Models and the unity of classical physics: Nancy Cartwright's dappled world

Philosophy of Science 68 (4):456-475 (2001)
In this paper, I examine the claim that any physical theory will have an extremely limited domain of application because 1) we have to use distinct theories to model different situations in the world and 2) no theory has enough textbook models to handle anything beyond a highly simplified situation. Against the first claim, I show that many examples used to bolster it are actually instances of application of the very same classical theory rather than disjoint theories. Thus, there is a hidden unity to the world of classical physics that is usually overlooked (by, for example, Nancy Cartwright who argues for the claims above). Against the second claim, I show that the practice of classical physics involves an enormous (infinite) number of models the use of which cannot be written off as merely ad hoc. Thus, although classical physics cannot, of course, model every situation in nature, it has a much larger domain than some would have us believe
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DOI 10.1086/392937
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