Theory change as dimensional change: conceptual spaces applied to the dynamics of empirical theories

Synthese 190 (6):1039-1058 (2013)
This paper offers a novel way of reconstructing conceptual change in empirical theories. Changes occur in terms of the structure of the dimensions—that is to say, the conceptual spaces—underlying the conceptual framework within which a given theory is formulated. Five types of changes are identified: (1) addition or deletion of special laws, (2) change in scale or metric, (3) change in the importance of dimensions, (4) change in the separability of dimensions, and (5) addition or deletion of dimensions. Given this classification, the conceptual development of empirical theories becomes more gradual and rationalizable. Only the most extreme type—replacement of dimensions—comes close to a revolution. The five types are exemplified and applied in a case study on the development within physics from the original Newtonian mechanics to special relativity theory.
Keywords Conceptual spaces  Dimensional analysis  Incommensurability  Newtonian mechanics  Scientific revolution  Special relativity theory  Theory change
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-011-0060-0
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