Unification, explanation, and the composition of causes in Newtonian mechanics

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 19 (1):55-101 (1988)
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William Whewell’s philosophy of scientific discovery is applied to the problem of understanding the nature of unification and explanation by the composition of causes in Newtonian mechanics. The essay attempts to demonstrate: the sense in which ”approximate’ laws successfully refer to real physical systems rather than to idealizations of them; why good theoretical constructs are not badly underdetermined by observation; and why, in particular, Newtonian forces are not conventional and how empiricist arguments against the existence of component causes, and against the veracity of the fundamental laws, are flawed.



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Malcolm Forster
University of Wisconsin, Madison

References found in this work

How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory.Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem - 1954 - Princeton: Princeton University Press.
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.

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