Reexamining the Problem of Demarcating Science and Pseudoscience




Westre, Evan

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The demarcation problem aims to articulate the boundary between science and pseudoscience. Solutions to the problem have been notably raised by the logical positivists (verificationism), Karl Popper (falsificationism), and Imre Lakatos (methodology of research programmes). Due, largely, to the conclusions drawn by Larry Laudan, in a pivotal 1981 paper which dismissed the problem of demarcation as a “pseudo-problem”, the issue was brushed aside for years. Recently, however, there has been a revival of attempts to reexamine the demarcation problem and synthesize new solutions. My aim is to survey two of the contemporary attempts and to assess these approaches over and against the broader historical trajectory of the demarcation problem. These are the efforts of Nicholas Maxwell (aim-oriented empiricism), and Paul Hoyningen-Huene (systematicity). I suggest that the main virtue of the new attempts is that they promote a self-reflexive character within the sciences. A modern demarcation criterion should be sensitive towards the dynamic character of the sciences. Using, as an example, a case study of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I also suggest that the potential for conflict between demarcation conclusions and the empirical success of a pseudoscientific discipline is problematic. I question whether it is sensible to reject, as pseudoscientific, a discipline which seems to display empirical success in cases where the rival paradigm, contemporary western medicine, is not successful. Ultimately, I argue that there are both good theoretical and good pragmatic grounds to support further investigation into a demarcation criterion and that Laudan’s dismissal of the problem was premature.



philosophy, science, pseudoscience, demarcation, popper, lakatos, carnap, laudan, traditional chinese medicine, osteoarthritis, maxwell, falsificationism, verificationism, methodology of scientific research programmes, problem of induction, systematicity