Tuesday, 14 November 2006
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.