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Noretta Koertge

Title: The Importance of Scientific Problems


In this book I argue, following Popper and Dewey, that science is best understood as a problem-solving activity, but that no previous philosophical accounts go far enough in placing problems at the center of the enterprise. I then survey various types of scientific problems and analyze their logical structure. The last section of the book asks which factors influence the choice of scientific problems. I discuss a variety of evaluations ranging from considerations of explanatory power, through professional ambitions, to political agendas.

The title of the book has two readings and both are intended. To understand science it is important to focus on scientific problems. And the value of science is largely a function of the importance of the research problems which scientists choose to pursue.

Target Audience:

Since the book discusses and builds on a wide array of research in the philosophy (e.g., Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Laudan, Nickles, Bromberger, Giere, Hull) it can serve as an introduction for non-specialists. Since it also proposes a rival account of science and since it brings a new topic to the forefront, viz. how to appraise scientific problems, it is also of interest to professional philosophers of science.

Noretta Koertge

Outline (by chapter) of

How Values Affect the Direction of Scientific Research

Chapter 1:
The Importance of Talking About Scientific Problems

Introduction. Motivates the general idea that scientific systems are generated as solutions to problems which are actively pursued.

Chapter 2: Popper and Dewey's Accounts of Science as Problem- Solving

Reviews the two classic attempts to describe science as problem solving. Contrasts them with traditional empiricist accounts. Poses the issue of whether the objective or the subjective aspects of problems is more important.

Chapter 3: Popper and the Objectivity of Scientific Problems

Analysis of Popper's falsificationist methodology to ascertain the extent to which it actually succeeds in putting problem-solving at the center of the scientific enterprise. Critique of his World-3 account of problems.

Chapter 4: Kuhn and Science as Puzzle Solving

Analysis of Kuhn's account of science as puzzle solving. Difference between puzzles and problems.

Chapter 5: Lakatos and Laudan on Problems

Introduction to the problem of the evaluation of problems. Lakatos on degenerating problem shifts. Laudan on the relative weights of problems.

Chapter 6: The Structure of Problems

Reviews general literature on the structure of problems from mathematics, erotetic logic, and computerized discovery programs. Preliminary typology presented.

Chapter 7: Philosophical Models of Scientific Problems

Analyzes and criticizes the views of Nickles, Hattiangadi, van Fraassen, and Bromberger on the nature of scientific problems. Concludes with a genematrix within which various problem types can be isolated.

Chapter 8: A Framework for the Evaluation of Problems

{Not yet written, but compare Part B of the Popper & Dewey manuscript.]

Demarcation of the issue of how likely it is that we can successfully tackle a problem at this time (it's solubility) from the question of how valuable a solution would be (i.e., the importance of the problem). An analysis of the cognitive importance of each type of scientific problem discussed previously.

Chapter 9: Professional Values and the Choice of Scientific Problems

A look at two recent theories - Giere's account in terms of personal cognitive resources and satisficing and Hull's evolutionary approach which emphasizes the role of credit (e.g. through citations). I also ask what scientific fraud can tell us about scientific values and comment briefly on the ethical codes drawn up by various scientific disciplines.

Chapter 10: The Proper Role of Political and Moral Evaluations of Science

I review the old, but important, debates about whether some knowledge can be dangerous-in-itself, about the extent to which ideology influences the content of science, and whether the people who pay the scientific piper should indeed get to pick the tune. I also summarize some recent feminist critiques of science. I then argue that by viewing science as problem-solving, it is possible to contemplate a social or political evaluation of the choice of scientific problems which does not lead to the ideological fallacy of rejecting theories because we dislike their political implications.
of the problem). An analysis of the cognitive importance of each type of scientific problem discussed previously.