Justifying the use of purely formal analogies in physics


Recent case studies have revealed that purely formal analogies have been successfully used as a heuristic in physics. This is at odds with most general philosophical accounts of analogies, which require analogies to be physical in order to be justifiably used. The main goal of this paper is to supply a philosophical account that justifies the use of purely formal analogies in physics. Using Bartha’s (2010) articulation model as a starting point, I offer precise definitions of formal and physical analogies and propose a new submodel of analogical reasoning that accounts for the successful use of purely formal analogies in the development of renormalization group methods for use in particle physics in the early 1970’s (Fraser 2020). Two distinctive features of this new applied mathematics submodel for analogical reasoning are that the conclusion of the argument from analogy includes both an entire model (and not only a hypothesis or a prediction) and the construction procedure for this model. A third important difference from arguments from physical analogy is that only the prima facie plausibility of the conclusion is established, and not stronger types of plausibility associated with confirmation. The use of purely formal analogies is justified because they are suited to supporting conclusions of this sort. Formulating a general philosophical account of analogies that covers purely formal analogies also serves two additional purposes: (1) to highlight the features of this case that are novel in the context of examples of analogies traditionally considered by philosophers and (2) to establish that physicists should not automatically dismiss purely formal analogies when evaluating heuristics for the development of new models.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 77,712

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

  • Only published works are available at libraries.

Similar books and articles

The Higgs mechanism and superconductivity: A case study of formal analogies.Doreen Fraser & Adam Koberinski - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 55:72-91.
Structural analogies between physical systems.Peter Kroes - 1989 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 40 (2):145-154.
Applicability Problems Generalized.Michele Ginammi - 2018 - In Gabriele Pulcini & Mario Piazza (eds.), Truth, Existence and Explanation. Springer Verlag. pp. 209-224.
A physical theory of sensation.James T. Culbertson - 1942 - Philosophy of Science 9 (April):197-226.


Added to PP

13 (#774,822)

6 months
5 (#166,966)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Doreen Fraser
University of Waterloo

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

Models and Analogies in Science.Mary B. Hesse - 1963 - University of Notre Dame Press.
Explanatory unification and the causal structure of the world.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.

View all 14 references / Add more references