Science and Common Sense
November 13, 2006, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Philosophy, Philosophy of Science

Over at philosophyof brains there is a brief discussion of the relations between science and common sense. The distinction motivating the discussion seems to be the difference between the scientific and ‘manifest’ images of the world.

It may be possible to speak meaningfully of a scientific image of the world but a ‘manifest’ image of the world? What evidence would convince someone that there was a common ‘folk’ understanding of the world relevant to discussions of the details of scientific change?

That having been said the interesting detail is in the claim that: science just is the commonsensical view of the world since all of the incremental steps that take you along the path of scientific progress over the last centuries are available to common sense:

By the end, your image has changed beyond recognition, and your common sense ways of thinking have been replaced by precise measurements, heavy use of mathematics, new concepts, and other aspects of science. But each step is quite commonsensical.

The argument seems to be that science is common sense since, were you to be persuaded (and constrained) to consider the issues that led scientists to replace Newtonian Physics with Relativistic physics, then you would, as a lay person, be convinced by the commonsensical nature of ‘being persuaded to ditch a long-standing theory since extraordinary measurements of unusual events show the inadequacy of the prior theory’ or of ‘being convinced of the groundlessness of euclidean geometry as a necessary framework within a theory of physics because of the advent of non-euclidean geometries’. This view still leaves open the possibility that someone deploying common sense could be forced into declaring their acceptance of new theories but a much more powerful argument would have to be mustered to defend the view that the common sense had accommodated the new theories. Only with an enormous amount of effort and training could you convert common sense to carry post relativistic intuitions. Even then wouldn’t we see our common sense having been demonstrated to be so plastic as to have little value as a descriptive concept.

Common sense may well be capable of being persuaded of the validity of steps of reasoning but that does not entail that it can translate those local steps into a meta-perspective.


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