Prismatic Equivalence – A New Case of Underdetermination: Goethe vs. Newton on the Prism Experiments

Olaf L. Müller
Humboldt-University, Berlin
Goethe's objections to Newton's theory of light and colours are better than often acknowledged. You can accept the most important elements of these objections without disagreeing with Newton about light and colours. As I will argue, Goethe exposed a crucial weakness of Newton's methodological self-assessment. Newton believed that with the help of his prism experiments, he could prove that sunlight was composed of variously coloured rays of light. Goethe showed that this step from observation to theory is more problematic than Newton wanted to admit. By insisting that the step to theory is not forced upon us by the phenomena, Goethe revealed our own free, creative contribution to theory construction. And Goethe's insight is surprisingly significant, because he correctly claimed that all of the results of Newton's prism experiments fit a theoretical alternative equally well. If this is correct, then by suggesting an alternative to a well-established physical theory, Goethe developed the problem of underdete...
Keywords Underdetermination  Colours  Light  Newton  Goethe  Quine  Color
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DOI 10.1080/09608788.2015.1132671
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References found in this work BETA

Empirical Equivalence and Underdetermination.Larry Laudan & Jarrett Leplin - 1991 - Journal of Philosophy 88 (9):449-472.
Demystifying Underdetermination.Larry Laudan - 1990 - In C. Wade Savage (ed.), Scientific Theories. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 267-97.
Refusing the Devil's Bargain: What Kind of Underdetermination Should We Take Seriously?P. Kyle Stanford - 2001 - Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2001 (3):S1-.

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Citations of this work BETA

Underdetermination and Provability: A Reply to Olaf Müller.Timm Lampert - 2017 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (2):389-400.

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