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Historical Contingency and Theory Selection in Science

James T. Cushing
PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association
Vol. 1992, Volume One: Contributed Papers (1992), pp. 446-457
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/192774
Page Count: 12
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Historical Contingency and Theory Selection in Science
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Abstract

I argue that historical contingency, in the sense of the order in which events take place, can be an essential factor in determining which of two equally adequate and fruitful, but observationally indistinguishable, scientific theories is accepted by the scientific community. This type of actual underdetermination poses questions for scientific realism and for rational reconstruction in theory evaluation. To illustrate this, I discuss the complete observational equivalence of two radically different, conceptually incompatible interpretations of quantum mechanics and argue that an entirely plausible reordering of historical factors could reasonably have resulted in the causal program having been chosen over the "Copenhagen" one.

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