Profiles Volume 1, 1979, pp 59-91

Suppes’ Philosophy of Physics

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Patrick Suppes has contributed to the philosophy of physics in a variety of ways: directly in work on physical geometry, the axiomatic foundations of classical and relativistic particle mechanics, and the foundations of quantum mechanics; less directly in work on extensive measurement and the general nature of empirical theories. At first glance, these contributions appear diverse and essentially independent of each other. They appear neither to be manifestations of an explicit, coherent approach to the philosophy of physics nor contributions to a systematic program of research in the philosophy of physics. We believe this first impression is misleading. In fact, there is a coherent approach to the philosophy of physics underlying these contributions. Though many of these contributions are important for what they say about specific, traditional problems in the philosophy of physics (e.g., the epistemological status of the concept of mass in classical physics), we feel that their full significance cannot be appreciated until they are viewed in the context of Suppes’ more global views about the nature of physical science and empirical science in general. Thus our strategy in this paper is first to say something about Suppes’ general view of the structure of empirical science, second to see how this general view leads to a ‘research program’ in the philosophy of physics and finally to examine in detail some of Suppes’ own contributions to this research program.