Economical Unification in Philosophy of Science Before and After Ernst Mach

  • Avril Styrman
Part of the Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook book series (VCIY, volume 22)


This article portrays unification of physics as a central tenet of Ernst Mach’s thought, and organizes some of the focal issues in philosophy of science around the process of unification of science. Mach finds a natural place in the history. Newton’s Principia marked the beginning of the era of mathematical physics, which developed triumphantly in the eighteenth century, until new phenomena were discovered in the nineteenth century whose explanations went over and above Newtonian physics. Also Positivism emerged in the nineteenth century. This was the setting where Mach entered. The notion that a central function of physics is to give mathematical descriptions of perceptions is all over Mach’s work, but in Mach’s thought mathematics comes together with hypothetical laws of nature and an overall world-view, similarly as in Newtonian physics where mathematics comes together with the laws of motion. Mach’s criticism of Newtonian absolute time and space was in line with positivism, and his suggestions about an overall holistic world-view were to function as an intuitive background for the new physics. Thus, as a physicist and a philosopher of physics, Mach should be seen primarily as a unifier, and his famous anti-metaphysics should be seen as derivative from this unificationist project: he did not intend to banish the metaphysical core that he himself proposed, but only metaphysics that is not needed in unified science.

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Avril Styrman
    • 1
  1. 1.The Finnish Society for Natural PhilosophyHelsinkiFinland

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