David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
Synthese 190 (14):2867-2895 (2013)
Simple assumptions represent a decisive reason to prefer one theory to another in everyday scientific praxis. But this praxis has little philosophical justification, since there exist many notions of simplicity, and those that can be defined precisely strongly depend on the language in which the theory is formulated. The language dependence is a natural feature—to some extent—but it is also believed to be a fatal problem, because, according to a common general argument, the simplicity of a theory is always trivial in a suitably chosen language. But, this trivialization argument is typically either applied to toy-models of scientific theories or applied with little regard for the empirical content of the theory. This paper shows that the trivialization argument fails, when one considers realistic theories and requires their empirical content to be preserved . In fact, the concepts that enable a very simple formulation, are not necessarily measurable, in general. Moreover, the inspection of a theory describing a chaotic billiard shows that precisely those concepts that naturally make the theory extremely simple are provably not measurable. This suggests that—whenever a theory possesses sufficiently complex consequences—the constraint of measurability prevents too simple formulations in any language. This explains why the scientists often regard their assessments of simplicity as largely unambiguous. In order to reveal a cultural bias in the scientists’ assessment, one should explicitly identify different characterizations of simplicity of the assumptions that lead to different theory selections. General arguments are not sufficient
|Keywords||Simplicity – Information – Chaotic dynamics – Empirical content – Incommensurability|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
Alan Baker, Simplicity. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Alexander Bird, Thomas Kuhn. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Rudolf Carnap (1928). Der Logische Aufbau der Welt. Meiner Verlag.
Von Rudolf Carnap (1958). Beobachtungssprache und theoretische sprache. Dialectica 12 (3‐4):236-248.
Martin Carrier (2004). Semantic Incommensurability and Empirical Comparability: The Case of Lorentz and Einstein. Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):73-94.
Citations of this work BETA
No citations found.
Similar books and articles
James W. McAllister (1991). The Simplicity of Theories: Its Degree and Form. [REVIEW] Journal for General Philosophy of Science 22 (1):1-14.
Nicholas Maxwell, Simplicity. PhilSci Archive.
Aaron Sloman, Simplicity and Ontologies The Trade-Off Between Simplicity of Theories and Sophistication of Ontologies.
Arnold Zellner, Hugo A. Keuzenkamp & Michael McAleer (eds.) (2001). Simplicity, Inference and Modeling: Keeping It Sophisticatedly Simple. Cambridge University Press.
Bruce Langtry (2011). Swinburne on the Simplicity of Theism. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 3 (2):409 - 426.
Nicholas Maxwell, Non-Empirical Requirements Scientific Theories Must Satisfy: Simplicity, Unification, Explanation, Beauty. PhilSci Archive.
Nicholas Maxwell, Comprehensibility Rather Than Beauty. PhilSci Archive.
Jerome M. Segal (1999). Graceful Simplicity: Toward a Philosophy and Politics of Simple Living. H. Holt & Co..
Brian M. Scott (1996). Technical Notes on a Theory of Simplicity. Synthese 109 (2):281 - 289.
Samuel A. Richmond (1996). A Simplification of the Theory of Simplicity. Synthese 107 (3):373 - 393.
Jaegwon Kim (1966). On the Psycho-Physical Identity Theory. American Philosophical Quarterly 3 (July):227-35.
Stewart Duncan (2009). Hume and a Worry About Simplicity. History of Philosophy Quarterly 26 (2):139-157.
Added to index2012-03-31
Total downloads32 ( #57,544 of 1,100,076 )
Recent downloads (6 months)4 ( #90,379 of 1,100,076 )
How can I increase my downloads?