Anda di halaman 1dari 3

Whewell, William (1794-1886)

William two seminal works, History of the Inductive Science, from the Earliest to the Present Time
(1837) and The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon their History (1840), began a new era in the
philosophy of science. Equally critical of the British school, which founded all knowledge on
experience, and the German Idealists, who based science on a priori ideas, Whewell undertook to survey the
history of all known sciences in search of a better explanation of scientific discovery. His conclusions were as bold
as his undertaking. All real knowledge, he argued, is , requiring mutually irreducible, ever-present,
and yet inseparable empirical and conceptual components. Scientific progress is achieved not by induction, or
reading-out theories from previously collected data, but by the imaginative of novel hypotheses
upon known but seemingly unrelated facts. He thus broke radically with traditional inductivism - and for nearly a
century was all but ignored. In the Philosophy the antithetical structure of scientific theories and the
hypothetico-deductive account of scientific discovery form the basis for novel analyses of scientific and
mathematical truth and scientific methodology, critiques of rival philosophies of science, and an account of the
emergence and refinement of scientific ideas.

1 Life and works

Whewell was born on 25 May 1794, son of a master carpenter in Lancaster. He died on 6 March 1866, Master of
Trinity College, Cambridge, and one of the most eminent and prolific individuals of the era. His works include
scientific research, physics and mathematics textbooks, books on ethics and law, university education, natural
theology, church architecture, scientific nomenclature, political economy and the history and philosophy of science. He
wrote poetry, translated Greek and German classics and edited the works of Hugo Grotius and Isaac Barrow. He was
an active member of more than a dozen learned societies, a force in the founding and running of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science, an influential Master of Trinity (1841-66), and dominant Vice
Chancellor of Cambridge University during two terms of office (1842 and 1856). Whewell, however, was not just a
polymath. He wrote with the explicit view not merely of encompassing the world of early Victorian learning, but of
synthesizing it and rendering it a unified intellectual whole.
Drawing on the History that endeavoured, for the first time ever, to chart the development of all known
, the Philosophy proposes a novel theory and methodology of science that describe the nature, structure and
aims of a well-formed natural science, explain how scientific discoveries are made and propose ways of retrospectively
assessing their truth. The Philosophy, however, deviated too sharply from the prevailing empiricism, advocated, for
example, by John Herschel and John Stuart Mill, to obtain acceptance in its time (see Mill, J.S. 5; Empiricism;
Inductive inference 4). Only recently, especially in the light of Karl critique of inductivism, is
philosophy beginning to receive the hearing it deserves (see Popper, K. 2-3).

2 Theory of science
theory of science is presented in the Philosophy as an argument from a theory of the sources of knowledge
to a detailed description of well-developed science. Somewhat systematized, it comprises the following four theses:
(1) The Fundamental Antithesis. Convinced that neither the empiricists, who sought to base all knowledge on
experience alone, nor the intellectualists, who based science on a priori ideas, could adequately account for the
development and accomplishments of science, Whewell proposed a bold alternative: all knowledge necessarily
incorporates an objective element given by the world, informed and structured by conceptions furnished by the mind
(which are refined during scientific research to describe the world as it is). Even the most commonplace perception
must go beyond mere sensation. To perceive requires a singling out of sensation, a retention of it by the mind, and
some awareness of its relations to other sensations past and present - none of which can be given by sensation alone.
All knowledge thus embraces an antithesis of irreducible opposites: things as opposed to ideas, sensation as opposed
to conception, fact as opposed to theory. And yet, Whewell notes, it is a Antithesis of , one
that can only be reflected upon theoretically. In practice no item of real knowledge can be fully resolved into its
primordial factual and conceptual ingredients; so conclusion is unavoidable: the purely substantial is
unknowable in itself (see Kant, I. 5).

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London and New York: Routledge (1998)
(2) Theory of . From the near-Kantian epistemology of the Fundamental Antithesis, Whewell goes on to
argue for a theory of the acquisition of knowledge thus construed. He termed the process , but meant
something quite different from all current uses of the word. Whewell envisaged induction as a corrective hermeneutic
process of reading meaning, structure, regularity and law into the facts, rather than gleaning such information from the
empirical data. If all items of real knowledge comprise facts, unconnected in themselves and by concepts
furnished by the mind, it follows that new knowledge is obtained exactly when a new concept, suggested by the mind,
is successfully upon formerly known but seemingly unrelated facts. His language notwithstanding,
Whewell was an outspoken anti-inductivist.
(3) Theory of Excellent Science. A well-formed science takes shape in the course of repeated of ever
higher generality that yield a series of nested, hence deductively related, conceptual colligators. According to Whewell,
the conceptual component of each such science is governed by a , such as that of space for
geometry, force and matter for dynamics, or life for biology. As work progresses certain features of the
Fundamental Idea gradually come to light and are formulated as axioms considered to be true of the Fundamental Idea.
Ideally, a science will consist of an entire corpus of fact perfectly colligated by such a fully axiomatized conceptual
(4) Theory of Truth. Lastly, such a view of science inevitably yields a two-pronged theory of scientific truth. This is
because the propositions comprising a scientific theory strive to attain two different, and prima facie independent
forms of perfection: to be on the one hand well-formed theorems of a well-formed system of ideas, and at the same
time perfect colligators of fact. In the role of colligator a proposition may at best be considered empirically true, while
as a theorem of a well formed system of ideas, it may be considered necessarily true of the Fundamental
Idea - acknowledged to the point that within the system one cannot distinctly intuit its negation. contention
that a proposition may thus be considered necessarily true (of a Fundamental Idea) and yet eventually prove
empirically false, has baffled many of his critics. Truth within a conceptual scheme only implies that the proposition in
question is conceived to be true of a Fundamental Idea (and hence must necessarily hold each time the Idea is applied
to facts). But whether or not it is also true of the facts is forever contingent upon empirical test. notion of
truth within a conceptual scheme thus defies celebrated taxonomy. Since he insisted that a truth relation (other
than mere coherence and resting on more than formal definitions) obtains within pure systems of ideas (as in pure
mathematics) it cannot be considered merely analytic. On the other hand, although a priori with respect to the facts,
such truths cannot be considered synthetically true prior to independent empirical test.

3 Methodology
methodology falls under three major headings corresponding to the stages preceding, during and following
scientific discovery. This part of his philosophy is largely anticipated in the History, in which major scientific
breakthroughs are broken down into , their and their .
Whewell considered discovery itself reducible to no more than an imaginative , a and
inexplicable stroke of inventive defying methodological prescription. Like Popper almost a century later,
Whewell called upon scientists to hypothesize freely, fancifully and frequently. condemnation of
, and Hypotheses non fingo, he urged, expressed the wrong attitude. He refused, however, to
view scientific conjecture as entirely capricious. By the facts in hand as far as possible into their
conceptual and factual ingredients, he argued, a part of the conceptual scheme, at least that to which the facts
in hand directly pertain, may be (re)constructed. Such (partial) knowledge of a conceptual history can
provide discoverers with the appropriate setting and idiom for their new conjectures.
But bold speculation will lead to real knowledge, he argued further, only if firmly coupled to an and skill
which devises means for rapidly testing false suppositions as they offer . The ring is again
unmistakable: the worth of a conjecture is measured not by reports of favourable data, but by its proven resistance to
Resilience in the face of prudent testing, however persistent, Whewell observed, cannot be considered conclusive
proof of the actual (empirical) truth of a hypothesis. And yet he maintained that truth lies within the reach of science.
True theories distinguish themselves from merely good ones on two related accounts. First in repeatedly exhibiting
what he termed of , or explanatory surprise. And second, in generating

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London and New York: Routledge (1998)
as they are repeatedly applied to new and different kinds of phenomena. In opinion both
gravitation theory and the undulatory theory of light had proved themselves true in this manner. Both criteria are as
questionable (as criteria of truth) as they are intriguing (as criteria of acceptability), and have attracted considerable
See also: Conventionalism; Discovery, logic of; Science, 19th century philosophy of 3-6; Scientific method

List of works
Whewell, W. (1833) Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (Bridgewater
Treatise), London: William Pickering.( first major reflections on science. Contains an interesting chapter
on the Inductive and Deductive .)
Whewell, W. (1835) Thoughts on the Study of Mathematics as Part of a Liberal Education, Cambridge: J.J.
Deighton.(Mathematics presented for the first time by Whewell as governed by Fundamental Ideas of which its
axioms are true.)
Whewell, W. (1837) History of the Inductive Sciences, from the Earliest to the Present Time, London: J.W. Parker,
3 vols.( history of science.)
Whewell, W. (1840) The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon their History, London: J.W. Parker,
2 vols.(The third, enlarged edition of 1858-60 was republished by J.W. Parker, in three separate works: a
conceptual history of the sciences, The History of Scientific Ideas (1858); a critical history of the philosophy of
science, On the Philosophy of Discovery (1860); and own philosophical system, dubbed Novum
Organon Renovatum (1858).)
Whewell, W. (1845) The Elements of Morality, Including Polity, London: J.W. Parker, 2 vols. (A system of ethics
ranging from jurisprudence to international law, developed in close analogy to science and mathematics.)
Whewell, W. (1849) Of Induction, with Special Reference to Mr J. Stuart System of Logic, London: J.W.
Parker.( systematic reply to J.S. criticism of the Philosophy.)
Buchdahl, G. and Laudan, L.L. (eds) (1987) The Historical and Philosophical Works of William Whewell, London:
Frank Cass, 10 vols.(An annotated edition of all of published work in history and philosophy of
Butts, R.E. (ed.) (1968) William Theory of Scientific Method, Pittsburgh, IL: University of Pittsburgh
Press.(A short selection of philosophical writings.)
Elkana, Y. (ed.) (1984) William Whewell: Selected Writings on the History of Science, Chicago, IL, and London:
University of Chicago Press.(A selection of philosophical and historiographical texts that bear on his
history of the sciences.)

References and further reading

, R. (1935) Le Rationalisme de Whewell ( Rationalism), Paris: Librairie Felix Alcan.(A close
study of the ultimately unreconciled Kantian and Platonist aspects of philosophy.)
Fisch, M. (1991) William Whewell: Philosopher of Science, Oxford: Clarendon Press. (A detailed account of the
formation of philosophy of science from his early involvement in the reform of Cambridge
mathematics, and a critical appraisal of his mature system.)
Fisch, M. and Schaffer, S. (eds) (1991) William Whewell: A Composite Portrait, Oxford: Clarendon Press.(A
collection of 13 authoritative studies of the content and context of life, work and impact. Contains a
useful bibliography.)
Marcucci, S. (1963) scientifico di William Whewell (William Scientific Idealism), Pisa:
Instituto di filosofia.(A study of philosophy of science that places him within the idealist school.)
Stair-Douglas, M. (1881) The Life and Selections from the Correspondence of William Whewell D.D., London:
Kegan Paul.(A brief biography and selection of correspondence pertaining mainly to personal life.)
Todhunter, I. (1876) William Whewell, D.D. Master of Trinity College Cambridge: An Account of his Writings
with Selections from his Literary and Scientific Correspondence, London: Macmillan, 2 vols.(Contains an
intellectual biography structured around published works, and a wide selection of his professional

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London and New York: Routledge (1998)