As an analogy, suppose that someone wanted to construct an account not of what science is but of business, commerce. If someone starts a business, he will begin by amassing some capital, acquire a place of business, equipment, inventory, employees, and begin to advertise. As the business gets going he has to look ahead, plan replenishing his stock, have reserve funds for repair and for salary, including his own, when receipts are lagging. What is the inference that makes business?

Certainly inference is involved. Evidence of demand for his goods or services needs to be available before he can set out at all. A record of the expenses and receipts, and the timing of each, forms a growing base of evidence that he needs to consult continually, not simply to assess how well he is doing but to assess what is needed to go on. This assessment is a process of arriving at some conclusion that, though perhaps not logically derivable from that evidence, is at least sufficiently likely to him in the light of that evidence. That process is a process of inference. So yes, inference is involved.

But this we could say of almost any form of intentional activity or practice. In order to characterize business in a way that distinguishes it from other human practices, is looking for a distinctive form of the sort of inference involved the right thing to do? Is business distinguished by a special form of inference? Is engaging in that sort of inference precisely what it is to do business?

McMullin’s concentration on inference in developing his view of science, in continuation with the tradition he explores, suggests that we should assume science to be distinguished from such other practices as business and commerce in these terms. Science, not business or commerce or the like, is distinguished by a special form of inference. But it takes patience and willingness to look for differences, partly differences of degree and partly of kind, to elucidate what is special about that special form.

We can go back at this point to the early pages of McMullin’s Aquinas lecture and remember that the ingredients of retroductive inference, as present in science, are commonplace in human reason generally. That all sorts of rational ways to reach conclusions are involved in business, and that this should be a common feature of business practice and scientific practice, should come as no surprise. It may well be in addition that in business sometimes the way to victory over rivals, to commercial success, can only come through the creation of new, novel concepts. A new invention, conceptually novel, may open an opportunity for a business to take on a whole new form. The concept of the computer was with us since Pascal, but not the concepts involved in electronic information storage; that may be a case in point.

136 Zygon

But then, if the differences are to be discerned about much that is in common, all the weight of McMullin’s project comes to rest on some specific claims he makes, even if implicitly in the main, that we need to disentangle from whatever counts as a neutral description of the form.

Place Your Order Here!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *