Explaining Referential Stability of Physics Concepts: The Semantic Embedding Approach [Book Review]

Abstract
The paper discusses three different ways of explaining the referential stability of concepts of physics. In order to be successful, an approach to referential stability has to provide resources to understand what constitutes the difference between the birth of a new concept with a history of its own, and an innovative step occurring within the lifetime of a persisting concept with stable reference. According to Theodore Arabatzis' 'biographical' approach (Representing Electrons 2006), the historical continuity of representations of the electron manifests itself by the numerical stability of experimental parameters like the charge-to-mass ratio, and the continued acceptance of earlier experiments as manifestations of electron properties. I argue, against Arabatzis' approach, that the stability of experimental parameters justifies the assumption that there exists a chain of representations of a unique theoretical entity only if this stability occurs against the background of evidence for theoretical continuity. The Bain/Norton approach proposes to add exactly this element to the picture, but fails to reach its aim by focusing on formal similarities of Hamiltonians as an indicator of theoretical continuity. I shall argue that theoretical continuity has to be demonstrated rather on the level of particular solutions. This task is accomplished by the semantic embedding approach by means of defining a co-reference criterion for theoretical terms requiring the existence of semantic embedding relations between the terms that occur in particular solutions of different theories
Keywords Concepts  Co-reference  Physics theories  Reference  Theory change
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Reprint years 2011
DOI 10.1007/s10838-010-9127-8
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References found in this work BETA

Knowledge and its Place in Nature.Hilary Kornblith - 2002 - Oxford University Press.
Concepts of Science.Peter Achinstein - 1968 - Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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