, Volume 79, Issue 1, pp 111–126 | Cite as

Scientific Theory Eliminativism

  • Peter VickersEmail author
Original Article


The philosopher of science faces overwhelming disagreement in the literature on the definition, nature, structure, ontology, and content of scientific theories. These disagreements are at least partly responsible for disagreements in many of the debates in the discipline which put weight on the concept scientific theory. I argue that available theories of theories and conceptual analyses of theory are ineffectual options for addressing this difficulty: they do not move debates forward in a significant way. Directing my attention to debates about the properties of particular, named theories, I introduce ‘theory eliminativism’ as a certain type of debate-reformulation. As a methodological tool it has the potential to be a highly effective way to make progress in the face of the noted problem: post-reformulation disagreements about theory cannot compromise the debate, and the questions that really matter can still be asked and answered. In addition the reformulation process demands that philosophers engage with science and the history of science in a more serious way than is usual in order to answer important questions about the justification for targeting a particular set of propositions (say) in a given context. All things considered, we should expect the benefits of a theory-eliminating debate-reformulation to heavily outweigh the costs for a highly significant number of debates of the relevant type.


Classical Mechanic Theory Content Classical Electrodynamic Original Debate Relevant Type 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper was (re)written during my year spent as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh. I am most grateful to John Norton and the 2010–2011 Center fellows for invaluable and extensive feedback.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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