Journal Article

Miraculous Success? Inconsistency and Untruth in Kirchhoff’s Diffraction Theory

Juha Saatsi and Peter Vickers

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 62, issue 1, pages 29-46
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online November 2010 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axq008
Miraculous Success? Inconsistency and Untruth in Kirchhoff’s Diffraction Theory

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Kirchhoff’s diffraction theory is introduced as a new case study in the realism debate. The theory is extremely successful despite being both inconsistent and not even approximately true. Some habitual realist proclamations simply cannot be maintained in the face of Kirchhoff’s theory, as the realist is forced to acknowledge that theoretical success can in some circumstances be explained in terms other than truth. The idiosyncrasy (or otherwise) of Kirchhoff’s case is considered.

1 Introduction

2 The Naïve Optimist

3 Kirchhoff’s Theory

4 Inconsistency and Untruth in Kirchhoff’s Theory

4.1 The inconsistency puzzle

4.2 The error-tolerance puzzle

5 Ramifications for Realism

6 Conclusion

Journal Article.  6833 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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