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Simplicity and scientific progress in the philosophy of Philipp Frank


Philipp Frank was a central figure in the Vienna Circle, but his ideas vary significantly from those of his peers. Despite the growing body of literature on Frank, his account of simplicity has not yet received the attention it deserves even though it succinctly captures many of the most distinctive elements of Frank’s philosophy of science. This is because Frank’s account of simplicity is not restricted to the epistemology of scientific theories; his treatment of simplicity provides us with a way of accounting for the influence of social and political agendas on the rejection of scientific theories. In this paper I trace the development of Frank’s account of simplicity from 1947 to 1954 and explain how social and political considerations came to inform his mature account in 1954. Furthermore, I demonstrate the continued relevance of Frank’s thought by showing that it can be helpfully applied to a contemporary issue associated with the rejection of scientific theories, identity protective cognition.

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  1. For a more detailed account of Frank’s conception of school philosophy see (Frank 1930/1949), and for a contemporary discussion of school philosophy and it’s role in Frank’s thought, see (Uebel 2011).

  2. Readers should note that a 2014 meta-analysis, which included 15,660 respondents, confirmed these findings (Xue et al. 2014).

  3. It is also worth noting that this problem is not just a problem seen on the political right (i.e., political ideologies that value authority and individualism). Campbell and Kay (2014) have shown that individuals on both the political right and left may display “solution adverse” tendencies since they are both less willing to accept a scientific theory or claim if they are opposed to the associated policy solutions.

  4. Dake (1991) is used here because his work provided the foundations on which the study discussed above and (Xue et al. 2014) were built.


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Correspondence to Amy Wuest.

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Wuest, A. Simplicity and scientific progress in the philosophy of Philipp Frank. Stud East Eur Thought 69, 245–255 (2017).

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  • Philipp Frank
  • Vienna Circle
  • Logical Empiricism
  • Simplicity
  • Scientific progress
  • Theory change
  • Theory rejection
  • Identity protective cognition