Here is ol’ John Stuart Mill expressing something very near the Bryan Magee quote I excerpted a while ago:
“It is true that similar confusion and uncertainty exist respecting the first principles of all the sciences without much impairing the trustworthiness of the conclusions of those sciences….[T]he detailed doctrines of a science are not usually deduced from, nor depend for their evidence upon, what are called its first principles. […] The truths which are ultimately accepted as the first principles of a science, are really the last results of metaphysical analysis, practiced on the elementary notions with which the science is conversant; and their relation to the science is not that of foundations to an edifice, but of roots to a tree, which may perform their job equally well though they be never dug down to and exposed to light.”
This seems completely obvious when you think about it for a bit, but as it’s contra how all of science likes to present itself and how we’re taught about science, it seems odd at first.
For sometimes understandable reasons, science and scientists (politicians are often complicit, too) like to present their findings as unimpeachable edicts, handed down from the empyrean heights of reason, when in reality we’re all just a bunch of simians hooting noises at one another that we suspect might have some relation to some reality somewhere. From time to time, they actually do.