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The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (Princeton Science Library) Reprint Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691025247
ISBN-10: 069102524X
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover


"The central proposition of this famous book is that physical theories are conventions serving to economize scientific thought rather than descriptions or explanations of the way the world is made. The work remains intensely alive in a climate of opinion in which strong skepticism about scientific realism is motivated by social and political considerations that could scarcely be more at variance with Duhem's ultra-Catholic conservatism. The introduction by Jules Vuillemin, at once expository and critical, is the clearest commentary on Duhem's philosophy of science that I have had the pleasure of reading. Duhem's phenomenalism, Vuillemin points out, distinguishes between humanity and nature and opposes the naturalism that would make reason merely an aspect of the natural processes it studies."--Charles C. Gillispie, Da}ton-Stockton Professor of History of Science Emeritus, Princeton University,


About the Author

Pierre Duhem (1861-1916) is best known in science for his work in thermodynamics and in history of science for his treatment of the Middle Ages. He was Professor of Physics at the University of Bordeaux
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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Science Library
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (July 9, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069102524X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691025247
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
"The Aim and Structure" is a very influential book in the history of philosophy of science. Duhem rejects the methodology of crucial experiment and inductivism. He emphasizes that scientific experiments are not observations of raw empirical data, but they are highly dependent on theory (theory-ladenness of observation). But the most famous thesis of this book is epistemological holism; according to W.V.O. Quine it is a "milestone of empiricism". I consider "The Aim and Structure" an excellent introduction to some philosophical problems of science, a compulsory reading for a philosopher of science.
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Format: Paperback
"A physical theory is not an explanation. It is a system mathematical propositions, deduced from a small number of principles, which aim to represent as simply, as completely, and as exactly as possible a set of experimental laws." (p. 19). "[W]e recognize in a theory a natural classification, if we feel that its principles express profound and real relations among things," and thus "we shall not be surprised to see its consequences anticipating experience and stimulating the discovery of new laws." (p. 28).

"It is not to [the] explanatory part that a theory owes its power and fertility; far from it. Everything good in the theory, by virtue of which it appears as a natural classification and confers on it the power to anticipate experience, is found in the representative part; all of that was discovered by the physicist while he forgot about the search for explanation. On the other hand, whatever is false in the theory and contradicted by facts is found above all in the explanatory part; the physicist has brought error into it, led by his desire to take hold of realities." (p. 32). An illustrative example is Descartes' work on optics. The "representative" part is quite flawless, while the explanatory part contains many silly things, e.g.: "Light is only an appearance; the reality is a pressure engendered by the rapid motions of incandescent bodies within a 'subtle matter' penetrating all bodies. This subtle matter is incompressible, so that the pressure which constitutes light is transmitted in it instantaneously to any distance" (p. 33). Indeed, Descartes was "the one who contributed most to break down the barrier between physical method and metaphysical method, and to confound their domains, so clearly distinguished in Aristotelian philosophy" (p. 43).
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