Can theories be refuted?: essays on the Dunhem-Quine thesis.
A principle of historical continuity is invoked in the conclusion ofDuhem's primary work on Maxwell. Duhem evaluates there aninterpretation of Maxwell's work he attributes to Heaviside,Hertz, and Cohn, among others. He quotes Hertz as stating that:“what is essential in Maxwell's theories is Maxwell'sequations.” He takes this to be Hertz's way of salvagingwhat is valuable in Maxwell from the midst of logical errors andincoherence, which are not only difficult to correct, but which havefrustrated many illustrious mathematicians. But Duhem cannot acceptHertz's implied criterion of identity for physical theories. Heasserts that he might accept such a criterion for algebra but “aphysicist is not an algebraist”:
can theories be refuted essays on the duhem-quine thesis
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In the overview of all his scholarly works in the documentsupporting his candidacy for membership to the Académie desSciences Duhem contrasted the methodology of energetics with the twoleading methodologies at the time, what he called the method of theCartesians and that of the Newtonians. We have discussed his critiqueof the Newtonians; we now turn to that of the Cartesians. The salientfeature of energetics was that “the principles it embodies andfrom which it derives conclusions do not at all aspire to resolve thebodies we perceive or the motions we report into imperceptible bodiesor hidden motions” (1917, 151; 1996, 232). What energeticsoffered was a formal theory, with the character of logical system,which instead of reducing physical qualities in the manner ofmechanistic theories, limited itself to marking by means of a numericalscale the various intensities of such qualities. Duhem's critiqueof mechanistic theories (or the method of Cartesians and atomists) wasthat they are not autonomous: