Unifying scientific theories. Margaret Morrison

Mind 110 (440):1097-1102 (2001)
Is the universe really governed by a small set of unifying fundamental laws, as many thinkers have claimed since ancient times? Philosophers who call themselves naturalists believe that the way to settle such questions is to look carefully at what empirical science tells us. In this book, Margaret Morrison argues that if we really do this, we find that science currently does not give us any reason to believe the common picture of the world in which everything can be reduced to a vanishingly small set of entities and forces. Like Nancy Cartwright and John Dupree, Morrison believes that science reveals a world of numerous different sorts of entities and processes, described by different sorts of explanation. Trying to come up with unified descriptions of phenomena does play an important role in science, says Morrison, but there are different types of unification. The sort in which one set of entities can be reductively identified with another occurs rarely. What we find more often are various ways of subsuming different phenomena under similar mathematical formalisms. An urge to unify, in different guises, is an important research motivator, Morrison argues, but it is not the sort of monolithic engine of science that many make it out to be.
Keywords Unification  Explanation  Science
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DOI 10.1093/mind/110.440.1097
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