How Knowledge Grows
The Evolutionary Development of Scientific Practice
An argument that the development of scientific practice and growth of scientific knowledge are governed by Darwin's evolutionary model of descent with modification.
Although scientific investigation is influenced by our cognitive and moral failings as well as all of the factors impinging on human life, the historical development of scientific knowledge has trended toward an increasingly accurate picture of an increasing number of phenomena. Taking a fresh look at Thomas Kuhn's 1962 work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in How Knowledge Grows Chris Haufe uses evolutionary theory to explain both why scientific practice develops the way it does and how scientific knowledge expands. This evolutionary model, claims Haufe, helps to explain what is epistemically special about scientific knowledge: its tendency to grow in both depth and breadth.
Kuhn showed how intellectual communities achieve consensus in part by discriminating against ideas that differ from their own and isolating themselves intellectually from other fields of inquiry and broader social concerns. These same characteristics, says Haufe, determine a biological population's degree of susceptibility to modification by natural selection. He argues that scientific knowledge grows, even across generations of variable groups of scientists, precisely because its development is governed by Darwinian evolution. Indeed, he supports the claim that this susceptibility to modification through natural selection helps to explain the epistemic power of certain branches of modern science. In updating and expanding the evolutionary approach to scientific knowledge, Haufe provides a model for thinking about science that acknowledges the historical contingency of scientific thought while showing why we nevertheless should trust the results of scientific research when it is the product of certain kinds of scientific communities.
“Science seems to grow in power and breadth over generations, yet it is conducted by fallible individuals whose judgment is often coerced by irrelevant social factors. How is this possible? Christopher Haufe argues that the apparent opposing forces are resolved through a Darwinian approach to the conundrum. His argument is philosophically acute and entirely persuasive, especially in regard to scientific practice.”
Robert J. Richards, Morris Fischbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science, The University of Chicago
“This book advances two Kuhnian ideas, that science is essentially a product of communities, and that scientific development has deep analogies to Darwinian evolution. A case study on the development of evolutionary paleontology nicely illustrates this.”
Paul Hoyningen-Huene, Professor Emeritus at Leibniz University of Hannover
Funding provided by: MIT Press Direct to Open