Chapter

To Save the Phenomena <sup>1</sup>

Bas C. van Fraassen

in The Scientific Image

Published in print December 1980 | ISBN: 9780198244271
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597473 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0198244274.003.0003

Series: Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy

 To Save the Phenomena  1

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What is the empirical content of a theory? If a theory is identified with one of its linguistic formulations, the only available answers allow for no non‐trivial distinction between empirical and non‐empirical content. The restriction of such a formulated theory to a narrow ‘observational’ vocabulary is not a description of the observable part of the world but a hobbled and hamstrung description of its entire domain, still with non‐empirical implications. Viewing a theory as identified through the family of its models––the structures it makes available for modelling the phenomena––yields a new approach. The distinctions so made are illustrated with Newton's physics, absolute versus relative motion, nineteenth‐ century ether theory of electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. A hermeneutic circle in the interpretation is noted, and the theory‐independence of the observable/unobservable distinction maintained.

Keywords: absolute motion; empirical content; ether theory; hermeneutic circle; interpretation; model; Newton; observable; observational vocabulary; theory‐independence; unobservable

Chapter.  11463 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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