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Facts-Well-Put

Davis Baird and Alfred Nordmann
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 45, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 37-77
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/687961
Page Count: 41
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Facts-Well-Put
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Abstract

In this paper we elucidate a particular type of instrument. Striking-phenomenon instruments assume their striking profile against the shifting backdrop of theoretical uncertainties. While technologically stable, the phenomena produced by these instruments are linguistically fuzzy, subject to a variety of conceptual representations. But in virtue of their technological stability alone, they can provide a foundation for further technological as well as conceptual development. Sometimes, as in the case of the pulse glass, the phenomenon is taken to confirm conflicting theoretical views; sometimes, as in the case of the Lichtenberg-figures, it holds out the false promise of crucial theoretical importance; sometimes, as in the case of the airpump in the 18th century, it emphatically short-circuits theory and human ingenuity, giving a voice to nature herself; and sometimes, finally, as in the case of the quincunx, the phenomenon stands in for theoretical accounts. We propose and develop the salient features of these instruments demonstrating their importance to our understanding of science.

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