4. Scientific Epistemology

Abstract: Scientific inquiry is only one epistemological approach to knowledge. In order to better understand how scientists in general and physicists in particular come to know things, the author addresses several ways of knowing and contrasts them with other approaches to knowledge. Attention in this chapter is focused on the processes of induction and deduction, observation and experimentation, and the development and testing of hypotheses and theories. This chapter takes a physicist’s practical approach to epistemology and avoids such statements as “the transcendental deduction of the synthetic a priori” more typical of philosophers. Implications for how to teach the processes of science at the high school level are included.

Epistemology – Philosophy and Science – Objectivity, Subjectivity, and Truth – Knowledge versus Faith – The Nature of Knowledge – How We Know in General – Induction, Deduction, and Abduction – Induction in Science – Deduction in Science – The Hypothetico-deductive Method – Empiricism in Science – Scope and Limitation of Scientific Knowledge – Student Views on the Epistemology of Science – Implications for Teaching High School Physics