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The History and Philosophy of Crucial Experiments

Daniel Schwartz

Presented at: OCON 2013

Date: Jul 05, 2013

A crucial experiment, as usually defined, is a single experiment that conclusively decides which one of a set of rival theories is the true one. Most philosophers of science today, influenced by the “problem of underdetermination,” regard the possibility of crucial experiments as a myth. Rather than abandoning a hypothesis that is contradicted by a crucial experiment, they say, we can hold onto the hypothesis and abandon a more basic assumption instead.

The purpose of this course is to bring to light the importance and beauty of crucial experiments, discussing both their history and philosophy. There will be a special focus on the origin of crucial experiments in the works of Francis Bacon as well as on Newton’s crucial experiment concerning the nature of light. This historical discussion will lay the groundwork for a reply to the problem of underdetermination.


Parts: 3

Handout: none


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