THE CHALLENGES OF CONSTRUCTING A THEORY OF SCIENTIFIC CHANGE
Since the 1990’s, few have attempted to formulate general theories of scientific change like those proposed by Fleck, Kuhn, Lakatos, and Laudan. The quest for such a theory seems to have been abandoned due to a growing awareness that science’s history was far more diverse, and employed far more methods, than general theories of scientific change could account for. For an increasing number of scholars, however, this historical and sociological data is not an obstacle to the search for a theory of scientific change. Rather it is an opportunity to craft a more nuanced theory that would explain how our theories and methods of their evaluation change through time. Such a theory must be historical rather than whiggish, and descriptive rather than normative. Developing such a theory of scientific change is in line with the growing interest in Integrated History and Philosophy of Science, Social Epistemology, and Cognitive Historiography.
Founded in 2015 in Toronto, the Scientonomy community is dedicated to constructing such a theory of scientific change with the hope of establishing an empirical science of science, which we called scientonomy (sorry, but scientology was taken). This dedication entails an openness to new historical evidence concerning the dynamics of theories and methods and a deep respect for critique. It also entails a commitment to a novel iterative workflow that is geared towards the communal advancement of the scientonomic theory in a piecemeal and transparent fashion. So far the Scientonomy community has produced an online encyclopedia to document the development of the scientonomic theory, and a peer-reviewed journal to invite and archive proposed modifications to the scientonomic theory. The community has begun planning and advocating for an online database of intellectual history, the Tree of Knowledge. These undertakings have revealed new challenges and opportunities for a science of science.
In the spirit of the Scientonomy community’s belief that our knowledge of scientific change is best advanced collectively, we invite papers bringing the best scholarship from the history, philosophy, and sociology of science to bear on the current state of scientonomy and its prospects. Some potential topics include, but are not limited to:
- Is a general descriptive theory of scientific change possible/feasible? Are there any patterns or law-like regularities in the process of scientific change?
- What are the strengths and drawbacks of the current scientonomic theory of scientific change? Do the patterns of scientific change captured in the current scientonomic theory withstand critical scrutiny?
- How can the current taxonomy of epistemic stances be improved? Do epistemic agents accept, use, and pursue theories, or is there something else? Are these stances independent of one another or are some of them reducible to others?
- Is the current taxonomy of theories, methods, and questions sufficient for capturing the types of epistemic elements that undergo scientific change? Do we need to introduce, say, paradigms, research programs, worldviews, values, or concepts, as distinct epistemic elements?
- What is an epistemic agent and what types of epistemic agents are there? Is it just individuals? Communities? Distributed cognitive networks of people and artifacts?
- Can there be a systematic taxonomy for the practice of science, i.e. a taxonomy for activities, instruments, institutions, etc.?
- What are the benefits and challenges of using the scientonomic theory in historical or sociological investigations of scientific change?
- Does the descriptive theory of scientific change have normative implications for the conduct of science? Can descriptive scientonomy help address the traditional issues in normative philosophy of science, such as realism, rationality, progress, etc.?