The Swedish predecessor of this book, Introduktion till Vetenskapsteorin, grew out of an urgently felt need when I was teaching philosophy of science for students of engineering, physics, biology, social science, medicine and nursing. These students have normally no philosophical background and quite often little knowledge of history of science. This book has now been in print for 15 years, and three editions and its relative success in Sweden have encouraged me to make a translation to English in the hope that a wider audience also will find it useful.
This book is not merely a translation of the Swedish book; I have also made some changes. First, Ties Niessen suggested a slight reshuffle of the chapters and an addition of a short Chap. 14, with some actual and forward-looking reflections, which I have done. Second, I have rewritten Sect. 10.7, since I have come to understand laws better. Third, I have made a great number of minor changes as a result of comments and suggestions from two anonymous referees. Their advice was very helpful.
The prime goal for a first course in philosophy of science should be, I believe, to convey an understanding of what science is: how it has developed, what its core traits are, how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience and to know what a scientific attitude is.
In such an endeavour it is common and natural to concentrate on the development and core traits of natural science. However, students and scholars within the social sciences and humanities often think that these sciences differ profoundly from natural science and that the lessons from Galilei, Newton and other natural scientists are not relevant for them.
Here a remark about the word ‘humanities’ is in place. Hume and other eighteenth-century British philosophers used the word ‘moral sciences’ as a label for studies we now would call ‘humanities’. The effect is that the word ‘science’ without modifier now means natural science only. This is not so in German, Swedish and other Germanistic languages, where the corresponding words (‘Wissenshaft’ ‘vetenskap’) are used for all systematic studies at universities. It seems to me that using the word ‘humanities’ encourages people to see the differences rather than the similarities among different disciplines, and since I want to stress commonalities among the sciences, I suggest using the expression ‘human sciences’ as replacing ‘humanities’.
It is commonly assumed that natural science is concerned with testing hypotheses and discovering natural laws, whereas the aim of human and some social sciences typically is to achieve understanding, i.e. understanding the meanings of individual’s and social group’s actions. Such understanding may be achieved by some interpretative method, which is seen as profoundly different from the method of testing hypotheses.