Science Is Irrational—and a Good Thing, Too

To appear in Extreme Philosophy, Routledge, edited by Stephen Hetherington

Many scientists tout the probative role of theoretical beauty—that a theory is beautiful, they say, gives us considerably more reason than we would other- wise have to believe it. At the same time, appeals to beauty are systematically excluded from the journals and conference proceedings that function as the official organs of scientific discourse. Such exclusions, along with a number of other kinds of censorship, violate the principle of total evidence. Perversely, this departure from rationality plays an essential role in undergirding science’s powers of discovery, by focusing researchers’ efforts as intensely as possible on the production of empirical data, to science’s long-run ben- efit. After presenting this case for the strategic irrationality of the rules of scientific publication, I rebut attempts to argue that, in view of their functionality, science’s breaches of the total evidence principle are in fact rationally permissible.

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