Scientific Progress and Its Metaphysical Foundations
Amy LeeAnn McLaughlin
Advisor: Frederick M. Kronz
Source: DAI, 65, no. 08A (2004): p. 3018
Standard No: ISBN: 0-496-03379-4
The dissertation project addresses what is required of a notion of scientific progress. Any viable notion of scientific progress must satisfy three requirements: (1) show that theory comparison is possible, (2) establish criteria for theory success, and (3) outline an appropriate method for theory comparison. The dissertation begins with a discussion of the so-called "incommensurability of theories". The notion is defended against some influential sets of objections; nonetheless it is shown that there are ways of making comparisons among potentially incommensurable theories. Incommensurability is a matter of degree, and the dissertation outlines ways in which incommensurability is resolved. Next, the dissertation addresses the issue of theory success. Typically, success is construed in terms of how well a theory captures truth. An appropriate account of truth is therefore required. The views of Charles Peirce provide the substantial basis for the account. Peirce construes truth as a regulative ideal, and as promoting inquiry. The dissertation addresses these two aspects of Peirce's system, which are appropriately interpreted so as to fend off some important objections. Peirce's pragmatic account of truth cannot, on its own, explain how incommensurability comes about; nor can it account for its conditions of resolution. Thus, Peirce's account of truth needs supplementation. Nelson Goodman's insights about the relationships among theory, observation, and interpretation prove useful in helping to make sense of the possibility of incommensurability and its resolution. Such insights point to a particular metaphysical principle, the principle of multi-faceted realism. This principle is shown to conform with Peirce's pragmatism and to explain why Peirce's approach to scientific inquiry is most fruitful. Armed with this characterization of truth, the dissertation suggests a blueprint for an account of scientific progress. What is of primary importance is leaving open the door to future inquiry, and the conclusions that can be drawn from the foregoing considerations provide information about which avenues of inquiry to pursue and which to avoid in order to ensure that science can be conducted in as progressive a way as possible.
Accession No: AAI3145338