Certainty and Domain-Independence in the Sciences of Complexity: a Critique of James Franklin's Account of Formal Science


James Franklin has argued that the formal, mathematical sciences of complexity — network theory, information theory, game theory, control theory, etc. — have a methodology that is different from the methodology of the natural sciences, and which can result in a knowledge of physical systems that has the epistemic character of deductive mathematical knowledge. I evaluate Franklin’s arguments in light of realistic examples of mathematical modelling and conclude that, in general, the formal sciences are no more able to guarantee certainty than the natural sciences. Yet the formal sciences are characterized by a ‘domain-independence’ that is philosophically interesting, and I argue that it is this property that Franklin actually employs to distinguish the formal from the natural sciences. I use Einstein’s ‘principle’/‘constructive’ theory distinction to contrast the domain-independence of physical theories with the domain-independence of formal mathematical theories, and show how both kinds of domain-independence function to generate the domain-independence that is observed in the complex systems sciences. © 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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