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Epistemic progress in biology : a case study Ogden, Athena Dawn

Abstract

The aim of this dissertation is to explore the nature of scientific progress and to broaden existing theories of what constitutes progress in science. I do this by means of a close analysis of the main post-Kuhnian philosophical accounts of scientific progress, namely those put forward by Imre Lakatos, Larry Laudan and Philip Kitcher. I test these three accounts by reconstructing a series of scientific episodes in evolutionary ecology in terms of each account and then assessing the degree to which each account incorporates what is progressive. The episodes I have selected concern the resource competition research of Dolph Schluter on Galapagos finches and related work leading up to it. After distinguishing between macroscopic and microscopic levels in science, I attend carefully to the microscopic level of each episode as it relates to epistemic progress. This investigation demonstrates that some important aspects of scientific progress have been overlooked. I conclude that there are three main ways in which the philosophies of science surveyed do not adequately represent instances of scientific progress. First, the accumulation of factual knowledge is not well accommodated. Second, the role of evidence and argument in scientific theories is not adequately captured. Third, the fine-grained level at which much important epistemic progress in science occurs is often not accounted for. These criticisms relate to a more general tendency of contemporary philosophical accounts to emphasize the macroscopic level of entire research programmes and traditions while failing to attend to the microscopic level of progress inherent in a detailed case study. I end by offering a positive account of scientific progress in light of these criticisms.

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