“Physical Theories are Prescriptions, Not Descriptions” (1/26/18)

January 24, 2018

Shahin Kaveh

Abstract: I plan to use this WIP to figure out the content and structure of the first chapter of my dissertation and solicit ideas for objections to my view. Traditionally, scientific theories are taken as collections of propositions or models that describe the ontology of nature. This is the descriptive-ontological view, which takes the theory to be universal and complete. I will show how long-standing problems in philosophy of science, such as Hempel’s Theoretician’s Dilemma and Sneed’s Problem of Theoretical Terms stem from taking theories as universal and complete, as per the descriptive-ontological view. I will argue that there are no universal and complete theories, and propose an alternative: the prescriptive-dynamical view, in which a theory consists of state assignments and transition rules between those states. My view takes the universal part of theories as prescriptions or recipes for assigning dynamical states. The transitions between the states are then completed with certain “local empirical mediating principles” that are context-dependent and not universal. I would like to discuss the extent to which my view solves these problems and what other problems it may cause.


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