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The Nature of Geoscience

What is the nature of knowledge in geoscience? There is an extensive body of literature that examines the nature of science in general, but few have taken the same level of philosophical approaches to geoscience specifically. Yet the underlying assumptions and approaches taken by geoscientists often differ markedly from those discussed by philosophers of science. A number of scholars have focused specifically on the nature of geoscience, however.

One of the foundational papers in the nature of geoscience was written in 1890 by Thomas Chamberlin, founder of the Journal of Geology, entitled "The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses" (Chamberlin, 1890 ). Chamberlin writes, "The effort is to bring up into view every rational explanation of new phenomena, and to develop every tenable hypothesis respecting their cause and history," and describes how this approach is particularly amenable to the nature of questions and observations of Earth, which have complex causes.

In 1963, the Geological Society of America published a collection of essays entitled The Fabric of Geology ; this collection covers many aspects of the philosophy of geoscience and is an excellent resource for learning more about the philosophical underpinnings.

More recently, philosophers of science and geoscientists have focused on the nature of geological reasoning and geology as an interpretive and historical science. These include:

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