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Method and Objectivity

Commentary on “The Aim Structure of Methodological Theory”, by Martin Carrier
  • Michel Bitbol
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 255)

Conceptions of scientific theories are usually distributed into two distinct subsets. The first one is normative and teleological. According to it, scientific theories have or should have “epistemic value”; they have or should have credentials for approaching isomorphism with a putative “external reality” construed as a final target and a criterion of truth; and therefore the ultimate structure of theories is necessary. The second one has an evolutionist tinge; it restricts its normative aspect to viability. Here, no epistemic value is required, but only adaptative value; no truth, but empirical adequacy; no pre-defined final target, but a proteiform quest for ecological niches; no necessity of correspondence, but historical contingency. A third conception, a “middle way”, can however be identified in the history of ideas. This alternative conception (called transcendental epistemology) was first formulated in a highly fixist version by Kant, and later made more flexible and historically sensitive by the neo-kantian lineage. In this third conception, epistemic value is retained, yet only as a regulative ideal. The claim of truth is no longer discarded but it is thoroughly redefined. Truth is not restricted to logical coherence, nor does it imply mere correspondence with “things-in-themselves”. Rather, “objective truth” means “connection according to laws of experience”1 provided in advance by our understanding; namely connection of phenomena according to those very “constitutive laws” whose application are a condition of possibility of any experience of objects. Moreover, in Cassirer’s version of neo-kantianism, the constitutive laws are historically drifting, by way of a progressive conquest of accurate “symbolic forms”; but the content of scientific theories is still ascribed a certain amount of internal necessity in so far as it must incorporate the group-structure whose invariants define its own objects (Cassirer, 2004).

Keywords

Scientific Theory Regulative Ideal External Reality Empirical Adequacy Dutch Book 
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References

  1. Bernard, C. (1966) Introduction à l’étude de la médecine expérimentale. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  2. Cassirer, E. (2004) Substance & Function and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. New York: Dover Phoenix.Google Scholar
  3. Glymour, C. (1977) The Epistemology of Geometry, Noûs, XI, 227–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  6. Thirring, W. (1961) An Alternative Approach to the Theory of Gravitation. Annals of Physics, XVI, 96–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michel Bitbol
    • 1
  1. 1.CREACNRS/Ecole PolytechniqueParisFrance

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