Effective field theories, reductionism and scientific explanation

Effective field theories have been a very popular tool in quantum physics for almost two decades. And there are good reasons for this. I will argue that effective field theories share many of the advantages of both fundamental theories and phenomenological models, while avoiding their respective shortcomings. They are, for example, flexible enough to cover a wide range of phenomena, and concrete enough to provide a detailed story of the specific mechanisms at work at a given energy scale. So will all of physics eventually converge on effective field theories? This paper argues that good scientific research can be characterised by a fruitful interaction between fundamental theories, phenomenological models and effective field theories. All of them have their appropriate functions in the research process, and all of them are indispensable. They complement each other and hang together in a coherent way which I shall characterise in some detail. To illustrate all this I will present a case study from nuclear and particle physics. The resulting view about scientific theorising is inherently pluralistic, and has implications for the debates about reductionism and scientific explanation.
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DOI 10.1016/S1355-2198(01)00005-3
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References found in this work BETA
Wesley C. Salmon (1989). 4 Decades of Scientific Explanation. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13:3-219.
Philip Kitcher (1989). Explanatary Unification and the Causal Structure of the World. In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 410-505.

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Citations of this work BETA
Dennis Dieks, Jeroen van Dongen & Sebastian de Haro (forthcoming). Emergence in Holographic Scenarios for Gravity. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics.
Karen Crowther (2015). Decoupling Emergence and Reduction in Physics. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):419-445.
Dean Rickles (2011). A Philosopher Looks at String Dualities. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 42 (1):54-67.
George F. R. Ellis (2006). Physics and the Real World. Foundations of Physics 36 (2):227-262.

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