On Epistemology of the Celestial Realm
Astronomy is the branch of science concerned with the study of matter in outer space. The methods of constructing knowledge in astronomy are unlike those which are used in other fields of scientific inquiry. This is particularly so because astronomers deal with processes which, many-a-time, cannot be either explored experimentally or observed given present day technology. In this paper, Rationalistic tools, like mathematics and logic, and Empirical tools, like sense observations and quantitative measurements, are discussed as complementary approaches for constructing astronomical knowledge.
From the discussion that follows, it will be shown that for producing a sound and reliable theory in astronomy, one must follow a mathematico-deductive pattern of starting with a rationalistic approach and developing a general relation describing a phenomenon. This relation should then be confirmed empirically through specific observed data. On the other hand, inductively forming a generalization by directly using empirical data in a conventional hypothetico-deductive model faces a high risk of resulting in inaccurate astronomical knowledge.
1.2 Scope of Thesis
The argument presented shall work on the assumption that nature is uniform, and the analytic rules of logic and mathematics relate to the physical world as shown by the equations and theorems. Uniformity of Nature implies that an event that occurs at one place and time will occur again at any other place and time if the relevant conditions are the same. This assumption is required for the working of any law.
Also, for the purposes of discussion, empiricism will be discussed in the context of Direct Realism, where sensory perceptions are a reliable source of information of the external world. This assumption is necessitated for a pragmatic analysis of the scientific method, as sensory observations are considered essential components for constructing knowledge in the sciences.
Also, as Immanuel Kant pointed out, ‘all our knowledge begins with experience, but it does not follow that all our knowledge arises out of experience’. The difference between the two should be understood, since an empirical observation is required to kick-start any search for knowledge, even in the case of astronomy. However, the empiricists’ point discussed in this paper is the one that claims that sense datum can be used to construct knowledge vis-à-vis the scientific method in astronomy.
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