Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Transient Underdetermination and 19th-Century Electrodynamics
Wolfgang Pietsch, Technical University of Munich, Department of Philosophy
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
Abstract: Transient underdetermination has been proposed as a historically plausible rendering of the underdetermination thesis that nevertheless provides significant insights into the limitations of scientific theorizing.
In support of this view, a case study from 19th-century electrodynamics is presented examining the rivalry between the action-at-a-distance and the field theoretic approach. This situation was explicitly identified as a case of underdetermination by James Clerk Maxwell and other leading figures in the field. However, the example also reveals a crucial shortcoming in the usual understanding of transient under-determination. While it is generally believed that only one program wins and all others are eventually abandoned, both electrodynamic theories survive to a considerable extent in the subsequent particle-field electrodynamics. In a sense, underdetermination persists in certain redundancies of the resulting theory. This 'hidden underdetermination'-predicament poses a novel challenge for the realists.