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Computational empiricism


I argue here for a number of ways that modern computational science requires a change in the way we represent the relationship between theory and applications. It requires a switch away from logical reconstruction of theories in order to take surface mathematical syntax seriously. In addition, syntactically different versions of the “same” theory have important differences for applications, and this shows that the semantic account of theories is inappropriate for some purposes. I also argue against formalist approaches in the philosophy of science and for a greater role for perceptual knowledge rather than propositional knowledge in scientific empiricism.

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The term ‘computational empiricism’ was suggested to me in conversation at a philosophy conference in Venice, Italy in June 1991 by someone whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. It seemed to capture perfectly the set of techniques I had described in my talk there, and I have since adopted it. I thank the originator of this term, whoever he is.

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Humphreys, P. Computational empiricism. Found Sci 1, 119–130 (1995).

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Key words

  • Computational science
  • Theories
  • Models
  • Scientific instruments
  • Syntax
  • Semantics