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The pivotal importance of a common purpose

My criterion of demarcation will accordingly have to be regarded as a proposal for an agreement or convention. As to the suitability of any such convention opinions may differ; and a reasonable discussion of these questions is only pos­sible between parties having some purpose in common. The choice of that purpose must, of course, be ultimately a matter of decision, going beyond rational argument.

Thus anyone who envisages a system of absolutely certain, irrevocably true statements as the end and purpose of science will certainly reject the proposals I shall make here. And so will those who see ‘the essence of science … in its dignity’, which they think resides in its ‘wholeness’ and its ‘real truth and essentiality’. They will hardly be ready to grant this dignity to modern theoretical physics in which I and others see the most complete realization to date of what I call ‘empirical science’.

The aims of science which I have in mind are different. I do not try to justify them, however, by representing them as the true or the essential aims of science. This would only distort the issue, and it would mean a relapse into positivist dog­matism. There is only one way, as far as I can see, of arguing rationally in support of my proposals. This is to analyse their logical consequences: to point out their fertility—their power to elucidate the problems of the theory of knowledge.

Thus I freely admit that in arriving at my proposals I have been guided, in the last analysis, by value judgments and pre­dilections. But I hope that my proposals may be acceptable to those who value not only logical rigour but also freedom from dogmatism; who seek practical applicability, but are even more attracted by the adventure of science, and by discoveries which again and again confront us with new and unexpected questions, challenging us to try out new and hitherto undreamed-of answers. [15]

1 comment

  1. PeterM says:

    Cf. the point behind Harris’s Moral Landscape.

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