Doctor of Philosophy
This work is an analysis of F. P. Ramsey's philosophy of science. Twentieth-century philosophy of science was marked by attempts to consider the relation between scientific theories and our knowledge of the empirical world through considerations of abstract mathematical structure. Such considerations led Bertrand Russell to an account of the relation between our theoretical picture of the world and its real nature as a relation of structural similarity. Subsequently, Max Newman gave what has become a well-known logico-mathematical objection to this account. William Demopoulos recently showed that Newman's problem applied not only to Russell's realist account, but also to a variety of otherwise disparate accounts of theoretical knowledge. The common element underlying these accounts is a conception of theories as abstract formal structures. Many such accounts have incorporated key elements of Ramsey's views, most notably the Ramsey-sentence. Moreover, Demopoulos has interpreted Ramsey's own view of theories as sharing the essential features of those abstract views, and therefore their common problem. My analysis aims to show that this abstract conception of theories does not adequately characterize Ramsey's view. Namely, his account of theories was not an attempt to do the epistemology of science in the fashion of Russell or Eddington, or of subsequent structuralist views that have adopted the Ramsey-sentence. I show this by a broader exposition of Ramsey's work on the nature of theories, comparing his seminal paper with his many other remarks on the nature and purpose of theories. I begin by discussing the historical context of Newman's objection, and a generalization of it that shows its broad applicability to abstract characterizations of theoretical knowledge. I then reconstruct Ramsey's view of theories, to show how far it extends beyond the Ramsey-sentence picture. Finally, I discuss the relevance of this view to contemporary debates concerning realism and instrumentalism. I characterize Ramsey's view as focused not on grounding our theoretical knowledge in abstract structure, but instead on demystifying the role of theoretical language and concepts in a theory's application to the world.
Summary for Lay Audience
This work is an analysis of F.P. Ramsey’s philosophy of science. When we think of a scientific theory, there is a plausible distinction in the vocabulary, or language, we use. On the one hand, there are statements that have to do with things we more or less directly observe; on the other hand, there are statements about theoretical entities and relations, e.g. electrons, forces, space—time curvature. This plausible distinction suggests another distinction between how we come to know or understand the two classes of statement. Theoretical knowledge seems inherently more problematical than our knowledge of things through direct observation.
Twentieth century philosophy of science was marked by attempts to consider the relation between scientific theories and our knowledge of the empirical world by appealing to abstract mathematical structures. In particular, Bertrand Russell believed that an adequate notion of structural similarity could explain the relation between what we experience, and the world beyond our experiences. Max Newman gave a mathematical objection to Russell’s account. However, subsequent thinkers in the philosophy of science continued to develop accounts of theoretical knowledge that appealed to abstract mathematical structures. William Demopoulos has shown that Newman’s objection generalizes beyond Russell’s theory to oppose any view which shares specific features with Russell’s.
Many such accounts have incorporated key elements of Ramsey’s views. Demopoulos has interpreted Ramsey’s work on theories as sharing the essential features of those views, and therefore their common problem. My analysis aims to show that this interpretation does not adequately characterize Ramsey’s view. I reconstruct Ramsey’s view of scientific theories from his various remarks on the nature and purpose of theories. Crucially, I argue that Ramsey’s approach to theoretical knowledge does not share the problematical features that make it vulnerable to Newman’s objection. Finally, I discuss the relevance of the reconstructed view I provide to some nearby issues in contemporary philosophy of science.
Lehmann, John D., "Theories: Reconsidering Ramsey in the Philosophy of Science" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7834.