Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science

By Norwood Russell Hanson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
CLASSICAL PARTICLE PHYSICS

...the fact that it can be described byNewtonian Mechanics tells us nothing about the world; but this tells us something, namely, that the world can be described in that particular way in which as a matter of fact it is described.

WITTGENSTEIN 1

Laws of classical particle physics exercise philosophers. Statements of these laws are in some sense empirical, yet they seem often to resist the idea of disconfirmation: evidence against them is sometimes impossible to conceive.

Newton stressed the empirical basis of dynamics: Broad has inherited this interest in the evidence supporting dynamical law statements; he regards them as substantive, descriptive, empirical propositions. Myriad confirmations 2 and a central place in the system of dynamical concepts -- these are the only reasons why it is difficult to imagine a macrophysical world in which the laws do not obtain.

But other thinkers are impressed by the resistance of dynamical law statements to falsification. Poincaré is typical of those who regard such statements as conventions, or definitions, or procedural rules, or boundary conditions.3 Hence, for him it is their empirical aspects that must be explained, or explained away.

Seen through classical dichotomies, classical mechanics is challenging. It springs from empirical propositions against which disconfirmation is not always conceivable. Disconfirmation would result not in conceptions which negate those in the law statements, but in no coherent conceptions at all. Apparently we must explain away either their conventional aspects or their contingent features; they are not to float betwixt and between. ( Kant refused to explain away either. He was in some ways a better observer of physics than his critics; for him, being betwixt and between was the virtue of Newton's dynamics.)

So much for the celebrated question 'What is the logical status of the laws of classical particle physics?', to which Broad, Poincaré and Kant have given important, but single-valued answers. The

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Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter I - Observation 4
  • Chapter II - Facts 31
  • Chapter III - Causality 50
  • Chapter IV - Theories 70
  • Chapter V - Classical Particle Physics 93
  • Chapter VI - Elementary Particle Physics 119
  • Appendix I 159
  • Appendix II 161
  • Notes 176
  • Index 235
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