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Unwarranted Assumptions: Claude Bernard and the growth of the vera causa standard

Scholl, Raphael (2019) Unwarranted Assumptions: Claude Bernard and the growth of the vera causa standard. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The physiologist Claude Bernard was an important nineteenth-century
methodologist of the life sciences. Here I place his thought in the
context of the history of the vera causa standard, arguably the
dominant epistemology of science in the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries. Its proponents held that in order for a cause to be
legitimately invoked in a scientific explanation, it must be shown by
direct evidence to exist and to be competent to produce the effects
ascribed to it. Historians of scientific method have argued that in the
course of the nineteenth century the vera causa standard was
superseded by a more powerful consequentialist epistemology, which also
admitted indirect evidence for the existence and competence of causes.
The prime example of this is the luminiferous ether, which was widely
accepted, in the absence of direct evidence, because it entailed
verified observational consequences and, in particular, successful novel
predictions. According to the received view, the vera causa standard's
demand for direct evidence of existence and competence came to be seen
as an impracticable and needless restriction on the scope of legitimate
inquiry into the fine structure of nature. The Mill-Whewell debate has
been taken to exemplify this shift in scientific epistemology, with
Whewell's consequentialism prevailing over Mill's defense of the older
standard. However, Bernard's reflections on biological practice
challenge the received view. His methodology marked a significant
extension of the vera causa standard that made it both powerful and
practicable. In particular, Bernard emphasized the importance of
detection procedures in establishing the existence of unobservable
entities. Moreover, his sophisticated notion of controlled
experimentation permitted inferences about competence even in complex
biological systems. In the life sciences, the vera causa standard
began to flourish precisely around the time of its alleged abandonment.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Scholl, Raphaelraphael.scholl@gmail.com0000-0001-7161-2715
Keywords: methodology; consequentialism; vera causa; John Stuart Mill; William Whewell; Claude Bernard
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Experimentation
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
Specific Sciences > Medicine
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Depositing User: Raphael Scholl
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2019 22:18
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2019 22:18
Item ID: 16431
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Experimentation
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
Specific Sciences > Medicine
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Date: 2019
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16431

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