The Scope, Limits, and Distinctiveness of the Method of ”Deduction from the Phenomena’: Some Lessons from Newton’s ”Demonstrations’ in Optics

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 (1):45-80 (2000)
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Abstract

Having been neglected or maligned for most of this century, Newton's method of 'deduction from the phenomena' has recently attracted renewed attention and support. John Norton, for example, has argued that this method has been applied with notable success in a variety of cases in the history of physics and that this explains why the massive underdetermination of theory by evidence, seemingly entailed by hypothetico-deductive methods, is invisible to working physicists. This paper, through a detailed analysis of Newton's deduction of one particular 'proposition' in optics 'from the phenomena', gives a clearer account than hitherto of the method - highlighting the fact that it is really one of deduction from the phenomena plus 'background knowledge'. It argues, that, although the method has certain heuristic virtues, examination of its putative accreditational strengths reveals a range of important problems that its defenders have yet adequately to address

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