The Nature of Physical Theory: A Study in Theory of Knowledge

By Victor F. Lenzen | Go to book overview

THE NATURE OF PHYSICAL THEORY

INTRODUCTION

THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF PHYSICAL THEORY

1. THE CRITERION OF PHYSICAL REALITY

THE problem of physical science is the construction of concepts of things, characters and processes which will serve to describe, interpret and order reality from a selected point of view. Things and phenomena considered as instances of physical characters and processes constitute the physical order. The most general characteristic of physical reality is that it is ordered in space and time. According to a more specific classical definition the physical order is the realm of matter and energy. However, in order to give a detailed exposition of the concept of physical reality we must ultimately have recourse to examples of physical properties and processes which one may assume to be known. Thus the motion of material bodies, the elastic properties of bodies, the propagation of light, the phenomena correlated with changes in the hotness and coldness of bodies, electrical and magnetic actions, the structure of matter--these exemplify the content of the physical order.

The physical order is assumed to be objective, that is, it may be known by several minds. In the first instance the elements of the physical order are given in sensation. In physical science one constructs the fundamental concepts of the things, characters and processes revealed by sensation. A physical theory is the systematic representation of certain characters of the physical order. The goal of physical science is a unitary system of physical theory.

It is the purpose of this book to analyze the concepts, principles and systems of physical theory. The method of procedure will be to build up physical theory from the aspects of the physical order given in sensation. Now the process of con-

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