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Adapting the scholastic image of knowledge, Descartes proposed an image of a tree in which metaphysics is depicted by the roots, physics by the trunk, and the branches depict mechanics, medicine and morals. Leibniz proposed a general science in the form of a demonstrative encyclopedia. Belief in the unity of science or knowledge, along with the universality of rationality, was at its strongest during the European Enlightenment.

Dr Cristina Chimisso

Following earlier classifications by Nichols and Bacon, their diagram presenting the classification of intellectual disciplines was organized in terms of a classification of human faculties. The function of the encyclopedia was to exhibit the unity of human knowledge.

Kant saw as one of the functions of philosophy to determine the precise unifying scope and value of each science. For Kant, the unity of science is not the reflection of a unity found in nature, or, even less, assumed in a real world behind the apparent phenomena.

Rather, it has its foundations in the unifying a priori character or function of concepts, principles and of Reason itself. Nature is precisely our experience of the world under the universal laws that include some such concepts. Here Kant emphasized the role of mathematics coordinating a priori cognition and its determined objects of experience. With regards to biology—insufficiently grounded in the fundamental forces of matter—its inclusion requires the introduction of the idea of purposiveness McLaughlin More generally, for Kant unity was a regulative principle of reason, namely, an ideal guiding the process of inquiry toward a complete empirical science with its empirical concepts and principles grounded in the so-called concepts and principles of the understanding that constitute and objectify empirical phenomena on systematicity as a distinctive aspect of this ideal and on its origin in reason, see Kitcher and Hoyningen-Huene He gave philosophical currency to the notion of worldview Weltanschauung and, indirectly, world-picture Weltbild , establishing among philosophers and scientists the notion of unity of science as an intellectual ideal.

Biographical details

From Kant, German-speaking Philosophers of Nature adopted the image of Nature in terms of interacting forces or powers and developed it in different ways; this image found its way to British natural philosophy. Two unifying dimensions are these: his notion of mind-constructed fundamental ideas, which form the basis for organizing axioms and phenomena and classifying sciences, and the argument for the reality of explanatory causes in the form of consilience of induction , wherein a single cause is independently arrived at as the hypothesis explaining different kinds of phenomena.

In face of expanding researches, the unifying emphasis on organization, classification and foundation led to exploring differences and rationalizing boundaries. The German intellectual current culminated in the late nineteenth century in the debates among philosophers such as Windelband, Rickert and Dilthey.

In their views and those of similar thinkers, a worldview often included elements of evaluation and life meaning.

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Kant had established the basis for the famous distinction between the natural sciences Naturwissenschaften and the cultural, or social, sciences Geisteswissesnschaften popularized in theory of science by Wilhelm Dilthey and Wilhelm Windelband. Dilthey, Windelband, his student Heinrich Rickert and Max Weber although the first two preferred Kulturwissenschaften , which excluded psychology debated over how differences in subject matter between the two kinds of sciences forced a distinctive difference between their respective methods.

Their preoccupation with the historical dimension of the human phenomena, along with the Kantian emphasis on the conceptual basis of knowledge, led to the suggestion that the natural sciences aimed at generalizations about abstract types and properties, whereas the human sciences studied concrete individuals and complexes. For Rickert, individualized concept formation secured knowledge of historical individuals by establishing connections to recognized values rather than personal valuations. In biology, Ernst Haeckel defended a monistic worldview Richards This approach stood in opposition to the prevailing empiricist views that, since the time of Hume, Comte and Mill, held that the moral or social sciences even philosophy relied on conceptual and methodological analogies with geometry and the natural sciences, not just astronomy and mechanics, also with biology.

Mill, instead, pointed to the diversity of methodologies for generating, organizing and justifying associated knowledge with different sciences, natural and human, and the challenges to impose a single standard Mill , Book VI. He came to view political economy eventually as an art, a tool for reform more than a system of knowledge Snyder The Weltbild tradition influenced the physicists Max Planck and Ernst Mach, who engaged in a heated debate about the precise character of the unified scientific world-picture. Planck adopted a realist view that took science to gradually approach complete truth about the world, and fundamentally adopted the thermodynamical principles of energy and entropy on the Mach-Planck debate see Toulmin These world-pictures constituted some of the alternatives to a long-standing mechanistic view that, since the rise of mechanistic philosophy with Descartes and Newton, had informed biology as well as most branches of physics.

In the background was the perceived conflict between the so-called mechanical and electromagnetic worldviews, which resulted throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century in the work of Albert Einstein Holton In the International Committee of Monism held its first meeting in Hamburg, with Ostwald presiding.

The Philosophy of Science

In , Mach, Felix Klein, David Hilbert, Einstein, and others signed a manifesto aiming at the development of a comprehensive world-view. Unification remained a driving scientific ideal. The question of unity engaged science and philosophy alike.

In the 20th century the unity of science became a distinctive theme of the scientific philosophy of logical empiricism. A common method did not necessarily imply a more substantive unity of content involving theories and their concepts.

Programme details

It was also predicated on the formal values of simplicity, rationality, philosophical neutrality and objectivity associated with scientific knowledge. In particular, Carnap tried to explicate such notions in terms of a rational reconstruction of science in terms of a method and a structure based on logical constructions out of 1 basic concepts in axiomatic structures and 2 rigorous, reductive logical connections between concepts at different levels.

Different constitutive systems or logical constructions would serve different normative purposes: a theory of science and a theory of knowledge. Both foundations raised the issue of the nature and universality of a physicalist language. One such systems of unified science is the theory of science, in which the construction connects concepts and laws of the different sciences at different levels, with physics—with its genuine laws—as fundamental, lying at the base of the hierarchy. Because of the emphasis on the formal and structural properties of our representations, objectivity, rationality and unity go hand in hand.

Alternatively, all scientific concepts could be constituted or constructed in a different system in the protocol language out of classes of elementary complexes of experiences, scientifically understood, representing experiential concepts.

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Carnap subsequently defended the epistemological and methodological universality of physicalist language and physicalist statements. Unity of science in this context was an epistemological project for a survey of the epistemological debates, see Uebel ; on different strands of the anti-metaphysical normative project of unity see Frost-Arnold Whereas Carnap aimed at rational reconstructions, another member of the Vienna Circle, Otto Neurath, favored a more naturalistic and pragmatic approach, with a less idealized and reductive model of unity.

His evolving standards of unity were generally motivated by the complexity of empirical reality and the application of empirical knowledge to practical goals. The encyclopedia-model took into account the presence within science of uneliminable and imprecise terms from ordinary language and the social sciences and emphasized a unity of language and the local exchanges of scientific tools. The scientific spirit abhorred dogmatism. This weaker model of unity emphasized empiricism and the normative unity of the natural and the human sciences.

Unity without reductionism provided a tool for cooperation and it was motivated by the need for successful treatment—prediction and control—of complex phenomena in the real world that involved properties studied by different theories or sciences from real forest fires to social policy : unity of science at the point of action Cat, Cartwright and Chang Following institutions such as the International Committee on Monism and the International Council of Scientific Unions, Neurath spearheaded a movement for Unity of Science in that encouraged international cooperation among scientists and launched the project of an International Encyclopedia of Unity of Science.

It expressed the internationalism of his socialist convictions and the international crisis that would lead to the Second World War Kamminga and Somsen For the organization of the congresses and related activities, Neurath founded the Unity of Science Institute in , which was renamed in as the International Institute for the Unity of Science, alongside the International Foundation for Visual Education, founded in Boring and S.

Stevens in October which would later become the Unity of Science Institute. The group was joined by scientists from different disciplines, from quantum mechanics Kemble and Van Vleck and cybernetics Wiener to economics Morgenstern , as part of what was both a self-conscious extension of the Vienna Circle and a reflection of local concerns within a technological culture increasingly dominated by the interest in computers and nuclear power.

The characteristic feature of the new view of unity was the ideas of consensus and subsequently, especially within the USI, cross-fertilization. These ideas were instantiated in the emphasis on scientific operations operationalism and the creation of war-boosted cross-disciplines such as cybernetics, computation, electro-acoustics, psycho-acoustics, neutronics, game theory, and biophysics Galison and Hardcastle In the late s, Michael Polanyi and Marjorie Grene organized a series of conferences funded by the Ford Foundation on unity of science themes Grene a, b, Their general character was interdisciplinary and anti-reductionist.

For both Neurath and Polanyi the organization of knowledge and science, the Republic of Science, was inseparable from ideals of political organization. The historical introductory sections have aimed to show the intellectual centrality, varying formulations, and significance of the concept of unity. The rest of the entry presents a variety of modern themes and views. It will be helpful to introduce a number of broad categories and distinctions that can sort out different kinds of accounts and track some relations between them as well as additional significant philosophical issues.

The categories are not mutually exclusive, and they sometimes partly overlap; therefore; while they help label and characterize different positions, they cannot provide a simple, easy and neatly ordered conceptual map. Connective unity is a weaker notion than the specific ideal of reductive unity ; this requires asymmetric relations of reduction, with assumptions about hierarchies of levels of description and the primacy—conceptual, ontological, epistemological, and so on—of a fundamental representation.


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The category of connective unity helps accommodate and bring attention to the diversity of non-reductive accounts. Another useful distinction is between synchronic and diachronic unity. Synchronic accounts are ahistorical, assuming no meaningful temporal relations. Diachronic accounts, by contrast, introduce genealogical hypotheses involving asymmetric temporal and causal relations between entities or states of the systems described.

Evolutionary models are of this kind; they may be reductive to the extent that the posited original entities are simpler and on a lower level of organization and size.

Examples of philosophical bias

Others simply emphasize connection without overall directionality. In general, it is useful to distinguish between ontological unity and epistemological unity , even if many accounts bear both characteristics and fall under both rubrics. In some cases, one kind supports the other salient kind in the model. Ontological unity is here broadly understood as involving relations between descriptive conceptual elements; in some cases the concepts will describe entities, facts, properties or relations, and descriptive models will focus on metaphysical aspects of the unifying connections such as holism, emergence, or downwards causation.


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Epistemological unity applies to epistemic relations or goals such as explanation. Methodological connections and formal logical, mathematical, etc. I will not draw any strict or explicit distinction between epistemological and methodological dimensions or modes of unity.

Additional categories and distinctions include the following: vertical unity or inter-level unity is unity of elements attached to levels of analysis, composition or organization on a hierarchy, whether for a single science or more, whereas horizontal unity or intra-level unity applies to one single level and to its corresponding kind of system Wimsatt Global unity is unity of any other variety with a universal quantifier of all kinds of elements, aspects or descriptions associated with individual sciences as a kind of monism , for instance, taxonomical monism about natural kinds, while local unity applies to a subset Cartwright has distinguished this same-level global form of reduction, or "imperialism", in Cartwright ; see also Mitchell Obviously, vertical and horizontal accounts of unity can be either global or local.

Finally, the rejection of global unity has been associated with isolationism , keeping independent competing alternative representations of the same phenomena or systems, as well as local integration , the local connective unity of the alternative perspectives. A distinction of methodological nature contrasts internal and external perspectives, according to whether the accounts are based naturalistically, on the local contingent practices of certain scientific communities at a given time, or based on universal metaphysical assumptions broadly motivated Ruphy Philosophy of science became professionally consolidated in the s around a positivist orthodoxy that may be characterized by the following set of commitments: a syntactic formal approach to theories, logical deductions and axiomatic systems, a distinction between theoretical and observational vocabularies, and empirical generalizations.