Book Review: Philosophy of Science by Samir Okasha

Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished reading the book about a month ago, but I’m reviewing it now. As most Oxford Short Introduction Series books go, this is an easy-to-read, concise guide to the field. Philosophy of science is a very broad subject, so inevitably some corners are cut when you have to fit everything in 144 pages.

The book has 7 chapters. The first chapter deals with the question of ‘What science is’. The author gives some illuminating examples from the history of science, mostly from physics and biology. Then, he expounds on the concepts of pseudoscience and Popper’s demarcation criterion. Thereupon, he uses Marx and Freud’s theories as examples of un-falsifiable, pseudo-scientific claims.

Chapter 2 starts with defining induction/deduction. Subsequently, he delves into Hume’s problem of induction. When dealing with the problem, he brings about all the answers from different perspectives. Not a single answer is treated as the one true solution to the problem. I guess the reader must make their own mind up. I also liked the discussion on different interpretations of probability. Unfortunately, it’s all too common to equate probabilities with proportions. For example, if you read that the probability of an Australian living to 100 years of age is 1 in 10, then you assume that this is equivalent of saying one-tenth of Australians live to the age of 100. No, they don’t!

Chapter 3 goes into more technical stuff like Hempel’s covering law, which states that scientific questions are usually ‘explanation-seeking why questions’. Apparently, the concept of ‘explanation’ in science is not as simple as it may seem. The concept of causality just adds up to problem. I need to read more on these problems.

The next chapter is about realism/anti-realism debate among philosophers of science. I’m more inclined towards realism. Even though I always thought this is an obvious fact, when you look more closely, it gets messy and complicated. Still, I think realism is the way to go.

Chapter 5 is all about Kuhn, paradigms and scientific revolutions. I may not agree with the extreme interpretations of these ideas, but they sure make you more humble! I suppose understanding the psychological and social underpinnings of science can lead to a less idealistic and simplistic view of how science works. They should not however undermine the value of science. Notwithstanding all its limitations, science is still the best thing we have. Go science!

Chapter 6 is comprised of three case studies from physics, biology and psychology. They were all very interesting, but quite limited, and they left me with many unanswered questions. Likewise, the last chapter held much promise, but again was too brief to cover many intriguing ideas about the future of science. I give the book 4/5 stars. I recommend it for those who want a basic introduction to philosophy of science.