Theoretical Equivalence as Interpretative Equivalence

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (4):821-844 (2014)
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The problem of theoretical equivalence is traditionally understood as the problem of specifying when superficially dissimilar accounts of the world are reformulations of a single underlying theory. One important strategy for answering this question has been to appeal to formal relations between theoretical structures. This article presents two reasons to think that such an approach will be unsuccessful and suggests an alternative account of theoretical equivalence, based on the notion of interpretive equivalence, in which the problem is merely an instance of a broader problem in the philosophy of physics. I thus conclude that there is no distinctive problem of theoretical equivalence at all. Two difficulties my approach raises for realist replies to the threat of underdetermination are then discussed, with particular emphasis on a recent reply by Norton. 1 Introduction2 Methodological Confusion3 Asymmetrical Equivalence3.1 Maxwell’s field equations3.2 Classical Lagrangian dynamics4 Formal Approaches: Quine and Glymour5 Theoretical Equivalence as Interpretive Equivalence6 Theoretical Equivalence without Interpretive Judgement?7 Lessons for Underdetermination



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Kevin Coffey
New York University, Abu Dhabi