Social Epistemology Meets the Invisible Hand: Kitcher on the Advancement of Science

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Philip Kitcher's new book is very ambitious in scope, more ambitious, certainly, than any of his previous books. Unlike Kitcher's Abusing Science: The Case against Creationism (1982), this is not a book that focusses on just one single issue in contemporary science or educational policy; nor is it, like his The Nature of Mathematical Knowledge (1983) and Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Nature (1985), a book that emphasizes just one relatively narrow philosophical topic. The Advancement of Science presents a complete, and quite general, position within the philosophy of natural science. Its purpose is much closer to Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959) or even to Nagel's The Structure of Science (1961) than it is to any of Kitcher's earlier books. Kitcher starts off with an explicit epistemology, moves to a “goal” for science based on that epistemology, and then uses this epistemic goal as the target for the various methodological and social or institutional strategies that he offers.