Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
I believe observation is valued by scientists because it is an objective source of information. Objective here can mean (at least) two things. First, observation could be objective in that it is an assured source of truths about the world, truths whose meaning is the same for everyone regardless of their personal theoretical vantage points. I criticize this construal of observational objectivity in chapter one. The guilty doctrine, which I entitle 'empiricistic epistemological foundationalism', is shown to be untenable on, in part, historical grounds. The historical episode I deploy for this task is the early stages of quantum theory, an episode I return to at various times throughout the thesis in illustration of my philosophical points. The sense of objective I favour views empirical data as the locus of extensive interpersonal agreement. Observation, from this perspective, plays the role of a communal judge in arbitrating our theoretical disputes. Returning to early quantum theory (in chapter three), I show how observation could not have had the adjudicative effect it exhibited unless it were objective in this sense.;A crucial philosophical problem I take up is to provide the best definition of observation suited to accomplish the normative goals set out above for empirical data. Two major contenders are presented in chapter two, the semantic and pragmatic theories of observation, and other pragmatically-based proposals are discussed at the end of chapter four. In the end, I show that the pragmatic theory of observation (whose historical basis and contemporary formulation are extensively discussed in the second chapter) triumphs as the philosophically most responsible account of the value of scientific observations.;The final chapter turns to an examination of the bearing of evidence on theory. From my particular pragmatic viewpoint, I describe first how the rationality of induction can be established, and following this I reassess the value of Hempel's classic list of confirmation principles. My final task is to use a new, overtly pragmatic definition of confirmation to re-evaluate the experimental confirmation by Rubens and Kurlbaum of Planck's quantum hypothesis.
Hudson, Robert G., "Why Is Observation Important To Science?" (1991). Digitized Theses. 2066.