UCL Philosophy


Problems in the Philosophy of Science

Here you can find the text of the book John Watling worked on throughout his retirement, Problems in the Philosophy of Science.

Contents & Synopsis

Knowledge as a Guide to Action: the Future.

Attacks the fallacy of "arguing from what will happen to what would happen if". The knowledge which we need when making decisions about how to achieve our ends is not knowledge of what will happen, but knowledge of what would happen if we were to adopt one or another proposed course of action. 

Knowledge as a Guide to Action: the Past.

Similarly, the knowledge of the past which is relevant to future action is not what has happened, but rather knowledge of "what would have happened were the plan now carried out". Objections to this seemingly paradoxical view are considered and rejected. 

Invalid to Truth, Valid to Probability?

Can induction be rescued by showing that, although it can never show a hypothesis to be true, it can nevertheless show that hypothesis to be probable? It is argued that accepting the validity of inductive arguments to probability conclusions leads to contradictions, e.g. that it is "both probable and improbable that there are swans and only white swans on the Serpentine." 

Trial and Error

Considers a methodological alternative to induction in response to the problem that experimental evidence may confirm many more theories than the one currently under scrutiny.

The Classical Theory of Probability

Offers reasons for rejecting the "classical" account of the probability of an event as the proportion of possible outcomes in which that event occurs.

Bayes' Theorem

Argues that Laplace and Keynes were mistaken in thinking they could use Bayes' theorem to show the validity of inductive argument.

Absolute Space: Newton's Argument

Considers whether Newton's "bucket experiment" provides any support for the view that there are such things as absolute position, movement or acceleration.