Action and interpretation

  • David Gooding
Part of the Science and Philosophy book series (SCPH, volume 5)


Arguments meant to justify a discovery by ‘grounding’ it in theory rely on the operations and experiments that enabled it to be represented. This generative aspect of justification has been unfashionable since it was displaced in the early nineteenth century by the deductive style of a new, unified mathematical physics.1 As a result, an important problem for a theory of representation, has been neglected: how do observers represent experience that is new to all of them in a communicable form? This question is inseparable from another: how do observers tell when they have successfully communicated what, in their own experience, they intend others to see? Satisfactory answers to these questions would show how observational assent reflects similarity of semantic ascent, and vice versa. A further question is how novel, anomalous information retains enough of its anomalous character to promote changes in a theoretical system that has apparently assimilated it. These questions remain unanswered.


North Pole South Pole Electromagnetic Phenomenon Circular Contour Iron Filing 
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. 2.
    An accessible account of the use of these two images is Wise (1979b).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For Maxwell’s assessment of Faraday’s synthesis see his (1890), vol. 2, pp. 359.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Faraday described his “rough geometrical” method in a referee’s report on a paper submitted by Joule to the Royal Society (Royal Society MS, RR3, 154). For the mathematization of Faraday, see Heimann (1970) and Smith and Wise (1989).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Oersted (1820), p. 274. Oersted sent copies of his report (in latin) to the editors of a number of European journals, who published translations. My account is based on a translation published by David Brewster.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
  6. 7.
    Ibid., p. 215.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Oersted (1821). This account did not appear until November 1821, by which time his explanations had been superceded by others based on other observers repetitions of his results.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    For an analysis of direct and indirect observation see Shapere (1982, 1985).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Wittgenstein (1953), para. 231.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Ibid., para. 262.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Biot (1821), p. 281.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    For electromagnetic science on the continent see Caneva (1978) and (1980) and for the traditions into which it erupted, Heilbron (1981, 1982).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Most of their experiments sought a temporally extended effect, i.e. a continuous current. These non-discoveries are described in Ross (1965), Williams (1983, 1985a, 1985b), Hofmann (1987a).Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Faraday (1821–1822), p. 199.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Ibid., my emphasis.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    These and several related experiments were repeated with final year physics students at Bristol University, in 1983–84. They are described in J. E. Leigh and S. Perrett, “A reproduction of Michael Faraday’s experiments on electromagnetism”, Physics Stage III Project Reports, Bristol University, May 1985 (unpublished), and in Gooding (1989c). Historians who recognize the need to augment textual interpretation with experimental repetition include Belloni (1970), James (1985), Shaffer (1989) and Settle (1961, 1983).Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Faraday (1821–22), p. 197.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Davy (1821a), p. 16.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Biot (1821), p. 283.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    Ibid., pp. 282–283.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    I rely on a published account which incorporates a degree of reconstruction. Comparing laboratory records of contemporary work with published versions of it and with know-how acquired in recent repetitions narrows the distance between exploration itself and reports which incorporate reconstruction and hindsight.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Biot (1821), p. 282.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    S. Shapin (1984) and Shapin and Schaffer (1985), p. 60 ff.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Biot (1821), p. 282–3.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    Ibid., p. 283.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    Here demonstrative reconstruction generates a narrative in which cognitive reconstruction is implicit (see table 1.1). Note that the “chaotic” behaviours are real. Subduing them requires a great deal of practice. For more on this see Gooding, op. cit. note 17 and part 2, below.Google Scholar
  27. 28.
    Biot (1821), p. 283.Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    According to a report of a sitting of the Académie of 30 October, ‘M.M. Biot et Savart ont été conduits au résultat suivant qui exprime rigoureusement l’action éprouvée par une molécule de magnétism austral ou boréal placée à une distance quelconque d’un fil cylindrique très-fin et indéfini, rendue magnétique par le courant voltaïque. Par le point où réside cette molécule, menez une perpendiculare à l’axe du fil: la force qui sollicite la molecule est perpendiculare à cette ligne et à l’axe de fil,’ Biot and Savart (1820), p. 223, my emphasis.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    Biot, loc. cit n. 28. That light and magnetism shared this peculiarity suggested other interactions between them. For example, in 1823 John Herschel tried to detect the influence of electromagnetism on a polarized ray passing through a helix; see Gooding (1985b).Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    On the significance of Laplacian physics (especially the contributions of Poisson, whom Biot cites here), see Hofmann (1987a), and for the institutional contex see Fox (1974).Google Scholar
  31. 32.
    Biot (1821), p. 286.Google Scholar
  32. 33.
  33. 34.
    These precepts included a commitment to inverse square forces, whose importance was established when Coulomb showed through meticulous experiments that electrostatic and magnetic forces obey the same law as gravitation. Laplace took up Coulomb’s example, making Newton’s law the exemplar for any rigourous physical theory in which a precise mathematical formulation should be coupled with accurate quantitative experimentation.Google Scholar
  34. 35.
    Both acknowledge the theory-embeddeness of observation. Falsification tries to restore a degree of independence by restricting what experiment can be used to show; sociological deconstruction argues that what experiments show is always, ultimately a matter of theoretical and other socially validated judgements.Google Scholar
  35. 36.
    See Caneva (1980).Google Scholar
  36. 37.
    See Hofmann (1987b) and Ampère (1820, 1827).Google Scholar
  37. 38.
    The 1825 memoir (published 1827) is the usual source for Ampère’s route to discovery. For a philosophical analysis based on Ampère’s (1827) reconstruction see Dorling (1973). Ampère’s account does not relate how the initial experimentation actually led to the force law. For a critique of empirical scrutiny of scientific method based on such accounts, see Gooding (1989d).Google Scholar
  38. 39.
    Hofmann (1987b).Google Scholar
  39. 40.
    Hofmann (1987a). Caneva also draws attention to the unpremeditated character of Ampère’s earliest experimental problem solving, in ‘Andre-Marie Ampère and the development of electrodynamics: a case study in the dynamics of problem solving and theory building in science”, presented to the October 1980 Four Societies meeting at Toronto (unpublished).Google Scholar
  40. 41.
    On rivalry and ambition see Williams (1985b), p. 91 ff.Google Scholar
  41. 42.
    For the construction and significance of this hypothesis see Hofmann (1987b).Google Scholar
  42. 43.
    For Thomson and Faraday see Gooding (1982b) and below, chapter 10.Google Scholar
  43. 44.
    Williams (1985b) identifies the methodological differences that fuelled this controversy, which can be traced in their correspondence, see Williams et al., eds., (1971).Google Scholar
  44. 45.
    Hofmann and Williams argue that Ampère produced electromagnetic induction effects as early as 1822. He suppressed them in favour of an emerging conviction that magnetism is just electricity in motion. Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 proved this to be an error of judgement: see Thompson (1895).Google Scholar
  45. 46.
    Davy (1821a), p. 8.Google Scholar
  46. 47.
    Arago (1820), p. 94.Google Scholar
  47. 48.
    Davy (1821a), p. 9.Google Scholar
  48. 49.
    Ibid., p. 10.Google Scholar
  49. 50.
    Davy had probably investigated the latter effects first. Faraday’s development of this work is discussed below.Google Scholar
  50. 51.
    Ibid., p. 10–11.Google Scholar
  51. 52.
    Ibid., p. 14. In his report Biot claimed that his filings formed a cylyndrical mass.Google Scholar
  52. 53.
    Davy’s next experiments sought a relationship between the quantity of iron filings lifted and the “quantity of electricity passing”. It is typical of Davy’s and Faraday’s investigations of these phenomena, that they expressed these results qualitatively.Google Scholar
  53. 54.
    Davy (1821a), p. 14.Google Scholar
  54. 55.
    Ibid., for Brande’s account of Wollaston’s idea see Brande (1820).Google Scholar
  55. 56.
    Ibid., pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  56. 57.
    See Faraday (1827), pp. 449–451.Google Scholar
  57. 58.
    Davy (1821a), p. 15.Google Scholar
  58. 59.
    Williams (1983).Google Scholar
  59. 60.
    Ibid., p. 16.Google Scholar
  60. 61.
  61. 62.
    Ibid., p. 18. According to Faraday he was was present at this experiment, see Faraday (1839–1855), vol. 2, p. 159.Google Scholar
  62. 63.
    It is hard to say how soon Davy and others in London learned of Ampère’s results, which were announced regularly to the Académie whose sittings were reported in the Annales de Chimie. This journal appears to have been Davy and Faraday’s main source of information.Google Scholar
  63. 64.
    Davy (1821a), p. 17.Google Scholar
  64. 65.
    Davy (1821b), p. 427. This was performed at the London Institution which posessed an even larger battery of cells than the one at the Royal Institution. W. H. Pepys later built another “intensity” or high-current cell with two plates of enormous surface area. This too attracted a number of experimental “contacts”: see Gooding (1985b, 1989c), and for Pepys’ large batteries, Hackmann (1978).Google Scholar
  65. 66.
    Faraday (1821–22).Google Scholar
  66. 67.
    Ibid., 197.Google Scholar
  67. 68.
  68. 69.
    See the studies cited in note 17.Google Scholar
  69. 70.
    On operationalism see Bridgeman (1952), Hempel (1952) and Beller (1988).Google Scholar
  70. 71.
    Faraday (1821–22), p. 198.Google Scholar
  71. 72.
    Ibid., p. 199, my emphasisGoogle Scholar
  72. 73.
    This develops a notion of construals introduced in Gooding (1986).Google Scholar
  73. 74.
    Lynch (1985a).Google Scholar
  74. 75.
    Observability is often worked out as a response to novel observations. For a study of changing degrees of theory-dependence or “externality” see Pinch (1985b) and below, chapters 9–10.Google Scholar
  75. 76.
    The relevant background is summarized in chapter 4; further details can be found in Gooding (1985c) and (1989a).Google Scholar
  76. 77.
    In the 18th and 19th centuries the the identity of laboratory and natural phenomena was sometimes contended: see Hackmann (1989) and Galison and Assmus (1989).Google Scholar
  77. 78.
    See Gooding (1989a). pp. 208–12.Google Scholar
  78. 79.
    On display see Hackmann (1989).Google Scholar
  79. 80.
    Watts (1811); see also Watts (1745) and Williams (1965), pp. 12–14.Google Scholar
  80. 81.
    Faraday (1821–22), p. 195, my emphasis. The phrase “clear idea” occurs often in Faraday’s writing: see chapters 9 and 10.Google Scholar
  81. 82.
    The mimetic tradition of observational science was an influence, reinforced by Faraday’s conversion to a religious doctrine that demanded as literal a reading of nature as possible (by analogy to a literal reading of the scriptures). See Cantor (1985).Google Scholar
  82. 83.
    Faraday (1827). Tweney has shown how, in the Chemical Manipulations Faraday introduces complex operations by constructing them from elementary techniques (or scripts). See Tweney (1985, 1986).Google Scholar
  83. 84.
    Faraday (1821–22), p. 198.Google Scholar
  84. 85.
    The Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution contains one of these. We know of the prototype from the anecdote that Faraday carried an ordinary bottle cork about with him, with its ends marked “P” and “N”. He could demonstrate the direction of magnetic action of the current by sticking a pin into the cork.Google Scholar
  85. 86.
    Faraday probably assisted with the experiment. He wrote: “On arranging numerous wires in circles, and other directions around and about the discharging wire, it was found after the discharge, that all were magnetic,… so that the north pole of one needle was towards the south pole of the next, and in a constant relation to the course of the discharge …”, (1821–22), p. 284.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Gooding
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BathEngland

Personalised recommendations