Foundations of Science: The Philosophy of Theory and Experiment

Foundations of Science: The Philosophy of Theory and Experiment

Foundations of Science: The Philosophy of Theory and Experiment

Foundations of Science: The Philosophy of Theory and Experiment


Summary. It is explained that the book, of which this is the introductory volume, is intended to be a complete treatise on physics of which the main object is criticism. Criticism does not involve adverse judgement, but only analysis, which is more likely to strengthen than to weaken the evidence for the propositions criticised. It is suggested that such criticism may have a value, though an indirect value, for those pursuing original researches as well as for teachers and students. The general plan of the work is sketched and some of the main questions which are considered mentioned.

Criticism of this kind is not novel, but it has not been applied to experimental science as fully as to mathematics. Such criticism as has been applied to physics has almost always come from mathematicians. It is suggested that criticism by one interested in the experimental rather than the mathematical side of the subject may have some special interest.

One reason why criticism has been left so largely to mathematicians is that physicists Are afraid of being led into any discussion which they regard as philosophical. Some remarks are made on the origin and basis of this attitude: the obvious fact is pointed out that, if it is true that fundamental scientific discussion necessarily lands us in philosophy, then philosophy must be a part of science and merits our attention. The opinion is, however, expressed that the fear is not justified and that science can be adequately discussed without any philosophy at all. On the other hand, there are connections between science and philosophy which it has seemed desirable to notice in a special chapter sharply distinguished from the rest of the book.

The object of the book. I want to explain rather carefully what is the object of this book; for if the reader does not understand that object thoroughly, he will not be able to utilise whatever value the book may possess.

The book aspires to be a treatise on physics, complete within its limits, written by a serious student of the science for other serious students. It is not in any sense a popular work addressed to those whose chief intellectual interests lie elsewhere; it assumes throughout entire familiarity with all the facts and theories of physics, ancient and modern. Its primary purpose does not exclude the possibility that some portions of it may be comprehensible and even mildly interesting to those who have not such familiarity; for even when reference is made to matters beyond their knowledge, the context will sometimes show what the example is intended to illustrate. But I must insist that any value of this kind which the book may have is purely incidental; the needs of professional physicists and their needs alone have been considered in writing it.

Nevertheless its object is not the same as that of most of the works which are addressed to professional physicists. The work is neither an original memoir, a description of original investigations in science, nor a standard . . .

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