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::: center home >> events >> lunchtime >> 2006-07 >> abstracts

Tuesday, 14 November 2006
Hypotheses Fingo?
Herschel and the Myth of Hypothetical Science in 19th Century Britain

Laura J. Snyder, St. John's University and Visiting Professor,
Department of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: It has become almost a commonplace that 19th century science, with its numerous theoretical entities—light waves, aethers, atoms—required a hypothetical method, which its major methodologists (with the exception of Mill) were only too happy to supply. In this paper I argue that even Herschel, who allowed a more liberal use of hypotheses than did Mill or Whewell, rejected the method of hypothesis. Unlike twentieth-century proponents of hypothetico-deductivism, Herschel placed inductive constraints on hypotheses. Yet he was able to account for the discovery of theories involving unobservables by emphasizing analogical inference. I show that Mill bears much of the blame for creating this “myth” about nineteenth-century philosophy of science.

Revised 3/6/08 - Copyright 2006