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Summary Operationalism is the view that the meaning of scientific concepts is to be given in terms of the operations which govern the application of such concepts.  The principal advocate of operationalism was the Nobel-prize winning physicist Percy Bridgman (1882-1961) who developed the approach primarily with respect to physical concepts, such as length, space and time.  Outside physics, operationalism had some influence in the development of behavioural psychology.  With its emphasis on the operations employed in the application of a concept, operationalism resembles the logical positivist's verificationist view of meaning, though it focuses on the meaning of individual words rather than sentences.  Now widely rejected, one of the main problems with operationalism is that the use of different operations for measuring the same magnitude generates different concepts, so that no unified concept of a magnitude exists if multiple means of measuring the magnitude exist.
Key works A classic reference for operationalism is Bridgman 1980.  See also Bridgman 1938, which responds to Lindsay 1937.
Introductions Chang 2010; Benjamin 1937.
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  1. Ernest W. Adams (1996). Topology, Empiricism, and Operationalism. The Monist 79 (1):1--20.
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  2. A. Cornelius Benjamin (1954). A Definition of Empiricism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 15 (2):171-179.
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  3. A. Cornelius Benjamin (1942). The Unholy Alliance of Positivism and Operationalism. Journal of Philosophy 39 (23):617-625.
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  4. A. Cornelius Benjamin (1937). The Operational Theory of Meaning. Philosophical Review 46 (6):644-649.
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  5. Mark H. Bickhard, The Tragedy of Operationalism.
    Operational definitions were a neo-Machean development that connected with the positivism of Logical Positivism. Logical Positivism failed, with the failure of operational definitions being just one of multiple and multifarious failures of Logical Positivism more broadly. Operationalism, however, has continued to seduce psychology more than half a century after it was repudiated by philosophers of science, including the very Logical Positivists who had first taken it seriously. It carries with it a presupposed metaphysics that is false in virtually all of (...)
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  6. George Boas & Albert E. Blumberg (1931). Some Remarks in Defense of the Operational Theory of Meaning. Journal of Philosophy 28 (20):544-550.
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  7. P. W. Bridgman (1949). The Operational Aspect of Meaning. Synthese 8 (1):251 - 259.
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  8. P. W. Bridgman (1938). Operational Analysis. Philosophy of Science 5 (2):114-131.
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  9. Hasok Chang, Operationalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  10. C. S. Chihara & J. A. Fodor (1967). Operationalism and Ordinary Language. In Harold Morick (ed.), Wittgenstein and the Problem of Other Minds. Humanities Press. 35-62.
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  11. C. Chihara & Jerry A. Fodor (1965). Operationalism and Ordinary Language: A Critique of Wittgenstein. American Philosophical Quarterly 2 (October):281-95.
    This paper explores some lines of argument in wittgenstein's post-Tractatus writings in order to indicate the relations between wittgenstein's philosophical psychology, On the one hand, And his philosophy of language, His epistemology, And his doctrines about the nature of philosophical analysis on the other. The authors maintain that the later writings of wittgenstein express a coherent doctrine in which an operationalistic analysis of confirmation and language supports a philosophical psychology of a type the authors call "logical behaviorism." they also maintain (...)
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  12. Charles Chihara (1973). Operationalism and Ordinary Language Revisited. Philosophical Studies 24 (3):137 - 157.
    In "human beings", "studies in the philosophy of wittgenstein" (ed. By p winch), J cook presents a radical solution to the problem of other minds and then suggests that this treatment of the problem is to be found in the writings of wittgenstein. According to cook's interpretation, Wittgenstein's analysis of the problem does not involve in any essential way any special doctrines about criteria, Nor does it commit him to any form of behaviorism. In the course of arguing these theses, (...)
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  13. Bart D'Hooghe (2010). A Possible Operational Motivation for the Orthocomplementation in Quantum Structures. Foundations of Physics 40 (11):1669-1680.
    In the foundations of quantum mechanics Gleason’s theorem dictates the uniqueness of the state transition probability via the inner product of the corresponding state vectors in Hilbert space, independent of which measurement context induces this transition. We argue that the state transition probability should not be regarded as a secondary concept which can be derived from the structure on the set of states and properties, but instead should be regarded as a primitive concept for which measurement context is crucial. Accordingly, (...)
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  14. Gordon Fleming (2000). Operation Quantum Physics. [REVIEW] Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 31 (1):117-125.
  15. Maria Carla Galavotti (1995). Operationism, Probability and Quantum Mechanics. Foundations of Science 1 (1):99-118.
    This paper investigates the kind of empiricism combined with an operationalist perspective that, in the first decades of our Century, gave rise to a turning point in theoretical physics and in probability theory. While quantum mechanics was taking shape, the classical (Laplacian) interpretation of probability gave way to two divergent perspectives: frequentism and subjectivism. Frequentism gained wide acceptance among theoretical physicists. Subjectivism, on the other hand, was never held to be a serious candidate for application to physical theories, despite the (...)
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  16. D. A. Gillies (1972). Operationalism. Synthese 25 (1-2):1 - 24.
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  17. Frank E. Hartung (1942). Operationalism: Idealism or Realism? Philosophy of Science 9 (4):350-355.
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  18. L. S. Hearnshaw (1941). Psychology and Operationalism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 19 (April):44-57.
  19. Mary Hesse (1952). Operational Definition and Analogy in Physical Theories. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 2 (8):281-294.
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  20. F. Jenč (1979). The Conceptual Analysis (CA) Method in Theories of Microchannels: Application to Quantum Theory. Part I. Fundamental Concepts. [REVIEW] Foundations of Physics 9 (7-8):589-608.
    A method is proposed that should facilitate the construction of theories of “submicroscopic particles” (denoted as “theories of microchannels”) in a way similar to the use of group-theoretical methods. The “conceptual analysis” (CA) method is based on the analysis of the basic concepts of a theory; it permits a determination of necessary conditions imposed on the mathematical apparatus (of the theory) which then appear as a mathematical representation of the structures obtained in a formal scheme of a theory. A pertinent (...)
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  21. R. B. Lindsay (1937). A Critique of Operationalism in Physics. Philosophy of Science 4 (4):456-470.
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  22. Ernest Nagel (1942). Operational Analysis as an Instrument for the Critique of Linguistic Signs. Journal of Philosophy 39 (7):177-189.
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  23. A. A. Pechenkin (2000). Operationalism as the Philosophy of Soviet Physics: The Philosophical Backgrounds of L. I. Mandelstam and His School. Synthese 124 (3):407-432.
    This article is dedicated to the philosophy ofscience which was developed by the outstanding Soviet physicist and leader of a powerful scientificcommunity, L. I. Mandelstam. It is shown that thisphilosophy can be summed up under the heading operationalism. A comparison with the paradigmaticoperationalism of Percy Bridgman is undertaken andthe German positivist roots of Mandelstam's philosophyare indicated. The final section reconstructs the principle ofexpedient idealization, the principle which was putforward by Mandelstam's disciples in the spirit of hisoperationalism to solve problems of (...)
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  24. Hugh G. Petrie (1971). A Dogma of Operationalism in the Social Sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 1 (1):145-160.
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  25. David M. Rosenthal (1994). First-Person Operationalism and Mental Taxonomy. Philosophical Topics 22 (1/2):319-349.
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  26. G. Schlesinger (1959). P. W. Bridgman's Operational Analysis: The Differential Aspect. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 9 (36):299-306.
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  27. J. O. Wisdom (1971). Four Contemporary Interpretations of the Nature of Science. Foundations of Physics 1 (3):269-284.
    Instrumentalism is an approach to science that treats a theory as a tool and only as a tool for computation; it dispenses with the concept of truth.Conventionalism treats a theory as true by convention if it forms a pattern of observations from which correct predictions can be made.Operationalism denies meaning to the concepts of a theory unless they can be defined operationally. It is argued in this paper that truth-value is indispensable to science, because a theory can be rejected only (...)
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