European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 127–150 | Cite as

Using conceptual spaces to exhibit conceptual continuity through scientific theory change

  • George Masterton
  • Frank Zenker
  • Peter Gärdenfors
Original paper in Philosophy of Science


There is a great deal of justified concern about continuity through scientific theory change. Our thesis is that, particularly in physics, such continuity can be appropriately captured at the level of conceptual frameworks (the level above the theories themselves) using conceptual space models. Indeed, we contend that the conceptual spaces of three of our most important physical theories—Classical Mechanics (CM), Special Relativity Theory (SRT), and Quantum Mechanics (QM)—have already been so modelled as phase-spaces. Working with their phase-space formulations, one can trace the conceptual changes and continuities in transitioning from CM to QM, and from CM to SRT. By offering a revised severity-ordering of changes that conceptual frameworks can undergo, we provide reasons to doubt the commonly held view that CM is conceptually closer to SRT than QM.


Radical theory change Conceptual space Classical mechanics Special relativity theory Quantum mechanics 



Parts of this paper were presented at GAP.9, held September 14–17 September 2015 in Osnabrück, Germany, and at EPSA15, held 23–26 September 2015 in Düsseldorf, Germany. We would like to thank audiences at these events, two anonymous reviewers for this journal, Keizo Matsubara and Lars-Göran Johansson for comments and criticisms that helped to improve earlier versions of this manuscript. The authors acknowledge funding from the Swedish Research Council (G.M., F.Z., P.G.), the European Union’s FP7 program as well as the Volkswagen Foundation (F.Z.)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Masterton
    • 1
  • Frank Zenker
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Peter Gärdenfors
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy & Cognitive ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.University of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  3. 3.Slovak Academy of ScienceBratislavaSlovakia
  4. 4.Wissenschaftskolleg zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  5. 5.University of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia

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