-reductionist: social facts is not explainable on ontological level.

Topic 4: Confirmation and dis-confirmation of theories

scientific theory: a collection of related claims that describe and explain a particular phenomenon or class of phenomena. (has implications or entailments)

confirmation and dis-confirmation evidence might be different in social / physical science.


  1. should scientists accept successful explanation or prediction as a mark of a theory’s truth?

Assume that there could only exist one true theory to explain certain phenomena, scientists should accept successful explanation or prediction as a evidence of a theory's truth given that every previous observation (observation before the creation of the theory) is predicted by the theory. Assume every theory are created based on previous observations, then there is no way to evaluate a theory based on previous observations because each theory will automatically receive a full score. If scientists do not accept successful explanation or prediction as a evidence of a theory's truth, then there is no way to evaluate a theory's accuracy after its birth, since neither previous nor future observation (observation after the creation of the theory, but before "now") can be used to evaluate a theory. Since there could exists multiple theories that can successfully predict every previous observation (observation before "now"), it is essential to develop an alternative way to evaluate a theory (based on a theory's complexity, for example). Therefore, scientists should accept successful explanation or prediction as a evidence of a theory's truth, but they should also consider other variables other than "successful prediction" when evaluating a theory.

  1. If a set of claims from a theory is used to make the prediction that turns out to be wrong, is it possible to determine which of those claims should be doubted?

  2. Well, not that I know. It might be one of the claim or multiple of the claims are wrong, I can't tell.

  3. Is it possible that reductionists are right ontologically but wrong epistemically? (it is possible that explanations do not require ontological level detail?)

  4. depends on how you define causality relationship

    • if causality requires involvement in ontological level, then it is not possible. else, possible.
  5. key similarities and differences by "observe"

scope of study personal/interpretive

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