Coordination and Measurement: What We Get Wrong About What Reichenbach Got Right
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In his Scientific Representation (2008), van Fraassen argues that measuring is a form of representation. In fact, every measurement pinpoints its target in accordance with specific operational rules within an already-constructed theoretical space, in which certain conceptual interconnections can be represented. Reichenbach’s 1920 account of coordination is particularly interesting in this connection. Even though recent reassessments of this account do not do full justice to some important elements lying behind it, they do have the merit of focusing on a different aspect of his early work that traditional interpretations of relativized a priori principles have unfortunately neglected in favour of a more “structural” role for coordination. In Reichenbach’s early work, however, the idea of coordination was employed not only to indicate theory-specific fundamental principles such as the ones suggested in the literature on conventional principles in science, but also to refer to more “basic” assumptions. In Reichenbach, these principles are preconditions both of the individuation of physical magnitudes and of their measurement, and, as such, they are necessary to approach the world in the first instance. This paper aims to reassess Reichenbach’s approach to coordination and to the representation of physical quantities in light of recent literature on measurement and scientific representation.
KeywordsMeasurement Coordination Constitutive principles in science Reichenbach van Fraassen
Besides the EPSA 2015 meeting in Düsseldorf, early versions of this paper were also presented at the BSPS conference in Manchester (2015) and at the GWP conference in Düsseldorf (2016). On all those occasions, I have greatly benefitted from the remarks made by the audience. I also wish to thank Giovanni Valente and Erik Curiel as well as two anonymous referees for valuable comments on a previous draft of this paper.
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