Provisional Knowledge

  • Paul Teller
Part of the The Western Ontario Series In Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 74)


Physics, and science generally, rarely function according to the mechanist tradition of founding all scientific knowledge on “shaped matter in motion” of the physical parts of a system. Rather we employ a vast range of explanatory strategies a great many of which work in terms of “stripping detail” when detail is not relevant to the problem at hand. Most of these strategies involve some level of idealization, inaccuracy, or distortion, which raises the worry: When accounts in science involve distortion, how can they count as knowledge? This problem motivates reconstruing knowledge, and in particular its requirement of (unqualified) truth in its content component, in terms of the kinds of standards that require something less than perfect precision and accuracy, in analogy to the context and interest dependent standards that we apply for representational accuracy of things such as maps and pictures. The paper concludes with consideration of possible connections with pragmatism and with ways of thinking about “independent reality”.


Factual Knowledge Content Component Independent Reality Secondary Quality Provisional Knowledge 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Auyang, Sunny (1998) Foundations of Complex-Systems Theories in Economics, Evolutionary Biology and Statistical Physics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Batterman, Robert (2002) The Devil in the Details: Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction and Emergence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Cummins, Robert (1975) “Functional Analysis.” Journal of Philosophy, 72, 741–764.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Friedman, Michael (2001) The Dynamics of Reason. Stanford, CA: CSLA PublicationsGoogle Scholar
  5. Giere, Ronald (1999) Science Without Laws. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Giere, Ronald (2006) Scientific Perspectivism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Putnam, Hilary (1975) ‘Philosophy and Our Mental Life’ in Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 291–303.Google Scholar
  8. Quine, Willard Van Orman (1981) Theories and Things. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Teller, Paul (1995) An Interpretive Introduction to Quantum Field Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Teller, Paul (2004) “How We Dapple the World.” Philosophy of Science, 425–447.Google Scholar
  11. Teller, Paul (in preparation a) “The truth Idealization.”Google Scholar
  12. Teller, Paul (in preparation b) “Some Dirty Little Secrets About Truth.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Teller

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations