Evidence for Molecules: Jean Perrin and Molecular Reality

Peter Achinstein

in The Book of Evidence

Published in print October 2001 | ISBN: 9780195143898
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833023 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Science

 Evidence for Molecules: Jean Perrin and Molecular Reality

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Jean Perrin's argument for the existence of molecules on the basis of his 1908 experiments with Brownian motion is examined. Various interpretations of that argument, including hypothetico‐deductive, Wesley Salmon's common‐cause idea, and Clark Glymour's bootstrapping claims, are examined and rejected. The argument is reconstructed as an eliminative‐causal one, and it is shown how it conforms to the requirements of potential evidence. It is also argued, against antirealist interpretations of Perrin, that Perrin himself was applying a realist argument to the existence of unobservable molecules rather than an instrumentalist one to the truth of the observational consequences of the molecular theory.

Keywords: bootstrapping; Brownian motion; common cause; eliminative‐causal reasoning; evidence; Glymour; hypothetico‐deductive; instrumentalism; Perrin; realism; Salmon

Chapter.  12078 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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