Formal and Material Theories in Philosophy of Science: A Methodological Interpretation
John Norton’s argument that all formal theories of induction fail raises substantive questions about the philosophical analysis of scientific reasoning. What are the criteria of adequacy for theories of induction, explanation, or theory structure? Is more than one adequate theory possible? Using a generalized version of Norton’s argument, I demonstrate that the competition between formal and material theories in philosophy of science results from adhering to different criteria of adequacy. This situation encourages an interpretation of “formal” and “material” as indicators of divergent criteria that accompany different philosophical methodologies. I characterize another criterion of adequacy associated with material theories, the avoidance of imported problems, and conclude that one way to reconcile conflicting criteria is to adopt a pluralist stance toward theories of scientific reasoning.
KeywordsFormal Theory Successful Functioning Inductive Inference Philosophical Analysis Scientific Reasoning
I received a variety of helpful feedback on this material from the session participants at the European Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Amsterdam (October 2009). Ingo Brigandt, Ron Giere, John Norton, Greg Novack, Ken Waters, Bill Wimsatt, and an anonymous referee provided useful criticisms and suggestions on an earlier draft of the manuscript.
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