Environment in Crisis

Environmental Impact Assessment

Naive Inductivism
Theory Dependence
Myth of Method

Uncertainties in Science


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Theory Dependence of Observation

The second problem with naive inductivism is that observation is seldom objective and free of preheld assumptions. This is because:

1. Observations are not determined solely by our senses.
For example, visual experiences are not determined solely by the images on the retina. The brain processes the images and interprets them, often without our being aware of it. Similarly what we experience with our other senses (hearing, taste, feel etc) can vary from person to person.

Pictorial examples

2. Observation statements presuppose theory.
For observations to become observation statements we need to use words and those words incorporate theories. For example if we say the table is red, we have a theory about what the colour red and how it looks.

3. Observation and theory are guided by experiment.
Theory precedes observation in science. First a scientist has a hypothesis and then s/he tests it with observations. Otherwise the scientist would not know what to observe, that is, which observations were relevant. Also scientists use equipment to measure and observe and these indirect observations require theory to read and interpret.

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Alan Chalmers, What is this thing called Science, 2nd edition, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1982, chapter 3.

Geoffrey Young, Scientific Objectivity and the Theory-Dependence Thesis, 1997.

David Liley, Visual experience are not determined by the images on the retina, 1998.

David Liley, Observation statements presuppose theory, 1998.

Penelope Sanderson, Inductivism, its problems, and the theory dependence of observation, 1999.

Dennis Earl, Observation and the Theory-Dependence of Observation, 2000.

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© 2003 Sharon Beder