UNIFICATION, EXPLANATION, AND THE COMPOSITION OF CAUSES IN NEWTONIAN MECHANICS

This page was last edited on 05/04/02 by Malcolm R Forster

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Publication Data

Forster, Malcolm R. (1988) "Unification, Explanation, and the Composition of Causes in Newtonian Mechanics", Studies in History and Philosophy of Science,  Vol. 19, pp. 55-101.

Abstract

 

William Whewell’s philosophy of scientific discovery is applied to the problem of understanding the nature of unification and explanation by the composition of causes in Newtonian mechanics.  The essay attempts to demonstrate: (1) The sense in which ‘approximate’ laws (e.g. Kepler’s laws of planetary motion) successfully refer to real physical systems rather than to (fictitious) idealizations of them; (2) why good theoretical constructs are not badly underdetermined by observation; and why, in particular, Newtonian forces are not conventional; and (3) how empiricist arguments against the existence of component causes, and against the veracity of the fundamental laws, are flawed.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Cartwright's Argument against Component Forces

  3. Ellis's Argument for the Conventionality of Forces

  4. Whewell's Philosophy of Scientific Discovery

  5. Newton's Argument for Universal Gravitation

  6. Concluding Remarks

  7. References

 

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