Physics and the Philosophy of Science – Diagnosis and analysis of a misunderstanding, as well as conclusions concerning biology and epistemology

Abstract

For two reasons, physics occupies a preeminent position among the sciences. On the one hand, due to its recognized position as a fundamental science, and on the other hand, due to the characteristic of its obvious certainty of knowledge. For both reasons it is regarded as the paradigm of scientificity par excellence. With its focus on the issue of epistemic certainty, philosophy of science follows in the footsteps of classical epistemology, and this is also the basis of its 'judicial' pretension vis-à-vis physics. Whereas physics is in a strong competitive relationship to philosophy and epistemology with respect to its position as a fundamental science - even on the subject of cognition, as the pretension of 'reductionism' shows. It is the thematic focus on epistemic certainty itself, however, that becomes the root of a profound epistemological misunderstanding of physics. The reason for this is twofold: first, the idea of epistemic certainty as a criterion of 'demarcation' between physics and metaphysics obscures the view of the much deeper heuristic differences between the two kinds of knowledge. The second, related, reason is that epistemology does not ask the question of the reason for the epistemic certainty of physics; instead, it sets itself the task of 'legitimating' physical knowledge, and this, crucially, with reference to the interpretation of the process of cognition. Thus, as a matter of course, all epistemological assumptions about this process – including the common descriptive understanding of knowledge and its ontological premises – flow into the interpretation of physics as a science. Consequently, this undertaking is not only doubtful from the ground up, because it presupposes for its meaningfulness nothing less than certainty of knowledge concerning (the interpretation of) the process of knowledge, thereby relying on mere convictions; moreover, by projecting the descriptive, 'metaphysical' concept of knowledge onto physics, it leads to unsolvable epistemological problems and corresponding resignative conclusions concerning the claim of knowledge of physics. In other words, epistemology itself builds, due to its basic assumptions, a major obstacle for an adequate understanding of physics. Physics' cross-object, deconstructive approach to knowledge implies a completely different, non-descriptive understanding of its concepts, with consequences that extend far beyond itself due to its status as a basic science.

Author's Profile

Rudolf Lindpointner
University of Salzburg (PhD)

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