What is theory? How should it be defined?
Among the major tasks of scientonomy is to explain transitions from one accepted theory to the next. Thus, it is crucial to have a well-defined notion of theory.
In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. Theory (Sebastien-2016) is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available definition of the term. Theory (Sebastien-2016) states "A set of propositions."
In modern times philosophers have held a variety of views about how best to express the structure and content of scientific theories.1
The syntactical view holds that the structure of a scientific theory can be captured by an axiomatized system of sentences. It is expressed in a metamathematical language that included predicate logic, set theory, and model theory.1 In 1928 Rudolf Carnap published his The Logical Structure of the World, which put forward this view, which was central to logical empiricism.2 Hans Reichenbach, Otto Neurath, Carl Hempel, and Herbert Feigl were also major contributors. The logical empiricist answer to the question of the structure of scientific theories was a family of related ideas rather than a single approach.3 The view was so widely accepted in the early twentieth century that it is sometimes referred to as the received view.4
The semantic view holds that the structure of a scientific theory can be expressed as a set of mathematical models, as models were defined by Alfred Tarski. It rejects the metamathematical language of the syntactic view.41 Some important models in science include the bag model of quark confinement, the hard ball model of a gas, the Bohr model of the atom, the Gauss chain model of a polymer, the Lorentz model of the atmosphere, and the double helix model of DNA.5 Major proponents of the semantic view include John Von Neumann, who wrote on the subject in the thirties, Fredrick Suppe, and Bas Van Fraassen.1 The semantic view emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s and became the dominant view in subsequent decades. John Ladyman used it in his formulation of structural realism in physics. The semantic view has played a major role in the philosophy of biology and psychology in recent decades.4
The pragmatic view rejects a purely formal characterization of scientific theories entirely, and supposes that a theory necessarily consists of sentences, models, problems, standards, skills, practices, including such things as analogies, metaphors, and natural kinds, with its full characterization necessarily including elements that cannot be formalized.31 Proponents of the pragmatic view include Nancy Cartwright, Ian Hacking, Philip Kitcher, and Helen Longino.
The original definition of theory was proposed by Barseghyan in 2015. It defined a theory as any set of propositions that attempt to describe something.6 As such, this definition excluded normative propositions. In early 2017, it was replaced by the definition suggested by Sebastien in 2016.
|Community||Accepted From||Acceptance Indicators||Still Accepted||Accepted Until||Rejection Indicators|
|Scientonomy||1 January 2016||Yes|
|Theory (Barseghyan-2015)||A set of propositions that attempt to describe something.||2015|
|Theory (Sebastien-2016)||A set of propositions.||2016|
|Community||Theory||Accepted From||Accepted Until|
|Scientonomy||Theory (Barseghyan-2015)||1 January 2016||15 February 2017|
|Scientonomy||Theory (Sebastien-2016)||15 February 2017|
|Modification||Community||Date Suggested||Summary||Verdict||Verdict Rationale||Date Assessed|
|Sciento-2016-0002||Scientonomy||3 September 2016||Accept a new taxonomy for theory, normative theory, descriptive theory to reintroduce normative propositions (such as those of ethics or methodology) to the scientific mosaic.||Not Accepted||Since this modification consisted of two interrelated but essentially distinct suggestions - one definitional and one ontological - it was decided by the community to divide it into two modifications so that the gist of the proposed suggestions is properly articulated. In particular, it was agreed that there are two modifications in "the heart of this single modification - one ontological, the other definitional".c1 It was also agreed that the current formulation "is exclusively definitional, and does not give the community an opportunity to appreciate (and, well, accept) the ontological changes that come along with it".c2 Consequently, it was decided to divide this modification into two modifications - one definitional and one ontological.c3||23 January 2017|
|Sciento-2017-0001||Scientonomy||23 January 2017||Accept new definitions for theory, normative theory, and descriptive theory. Also, modify the definition of methodology to reflect these changes.||Accepted||The community agreed that this is "an important addition to theoretical scientonomy".c1 It was agreed that since "the paradox of normative propositions has been solved, a revised set of definitions was needed".c2 It was emphasized that if we're going to have any sort of conversation on the status of normative propositions in the mosaic, "then we need to start from a definition".c3||15 February 2017|
Unlike Barseghyan's original definition of theory, this definition is deliberately neutral with respect to the descriptive/prescriptive divide. Thus, it allows for the existence of both descriptive and normative theories. Read More
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Winther, Rasmus. (2016) The Structure of Scientific Theories. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2016/entries/structure-scientific-theories/.
- Andersen, Hanne and Hepburn, Brian. (2015) Scientific Method. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-method/.
- Mormann, Thomas. (2008) Idealization in Cassirer's Philosophy of Mathematics. Philosophia Mathematica 16 (2), 151-181.
- Halvorson, Hans. (2012) What Scientific Theories Could not be. Philosophy of Science 79 (2), 183-206.
- Frigg, Roman. (2006) Scientific Representation and the Semantic View of Theories. Theoria 55, 49-65.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.