Warren Schmaus
Illinois Institute of Technology
Considered in its historical context, conventionalism is quite different from the way in which it has been caricatured in more recent philosophy of science, that is, as a conservative philosophy that allows the preservation of theories through arbitrary ad hoc stratagems. It is instead a liberal outgrowth of Comtean positivism, which broke with the Reidian interpretation of the Newtonian tradition in France and defended a role for hypotheses in the sciences. It also has roots in the social contract political philosophy of Renouvier, who explicitly drew the analogy between conventions in political life and the conventional acceptance of hypotheses in the sciences, and conceived a philosophy that permits scientists to set aside foundational worries and explore new ideas. Although Poincaré and Renouvier may have hesitated to accept certain then recent developments in mathematics and the sciences such as non-Euclidean geometries, this conservatism cannot necessarily be attributed to their conventionalism. It may instead reflect the engineering background they shared with Comte, which emphasizes practical applications. Although Renouvier and Poincaré may have seen no practical use for these new ideas, unlike Comte they did not prohibit others from pursuing them, reflecting conventionalism’s more liberal attitude toward recent developments in the sciences.
Keywords Conventionalism  Hypothesis  Comte  Poincaré  Renouvier
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2019.06.003
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