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52. Pragmatic Factors in Theory Acceptance

JOHN WORRALL


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00055.x


Extract

The state of science at any given time is characterized, in part at least, by the theories that are accepted at that time. Presently accepted theories include quantum theory, the general theory of relativity, and the modern synthesis of Darwin and Mendel, as well as lower-level (but still clearly theoretical) assertions such as that DNA has a double-helical structure, that the hydrogen atom contains a single electron, and so on. What precisely is involved in accepting a theory? The commonsense answer might appear to be that given by the scientific realist; to accept a theory means, at root, to believe it to be true (or at any rate “approximately” or “essentially” true). Not surprisingly, the state of theoretical science at any time is in fact far too complex to be captured fully by any such simple notion. For one thing, theories are often firmly accepted while being explicitly recognized to be idealizations (see idealization ). Newtonian particle mechanics was clearly, in some sense, firmly accepted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; yet it was recognized that there might well be no such thing in nature, strictly speaking, as a Newtonian particle, and it was certainly recognized that none of the entities to which this theory was applied exactly fitted that description. Again, theories may be accepted, not be regarded as idealizations, and yet be known not to be strictly ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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