Catastrophe theory and its critics

Synthese 96 (2):167 - 200 (1993)
Abstract
Catastrophe theory has been sharply criticized because it does not seem to have practical applications nor does it seem to allow us to increase our power over Nature. I want to rehabilitate the theory by foregoing the controversy raised by scientists about its practical efficiency. After a short exposition of the theory's mathematical formalism and a detailed analysis of the main objections that have been raised against it, I argue that theory is not only to be judged on its practical results, which are in fact limited, but also on its epistemological and philosophical implications. Catastrophe theory indeed represents a real revolution in science: it announces the coming of a more theoretical, less practical, science, having more to do with understanding reality than with acting on it, and, from that point of view, it may be considered as the modern philosophy of Nature.
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