Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Sullivan, Jacqueline A.


Philosophers of science have recently begun to pay more attention to scientific practice, moving away from the discipline’s focus on theories. The creation of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice in 2006, as well as the emergence of scholarship on experimental practice (e.g. Sullivan 2009; 2010; 2016) as well as on the tools scientists use to construct explanations and theories (e.g. Feest 2011) all point to a disciplinary shift towards a more practice-conscious philosophy of science. In addition, scholars are realizing the potential social relevance of philosophy of science and identifying the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing said potential (e.g. Douglas 2010). The aim of this dissertation is to propose a novel descriptive framework for philosophy of science, one that rests on the idea that scientific practice should be described as accurately as possible so that philosophical discussions of science rest on a solid descriptive base and can more easily be of use in engaging users and practitioners of science. The dissertation is organized along the stages of developing what I call the dynamic-iterative model of scientific practice. In chapter 1, I clarify the project’s philosophical background and outline six conditions of adequacy on a descriptive model of science. These conditions allow me to evaluate the three descriptive models reviewed in chapter 2. Chapter 3 combines Nickles’ problem-solving view of science (1981) with core insights from the heuristics and biases literature into a workable version of the dynamic-iterative model. I then apply the model to the case of place cell research in chapter 4 as a test of the model’s usefulness and applicability. In chapter 5 I evaluate the model with respect to my six conditions and assess its strengths and weaknesses. The dynamic-iterative model is a flexible descriptive framework that not only allows for more complete philosophical analyses of cases than other current models, but also supports important practical applications.