Understanding Scientific Practices: The Role of Robustness Notions

  • Mieke BoonEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 292)


This article explores the role of ‘robustness-notions’ in an account of the engineering sciences. The engineering sciences aim at technological production of, and intervention with phenomena relevant to the (dys-)functioning of materials and technological devices, by means of scientific understanding thereof. It is proposed that different kinds of robustness-notions enable and guide scientific research: (1) Robustness is as a metaphysical belief that we have about the physical world – i.e., we believe that the world is robust in the sense that the same physical conditions will always produce the same effects. (2) ‘Same conditions – same effects’ functions as a regulative principle that enables and guides scientific research because it points to, and justifies methodological notions. (3) Repetition, variance and multiple-determination function as methodological criteria for scientific methods that justify the acceptance of epistemological and ontological results. (4) Reproducibility and stability function as ontological criteria for the acceptance of phenomena described by A→B. (5) Reliability functions as an epistemological criterion for the acceptance of epistemological results, in particular law-like knowledge of a conditional form: “A→B, provided Cdevice, and unless other known and/or unknown causally relevant conditions.” The crucial question is how different kinds of robustness-notions are related and how they play their part in the production and acceptance of scientific results. Focus is on production and acceptance of physical phenomena and the rule-like knowledge thereof. Based on an analysis of how philosophy of science tradtionally justified scientific knowledge, I propose a general schema that specifies how inferences to the claim that a scientific result has a certain epistemological property (such as truth) are justified by scientific methods that meet specific methodological criteria. It is proposed that ‘same conditions – same effects’ as a regulative criterion justifies ‘repetition, variation and multiple-determination’ as methodological criteria for the production and acceptance of (ontological and epistemological) scientific results.


Scientific Practice Theoretical Knowledge Scientific Result Semantic Concept Methodological Criterion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Léna Soler and the PractiScienS group for their agenda-setting endeavours on this topic and for their suggestions for improving this text. I would also like to thank Henk Procee for his numerous suggestions on the topic and on the content of this chapter. This research is supported by a Vidi grant from the Dutch National Science Foundation (NWO).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands

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