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Second-Order Science: Logic, Strategies, Methods

Stuart A. Umpleby

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Context: Philosophy of science is the branch of philosophy that deals with methods, foundations, and implications of science. It is a theory of how to create scientific knowledge. Presently, there is widespread agreement on how to do science, namely conjectures, ideally in the form of a mathematical model, and refutations, testing the model using empirical evidence. Problem: Many social scientists are using a conception of science created for the physical sciences. Expanding philosophy of science so that it more successfully encompasses social systems would create new avenues of inquiry. Two dimensions could be added to philosophy of science: the amount of attention paid to the observer and the amount of impact of a theory on the system described. Method: My approach is to illuminate underlying assumptions. I claim that there are at least three epistemologies and that they can be combined to form a more robust conception of knowledge and of how to do research. There are at least four models and four basic elements (i.e., ideas, groups, events, variables) being used by (social) scientists. Results: The article identifies the logical propositions underlying second-order science. It suggests strategies for developing second-order science. And it describes several methods that can be used to practice second-order science, including how past theories have not only described but also changed the phenomenon being studied. Implications: The task for members of the scientific community, particularly social scientists, is to practice second-order science and to develop further its theories and methods. A practical implication is to accept methods for acting as well as theories as a contribution to science, since methods explicitly define the role of an observer/ participant. Constructivist content: The paper is an extension of the work of Heinz von Foerster and other second-order cyberneticians.

Key words: Philosophy of science, epistemology, models, descriptions, cybernetics.


Umpleby S. A. (2014) Second-order science: Logic, strategies, methods. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 16–23. http://constructivist.info/10/1/016

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