Duhem's physicalism

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 29 (1):33-62 (1998)
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Duhem is often described as an anti-realist or instrumentalist. A contrary view has recently been expressed by Martin (1991) (Pierre Duhem: Philosophy and History in the Work of a Believing Physicist (La Salle, IL: Open Court)), who suggests that this interpretation makes it difficult to understand the vantage point from which Duhem argues in La science allemande (1915) that deduction, however impeccable, cannot establish truths unless it begins with truths. In the same spirit, the present paper seeks to establish that Duhem is at any rate not the kind of anti-realist he is often presented as being, and that his views are like those Quine sees fit to call realist. An interpretation of Duhem's views on explanation and precision in science, and their bearing on the epistemological status of theory, is advanced which leads naturally into his critique of conventionalism. His attitude towards atomism, which should not be judged from a post-1925 perspective, is considered part of the unified view he strove after and appropriately called Duhem's physicalism, standing in contrast to the kind of reductionist conception usually associated with atomism.



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Paul Needham
Stockholm University

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References found in this work

La théorie physique: son objet et sa structure.P. Duhem - 1906 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 61:324-327.
The Duhem thesis.Roger Ariew - 1984 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35 (4):313-325.
Three indeterminacies.W. V. Quine - 1990 - In Barret And Gibson (ed.), Perspectives on Quine. pp. 1--16.
Scientific realism and scientific change.John Worrall - 1982 - Philosophical Quarterly 32 (128):201-231.

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