Making Time: A Study in the Epistemology of Measurement

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (1):297-335 (2016)
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This article develops a model-based account of the standardization of physical measurement, taking the contemporary standardization of time as its central case study. To standardize the measurement of a quantity, I argue, is to legislate the mode of application of a quantity concept to a collection of exemplary artefacts. Legislation involves an iterative exchange between top-down adjustments to theoretical and statistical models regulating the application of a concept, and bottom-up adjustments to material artefacts in light of remaining gaps. The model-based account clarifies the cognitive role of ad hoc corrections, arbitrary rules, and seemingly circular inferences involved in contemporary timekeeping, and explains the stability of networks of standards better than its conventionalist and constructivist counterparts. 1 Introduction2 Making Time Universal2.1 Stability and accuracy2.2 Multiple realizability2.3 The challenges of synchronicity2.4 Divergent standards2.5 The leap second3 The Two Faces of Stability3.1 An explanatory challenge3.2 Conventionalist explanations3.3 Constructivist explanations4 Models and Standardization4.1 A third alternative4.2 Stability reconceived4.3 Legislative freedom4.4 Discovering gaps4.5 Nature and society entangled4.6 Remark on scope5 Conclusions.



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Eran Tal
McGill University

Citations of this work

Measuring effectiveness.Jacob Stegenga - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 54:62-71.
Calibration: Modelling the measurement process.Eran Tal - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 65:33-45.
Securing the Empirical Value of Measurement Results.Kent W. Staley - 2020 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (1):87-113.

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References found in this work

The social construction of what?Ian Hacking - 1999 - Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
The Essential Tension.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (4):649-652.

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