J. Cushing: Philosophical Concepts in Physics [Book Review]

Erkenntnis 52:133-137 (2000)
Abstract
This book successfully achieves to serve two different purposes. On the one hand, it is a readable physics-based introduction into the philosophy of science, written in an informal and accessible style. The author, himself a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame and active in the philosophy of science for almost twenty years, carefully develops his metatheoretical arguments on a solid basis provided by an extensive survey along the lines of the historical development of physics. On the other hand, this book supplies one long argument for Cushing´s own attitude in the philosophy of science. While former studies of the author, from which this book draws in part, focused each on one special episode in the history of science, this book gathers case material from many different parts of physics and epochs. The main goal of this book is ”to impress upon the reader the essential and ineliminable role that philosophical considerations have played in the actual practice of science” (p. xv). The book is beautifully edited and produced; it contains a wealth of illustrative figures, well-chosen short quotations from original sources and contemporary commentators (some longer quotations are relegated in an appendix at the end of a chapter) and does not dispense with insightful mathematical arguments in the main text (some advanced deductions are, however, relegated in the appendices). It contains nine parts, whereas only the first and the last one are exclusively devoted to philosophical issues. The seven remaining parts, each subdivided into three chapters, centre around one major episode (a theory, a world view, etc.) in the history of physics. The author presents this material in a clear and philosophically unbiased way so that also readers who do not share Cushing’s subsequent philosophical conclusions will find this inspiring book extremely useful. Part 1 (”The scientific enterprise”) discusses some traditional (”objectivist”) views concerning the status of scientific knowledge, ”the” scientific method, and the relation....
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