William Whewell

(1794—1866) college head and writer on the history and philosophy of science

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English philosopher of science and polymath, of whom the essayist Sydney Smith (1771–1845) said ‘science is his forte, and omniscience is his foible’. Whewell was a lifelong Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. His philosophy of science can be seen as applying Kant to the scientific enterprise as conceived by Newton and Francis Bacon. Thus The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840) begins with the claim that ‘Man is the interpreter of Nature, science is the right interpretation’. He analyses scientific theorizing into the decomposition or analysis of facts, the explication of conceptions or attempt to formulate concepts to apply to the facts, and the colligation of facts, whereby facts and conceptions are brought together to give rise to the general propositions of a science (see also consilience). It is noteworthy that for Whewell the process requires real inventiveness: there is no mechanical or purely logical procedure that guarantees scientific success. In this and other respects his work bears affinities to the later philosophy of science of Popper. Whewell also noticed the theory-laden nature of observation. His other major work is the History of the Inductive Sciences (1837).

Subjects: Philosophy.

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