Achinstein and Whewell on Theoretical Coherence

Gregory J Morgan

in Philosophy of Science Matters

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738625
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894642 | DOI:
Achinstein and Whewell on Theoretical Coherence

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In his Particles and Waves, Peter Achinstein gives a precise probabilistic version of theoretical coherence inspired by William Whewell's somewhat vague notion of coherence. Whewell believed that as theoretical science proceeds, it becomes more coherent and rejects false incoherent theories. Achinstein offers a challenge: try to make Whewell's idea more precise while maintaining the properties that Whewell claimed coherence to have. This chapter argues (1) that Achinstein's probabilistic rendition of coherence fails to capture Whewell's notion since the probabilistic rendition of coherence is not an a priori sign of truth and (2) that Achinstein's approach is better seen as a critique of Whewell's central methodological claims than as an interpretation of Whewell's ideas.

Keywords: William Whewell; theoretical coherence; consilience of inductions; Bayes's Theorem; signs of truth

Chapter.  5565 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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