When ecology and philosophy meet: constructing explanation and assessing understanding in scientific practice

Dissertation, Federal University of Bahia (2018)
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Philosophy of Science in Practice (PoSiP) has the “practice of science” as its object of research. Notwithstanding, it does not possess yet any general or specific methodology in order to achieve its goal. Instead of sticking to one protocol, PoSiP takes advantage of a set of approaches from different fields. This thesis takes as a starting point a collaborative and interdisciplinary research between two Ph.D. students from distinct areas: ecology and philosophy. This collaboration showed how a scientist could benefit from philosophy of science (in this case study the philosophical approach of. mechanistic explanation) to construct a model of his explanandum, by means of heuristics approach (heuristics as an instrument but also a methodological approach) and, also allowed philosophy of science take a closer look into the scientific practice to investigate how explanations are constructed and how scientific understanding is achieved (in this thesis, with a dialogue with the contextual theory of scientific understanding). As a result, it is asserted that (i) mechanistic explanation possess limitations but may work as epistemic instruments that mediate between theories, data, scientists, and models; (ii) explanation construction and scientific understanding deeply relies on intuition; (iii) scientific understanding is an instant, a moment, a temporary achievement, and its process may happen in degrees; (iv) philosophy of science, by means of heuristics process, may enhance scientists’ epistemic virtues, improving his academic skills, by means of self-evaluation. This research shows that interdisciplinarity and collaborative work can act, through heuristics, as a toolbox for PoSiP to achieve its goal of understanding how science is made. Despite its success, an analysis of this collaborative practice leads to some fundamental issues. First, philosophy of science in practice is a philosophy of past practice, in that the majority of examples used by mainstream PoSiP come from the final products of science. Second, is it philosophy of [science in practice] or philosophy of science [in practice]? How to practice philosophy of scientific practice and, how to practice interdisciplinarity in the philosophy of scientific practices simultaneously to its scientific activity? This research exposes the epistemic role heuristics and interdisciplinarity possess as methodological toolboxes for philosophy of science in practice. It is defended that other ways of constructing sciences would be through different dynamics such as collaborative networks and interdisciplinarity research contributing to the vision of Trading Zones from Peter Galison, in which bridges between specialized disciplines are created in order to exchange knowledge and information.

Author's Profile

Luana Poliseli
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research


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