, Volume 112, Issue 1, pp 53-73

Newtonian Gravity, Quantum Discontinuity and the Determination of Theory by Evidence

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Abstract

A closer examination of scientific practice has cast doubt recently on the thesis that observation necessarily fails to determine theory. In some cases scientists derive fundamental hypotheses from phenomena and general background knowledge by means of demonstrative induction. This note argues that it is wrong to interpret such an argument as providing inductive support for the conclusion, e.g. by eliminating rival hypotheses. The examination of the deduction of the inverse square law of gravitation due to J. Bertrand, and R. Fowler's deduction of the quantization of the linear harmonic oscillator's energy spectrum from Planck's radiation law illustrates this point. It is suggested that demonstrative induction is a computational step in fitting a theoretical model and a set of phenomena, with little direct confirmational impact. The thesis of underdetermination, whatever one may think of it, is not threatened by demonstrative induction.