Journal Article

Simple Theories of a Messy World: Truth and Explanatory Power in Nonlinear Dynamics

Alexander Rueger and W. David Sharp

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 47, issue 1, pages 93-112
Published in print March 1996 | ISSN: 0007-0882
e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/47.1.93
Simple Theories of a Messy World: Truth and Explanatory Power in Nonlinear Dynamics

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Philosophers like Duhem and Cartwright have argued that there is a tension between laws' abilities to explain and to represent. Abstract laws exemplify the first quality, phenomenological laws the second. This view has both metaphysical and methodological aspects: the world is too complex to be represented by simple theories; supplementing simple theories to make them represent reality blocks their confirmation. We argue that both aspects are incompatible with recent developments in nonlinear dynamics. Confirmation procedures and modelling strategies in nonlinear dynamics show that there are simple, abstract theories that can be confirmed without encountering the problems pointed to by Cartwright.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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