Thursday, June 18, 2009

The metaphor of the "foundations" of knowledge

When you build a structure it is essential that you build the foundation first; but when you plan a structure, you don't plan the foundation first: first you see what kind of structure it is, and then you decide on the kind of foundation you need. This is roughly analogous to the process of scientific discovery and its actual structure. We don't know what kind of foundation science needs until we know what the science has to say; but once we know a certain number of scientific data, we need to apprehend the foundations lest science be seen as a collection of unrelated facts.


X said...

That depends on what you mean by foundation, scientifically speaking.

There are two ways that I can imagine that the word foundation can be used in this context.

1) The principles we hold true, that must be upheld for scientific data to be deemed acceptable and universal. These are more conceptual, and must be accepted as fact for any scientific pursuit to be relevant. One such concept is that the LAWS of science are consistent in all times and places, with the only changes being in the variables.

2) The underlying, unifying law or principal that all other laws stem from. This is the grand Theory of Everything that is so popular among researchers these days, the concept being that there is a singular fact of nature that is only found on the smallest plain of existence, that accounts for all other resulting scientific truths.

Either way though, I think I disagree with your metaphor. Unless I am misunderstanding what you mean by 'foundation.'

Dave the Philosopher said...

Excellent distinction. My illustration can be used for both objects, and to concepts even more general than the foundations of scientific knowledge