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Curiel, Erik ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5812-3033 (March 2020): Framework confirmation by Newtonian abduction. In: Synthese [PDF, 761kB]

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Abstract

The analysis of theory-confirmation generally takes the deductive form: show that a theory in conjunction with physical data and auxiliary hypotheses yield a prediction about phenomena; verify the prediction; provide a quantitative measure of the degree of theory-confirmation this yields. The issue of confirmation for an entire framework (e.g., Newtonian mechanics en bloc, as opposed, say, to Newton’s theory of gravitation) either does not arise, or is dismissed in so far as frameworks are thought not to be the kind of thing that admits scientific confirmation. I argue that there is another form of scientific reasoning that has not received philosophical attention, what I call Newtonian abduction, that does provide confirmation for frameworks as a whole, and does so in two novel ways. (In particular, Newtonian abduction is not inference to the best explanation, but rather is closer to Peirce’s original idea of abduction.) I further argue that Newtonian abduction is at least as important a form of reasoning in science as standard deductive and inductive forms. The form is beautifully summed up by Maxwell (1876): “The true method of physical reasoning is to begin with the phenomena and to deduce the forces from them by a direct application of the equations of motion.”

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