Philosophies for Palaeosciences – A Review

  • Morthekai P Birbal Sahni Institute of PalaeosciencesLucknow
Keywords: Palaeosciences; Historical Sciences; Philosophy of Science; Scientific Pluralism; Scientific Realism; Color of Dinosaurs


Philosophy of historical sciences focusing on palaeontology, Earth sciences etc. have been given much interest in the recent past. In this article the focus is on the philosophies that are relevant to palaeosciences that deal with temporally disconnected past alone. Palaeosciences, an aggregate of sciences that deal with the past, is a part of historical sciences. The questions that are attempted to answer by reviewing the research literatures are, 1) what is the appropriate metaphysical view and metaphysical guidelines for palaeosciences?, 2) can a palaeoscientist follow multiple methodologies to understand the past and what are the philosophical foundations for that approach?, and 3) is palaeosciences, science?. It is found that scientific realism seems to be the appropriate metaphysics for palaeosciences. Uniformity of process and simplicity (Ockham’s razor) are shown to be necessary but not sufficient metaphysical guidelines for palaeosciences. Catostrophism and complexity may be invoked in explaining a palaeoscientific hypotheses on the availability of sufficient evidence. Disunity of sciences, epistemological pluralism and methodological pluralism are shown to be beneficiary philosophical views and strategies to do research in palaeosciences. Palaeosciences is science not on Popper’s naïve falsifiability but on Lakatos’ sophisticated falsifiability and Wittgenstein’s family resemblance approach. Turner’s epistemic underdetermination and Cleland’s epistemic overdetermination are discussed in details. Methods such as 1) smoking gun with common cause explanation and 2) consilience when there is a plenty of trace evidences recognized in the field (lucky circumstance) and, Currie’s methodological omnivore when in unlucky circumstances are discussed. It is also shown that the misuse of palaeosciences can be minimized within Lakatosian methodoloy and by the active participation of common public in palaeoscientific research activities. A case study, on the color of the dinosaurs, is given to explain the salient features of palaeosciences as mentioned above.


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