A priori conjectural knowledge in physics: The comprehensibility of the universe

In Michael Veber & Michael Shaffer (eds.), What Place for the A Priori? Chicago: Open Court. pp. 211-240 (2005)

Authors
Nicholas Maxwell
University College London
Abstract
In this paper I argue for a priori conjectural scientific knowledge about the world. Physics persistently only accepts unified theories, even though endlessly many empirically more successful disunified rivals are always available. This persistent preference for unified theories, against empirical considerations, means that physics makes a substantial, persistent metaphysical assumption, to the effect that the universe has a (more or less) unified dynamic structure. In order to clarify what this assumption amounts to, I solve the problem of what it means to say of a theory that it is unified. There are, I argue, eight different kinds of unity important in theoretical physics, all varieties of one basic idea. This provides us with a precise way of partially ordering physical theories with respect to their degree of unity. It also leads to a hierarchical view of physics, according to which physics makes a number of increasingly insubstantial metaphysical assumptions concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe. Two of these are identified as constituting a priori conjectures. I conclude by arguing that the view developed in the paper resolves the traditional clash between empiricism and rationalism in the philosophy of science, and has important implications for science, and for academic inquiry more generally.
Keywords A Priori Knowledge  Metaphysics  Theoretical Unity  Aim-Oriented Empiricism  Empiricism and Rationalism
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2011
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Unification and Revolution: A Paradigm for Paradigms.Nicholas Maxwell - 2014 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 45 (1):133-149.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Learning to Live a Life of Value.Nicholas Maxwell - 2006 - In Jason A. Merchey (ed.), Living a Life of Value. Values of the Wise Press. pp. 383--395.
Practical Certainty and Cosmological Conjectures.Nicholas Maxwell - 2005 - In Michael Rahnfeld (ed.), Is there Certain Knowledge? Leipziger Universitätsverlag.
Muller’s Critique of the Argument for Aim-Oriented Empiricism.Nicholas Maxwell - 2009 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 40 (1):103-114.
Simplicity.Nicholas Maxwell - 2000 - PhilSci Archive.
Recent Debates About the A Priori.Hartry Field - 2005 - In Tamar Szabo Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology Volume 1. Oxford University Press.
Scientific Metaphysics.Nicholas Maxwell - 2004 - PhilSci Archive.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2009-01-28

Total views
762 ( #3,912 of 2,260,175 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
43 ( #17,335 of 2,260,175 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature