Friday, March 23, 2012

Science and the Sentence

Wittgenstein famously said that science consists of everything that can be said about the facts. He called the things that can be said about the facts "propositions", Sätze in German, which can also mean simply sentences. His precursor, Bernard Bolzano approached logic, which he called a "theory of science", as the art of writing these sentences and composing scientific "treatises". There is little doubt that I work in this tradition, which has the somewhat wounded name, logical positivism.

Though I grant that science has an "existential" aspect, a practical, everyday "hustle and bustle", I have never thought that this defines its essence. And I do, contrary to what is still, I think, the consensus view, believe that science has an essence. Science is, essentially, the attempt to uncover the facts, to discover the truth about them, and to write those truths down in sentences. We might also put it this way: it is the purpose of science to articulate the facts. And this is done in series of true sentences, or at least sentences that are proposed to be true, i.e., propositions, Sätze.

When writing, it can be useful to remember that this what you are doing. You are trying to arrange your sentences on the page in such a way that they make the "joints" ("articulation" comes from Latin, artus, which means "joint") between the facts, and within the facts, conspicuous. That's what sentences are for. Right now I am writing on my laptop. That's a fact. But the fact has many parts that are joined together in particular ways. (I am sitting on a chair, by the table, whereon the laptop lies. The screen is open. The keys are black.) Any sentence I might write about those parts and how they are related would articulate the fact that I am writing. And writing makes me more articulate about those facts.

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