Distinctive features of scientific knowledge

Philosophy, analyzing scientific knowledge, seeks answers to the following questions: What is scientific knowledge and how does it work? What are the principles of its organization and functioning? What is science as a production of knowledge, what are the patterns of formation and development of scientific disciplines, how do they differ from each other and how do they function?

An unambiguous definition of science is hardly possible. This is evidenced by the diversity of its interpretations, discussions on the problem of distinguishing between science and other forms of knowledge. But for all the dissimilarity of the definitions, they have one thing in common – this is that science is the production of knowledge. Sciences can be classified in different ways. The subject of science can be: natural, social and technical. According to the scope of application of science can be classified as fundamental and applied.

The difference between science and everyday knowledge can be drawn on the subject, means, product, methods and subject of activity, purpose and result.

If ordinary knowledge reflects only those objects that, in principle, can be transformed in the ways and types of practical activity, then science is also capable of studying such fragments of reality that can become the subject of development in the practice of the distant future. These features of the objects of science make the means that are used in everyday knowledge insufficient for their development. Although, of course, science uses natural language, its capabilities are not enough for scientific description for a number of reasons.

Firstly, ordinary language is adapted to describe objects woven into the actual practice of man (science, on the other hand, goes beyond its scope).

Secondly, the concepts of ordinary language are fuzzy and ambiguous, their exact meaning is most often found only in the context of linguistic communication controlled by everyday experience. Science, on the other hand, strives to fix its concepts and definitions as clearly as possible, moreover, science develops its own, special language of description; something that is reflected with the help of such concepts and which does not exist in reality (a straight line, a point, an ideal gas, etc.).

Along with a specialized language, scientific research needs a special system of special tools that, by directly acting on an object, make it possible to identify its possible states. Tools used in production and everyday life, as a rule, are unsuitable for this purpose.

Finally, the desire of science to study objects relatively independently of everyday experience presupposes specific characteristics of the subject of scientific activity. Science requires special training of the cognizing subject, during which he masters the historically established means of scientific knowledge, learns the techniques and methods of operating with these means. For everyday knowledge, such preparation is not necessary, or rather, it is carried out automatically, in the process of socialization of the individual.

So, when clarifying the nature of scientific knowledge, we can distinguish a system of distinctive features of scientific knowledge, among which the main ones are:

1) setting for the study of the laws of transformation of objects and realizing this setting the objectivity and objectivity of scientific knowledge;

2) the emergence of scientific knowledge beyond the subject structures of production and everyday experience and the study of objects by it relatively independently of today’s possibilities for their production development.

All other features that distinguish science from other forms of cognitive activity can be represented as depending on the main characteristics and due to them.

2. Logic and methodology of science

It should be noted that knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is inconceivable without the use of methods by which knowledge is obtained. Research in the field of methodology of science occupies one of the central places in modern philosophy. “Logic and methodology of science”, “logic of science”, “logic of scientific knowledge”, “logic of scientific research”, “methodology of science”, just “methodology”, etc. All of these are now taken as synonyms. These names are accepted in the domestic literature to designate a discipline in which the totality of intellectual operations, cognitive procedures and methods of scientific knowledge is studied. This discipline is intermediate between philosophy and exact sciences. From philosophy, it borrows points of view on its subject, from the exact sciences – ways of expressing these points of view (strictness, formalizability, evidence).

The scope and objectives of the methodology are very diverse. Let’s take an example. The researcher, unless he solves a problem that was previously precisely set by someone, begins his research with an awareness of the problem situation as some kind of intellectual anxiety. The first serious step in resolving such a problematic situation is to find the exact statement of the research problem and to find the relationship between this exact problem and the original problem. Only after this does research enter the soil of the exact sciences. And although the subsequent stages of work depend on the success of the first step, it is nevertheless often perceived as something “pre-scientific” and, therefore, secondary. Therefore, scientific work often becomes unnecessarily complicated, or even moves in an unsuitable direction altogether, only because the researcher made a negligence at the very beginning – at the initial preparatory stage.

Paying special attention to the implementation of the first step (“formalization” of the goals and subject of research) is the task of methodology.

Let’s take another example. Any scientific direction at some stage of development (when something has already been done) needs a critical review of achievements so that there is clarity in the questions: has it been done and what is needed? Why is it done this way and not otherwise (and perhaps easier)? Under what assumptions are the results obtained valid? Are these assumptions verifiable?

One could continue the list of the prerogatives of methodology, but it is already clear that neglecting the methodological side of the matter in scientific work is fraught with grave mistakes. As a rule, these are such errors:

– the illusion that the scrupulous accuracy of the solution methods can compensate for the inaccuracy (inadequacy, approximation, etc.) of the very formulation of the scientific problem;

– adjustment of the problem statement to the usual methods of solution, and not the search for methods that correspond to the original meaningful problem;

– the absence of convincing arguments in favor of the correctness of the interpretation of the obtained solution in the original meaningful terms, which is often accompanied by the substitution of the (usually unconscious) initial task for another, not always relevant.

That areas of knowledge that are in the process of becoming are particularly prone to errors of these types is a completely obvious fact. Therefore, it should be specifically mentioned only that even those sciences that cannot be called new in any way still constantly need methodological service. The reason for this is simple: any science, no matter how long and rich its history, always allows development, if not in breadth, then in depth. Vivid examples of this are the emergence of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics at the moment of the triumph of classical physics, when it seemed to many scientists to be almost a complete field of knowledge from a fundamental point of view.

If we talk about mathematics, then for it the significance of methodology is confirmed, for example, by the well-known historical fact that many new branches of this science, which are now part of mathematical logic, were brought to life by needs of a philosophical nature.

From what has been said, it is not difficult to conclude that the improvement of the logic and methodology of science is no less important for modern society than the improvement of science itself.

That is why in improving the quality and efficiency of cognitive activity, methods play a huge role – original tools with which science extracts, develops and tests knowledge, moves from empiricism to theory and from it to practice. It is quite clear that within the framework of each science, its own methods are developed based on its subject.

Method (methodos) – the path to something, the path to the goal, can be defined as a path, a way of activity, as a set of methods for cognition and transformation of reality. It should be noted that the method, firstly, does not exist outside of human activity, and secondly, the content of the method is not arbitrarily formed by the subject, but is ultimately determined by the nature of the object, the laws of its structure, functioning and development (objective conditionality of the method) . Proceeding from this, the method is a set of rules, techniques, methods and the ideas and principles underlying them, due to the objective laws of the reflected reality.

The branch of knowledge that studies methods is defined as methodology. Methodology is a fairly broad concept and can be defined as:

– a set of methods used in this science;

– a set of fundamental, primarily ideological principles that guide research in the field of theoretical and practical problems;

– the doctrine of the method (a special direction associated with the self-knowledge of science).

Methodology is defined in the broad and narrow sense of the word. In a broad sense, methodology is understood as a set of the most general, primarily ideological principles in their application to solving theoretical and practical problems. In a narrow sense, methodology refers to the doctrine of method.

What is the role of method in cognition? The conscious application of methods in cognition allows: to strengthen the cognitive capabilities of a person, to direct and streamline the process of cognition, to provide a consistent solution to the problems that arise in this case.

F. Bacon, characterizing the role of the method in cognition, noted that “a bare hand and a mind left to itself do not have much power.”

The classification of methods of cognition can be carried out on various grounds.

1. According to the nature, the main role in cognition, as well as the ratio in their content of general ideas, principles and specific rules, methods can be divided into:

— Methods-approaches. The main thing in them is the general ideas, principles. These methods form the starting positions of the researcher, indicate the direction and general method of research (the idea of universal interconnection or the principle of development, for example).

— Methods-techniques. In them, the center of gravity moves to specific rules, algorithms of action. This is a direct tool of knowledge (observation, experiment, etc.).

2. According to the degree of generality, the methods are divided into:

– universal philosophical;

– general scientific;

– specific.

3. According to the functional purpose, the methods are divided into:

— methods of the empirical stage (level). They provide the extraction and primary processing of information (comparison, description, classification, etc.).

— methods of the theoretical stage (level). They provide insight into the essence of the processes being studied (idealization, formalization, etc.).

– heuristic methods. These include techniques and actions that activate the creative process, shorten the path to solving complex search problems, and stimulate the emergence of new ideas and solutions. These include: “thinking out loud”, “thinking with a pencil”, “arguing with an imaginary opponent”, “information modeling”, “thought experiment”, “collective brainstorming of the problem”.

Such is the general system of methods of cognition. Knowledge and skillful application of methods will significantly increase the effectiveness of cognitive and practical activities, minimize errors and misconceptions on the way to obtaining true knowledge about the world.

Scientific knowledge is heterogeneous; two levels are quite clearly distinguished in it – empirical and theoretical. Let us consider in detail the differences between the empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge. Let’s start with the features of the tools that are used at each of these levels. Empirical research is based on the direct practical interaction of the researcher with the object under study. It involves the implementation of observations and experimental activities. Therefore, the means of the empirical level necessarily include devices and other means of real observation and experiment. In a theoretical study, there is no direct practical interaction with objects. At this level, an object can only be studied indirectly, in a thought experiment, but not in the course of a real action.

These levels of scientific knowledge also differ in terms of conceptual means. The meaning of empirical terms are special abstractions that could be called empirical objects. Empirical objects are abstractions that actually highlight a certain set of properties and relationships. Idealized theoretical objects, unlike empirical ones, are endowed not only with those features that we can find in the real world, but also with features that no real object (the construction of the researcher’s mind) has.

Empirical and theoretical levels of knowledge differ not only in means, but also in research methods. At the empirical level, a real experiment and real observation, an empirical description are used as the main methods. As for theoretical knowledge, special methods are used here: thought experiment; special methods of constructing a theory; methods of logical and historical research, etc. Empirical knowledge reveals phenomena and their connections; in these connections it can even catch the manifestation of the law. But in its pure form, the establishment of the law is the priority of theoretical knowledge.

Empirical and theoretical levels of knowledge differ in the subject, means and methods of research. However, the selection and independent consideration of each of them is an abstraction. In reality, these two layers always interact. Hence there is a need to consider the forms in which the empirical and theoretical levels of scientific knowledge proceed.

The incompleteness of the formal-logical approach to the levels of cognition is associated with two circumstances:

1) with an analysis of only the structure of knowledge without its comparison with the object under study;

2) with a distraction from development, which in fact always takes place in any cognitive process.

If empirical knowledge is defined from these positions, then we can say that this is a level at which facts are fixed in the object and their description is given at the stage of the phenomenon. This cognition delivers material, which is then processed by theoretical cognition. In the above definition, the object, purpose and means of empirical knowledge are indicated. An object is a phenomenon. The goal is to deliver material for further processing in theoretical knowledge. Means – obtaining facts and their description. It is on these means that we should dwell in more detail. It will be primarily about obtaining facts. What is considered a scientific fact, or a fact of science?

In epistemological terms, a fact is a fragment of objective reality, fixed in science as a real one. Scientific knowledge begins with the accumulation of facts. Before mining facts for science, the scientist determines, at least for himself, the design of what kind of facts he is going to accumulate; from what area; where in this last one will look for them and in what ways; what means will be used in this case, etc. In obtaining facts, the decisive role belongs to two contradictory methods – observation and experiment.

Observation is a way of studying things, processes, in which the researcher does not interfere in the course of their movement and development. It does not change the conditions of their existence, does not affect them in any way (a classic example is an astronomer’s observation of the stars). As a method of obtaining facts, observation has the advantage that it can give a completely objective picture of the subject under study. As a drawback, observation does not penetrate deep into the essence, but glides over the surface.

The second way to accumulate scientific facts is an experiment, which differs from observation by the active intervention of a scientist in the object under study. It is absolutely clear that the experiment opens up more cognitive possibilities for the researcher than observation. Since a scientific experiment is a kind of material practice, it can play the role of a criterion of truth, including when testing hypotheses.

Description. The description of facts is an essential function and, at the same time, the most important stage in the development of scientific knowledge. They gather in order to subsequently study them, investigate them, and draw conclusions from them. The description of facts is a responsible task, since subjectivity is more often possible in solving it than in collecting facts. What does it mean to describe a fact, and how is it done? Describing a fact means answering the question of what it is, what properties it has. Classifying the description, we can offer the following gradation: disorderly description and purposeful; the description is complete and incomplete; qualitative and quantitative; structural, functional, genetic and others. This is a brief description of the forms and means of empirical knowledge.

But scientific knowledge is not limited to the empirical level. The theoretical level is considered to be the core of scientific knowledge. The purpose of theoretical knowledge is to discover the law, the laws of the object under study. It is organized in the form of a scientific search, which itself has stages of formation and development. Scientific search is a type of scientific research aimed at obtaining, acquiring new knowledge: precisely for obtaining, and not for restructuring or systematization. Scientific research differs from pre-scientific research in well-known features: it is purposeful; carried out using scientific methods; conducted systematically and not on a case-by-case basis; focused on discovering the laws of reality.

Scientific research should be carefully prepared in the following way: WHAT exactly to look for, what problem to solve; WHERE , in which area to search; HOW , how to organize the search; by what means to carry it out. Another problem of search is its effectiveness, efficiency. It should be noted that these two concepts are not identical. The search always has some result, ends with something, but this does not mean at all that it is always successful, effective. The search result can be either positive or negative. But the last circumstance should not be embarrassed. For the development of science, a negative result is no less, and sometimes more important. Knowing what not to look for in science can be just as useful as knowing what to look for.

Scientific research begins with a problem statement. A problem is a conscious contradiction between the existing knowledge and the unknown part of the subject, a contradiction, the solution of which is aimed at the activity of a scientist. The problem cannot be treated as mere ignorance; lack of knowledge is not yet a problem. In addition to ignorance, this indispensable element of the problem, the latter necessarily contains an element of knowledge. The element of knowledge in the problem is: firstly, the knowledge that a new side to be known is necessarily present in the subject; secondly, that it must and can be comprehended, known by science. Therefore, if there are no problems in science, it is not science, but something frozen; likewise, if there is no solution to problems in it, it is also not a science, but a collection of some assumptions and hypotheses.

Next, we will focus on the hypothesis as a form of development of theoretical knowledge. A hypothesis is a scientifically based assumption that serves to explain a fact, a phenomenon that, on the basis of previous knowledge, is inexplicable. In the process of scientific knowledge, not one, but several hypotheses, sometimes polar ones, are put forward. In its development, a hypothesis goes through a number of stages: putting forward a hypothesis; substantiation of the hypothesis; verification of it (theoretical and practical). It should be especially noted that before the stage of testing the hypothesis may change. Firstly, it can be specified, concretized; from descriptive to explanatory, can narrow or expand the scope of its action. Secondly, having undergone these changes, the hypothesis can be included in a new system of knowledge, also of a hypothetical nature. A whole hierarchy of hypotheses emerges.

So, the scientific search includes two main points: 1) the formulation of the problem and 2) the formulation of the hypothesis. With a favorable outcome, when the hypothesis is confirmed, the search ends with a scientific discovery. The discovery forms the third, final stage of scientific research. In the most general sense, scientific discovery is understood as the acquisition of new objectively true knowledge about the properties, regular connections and relationships of natural and social reality with its contradictions.

General criteria to distinguish scientific discoveries from other types of knowledge:

1) scientific discovery is such objectively true knowledge, which is established as a result of the creative activity of scientists implementing a certain research program;

2) it must lead to a deepening or expansion of the boundaries of scientific knowledge, for this it must have at least two characteristics: a) social significance and b) fundamental novelty;

3) scientific discovery is such new knowledge that is substantiated, proven and therefore included in the system of science and takes its place in the system of human knowledge.

Another interesting remark should be made about the ratio of professionals and amateurs in science. Quite often, “amateurs” are on top. Why is this happening? Firstly, there is a process of integration in science, there are some general laws of the creative process, and they enable “amateurs” to make discoveries in those areas where they are not specialists. Secondly, a narrow specialist, limited by the scope of his profession, falls into the thrall of the prevailing traditions, established points of view. They prevent him from taking a fresh look at old problems. Proceeding from this, one should not forget that any new knowledge begins to grow old from the moment of its appearance.

Scientific discoveries can have different cognitive value and be very diverse in their epistemological characteristics. Scientific discoveries can be divided into two types – empirical and theoretical, each of which includes several subspecies. An empirical discovery should be understood as a fact fixed in an experiment (observation): an event, a property, a relationship. The second type of scientific discoveries is theoretical, which should be understood as new systems of logically ordered knowledge (concepts, formulations and principles) that perform two functions: explanation and foresight.

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