Type of Document Master's Thesis Author Sides, Jonathan David URN etd-07252006-231659 Title Scientific Realism and the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements Degree Master of Arts Department Philosophy Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Burian, Richard M. Committee Chair Perini, Laura Committee Member Pitt, Joseph C. Committee Member Keywords
- Philosophy of science
- scientific theories
- scientific realism
- periodic table
Date of Defense 2006-07-13 Availability restricted AbstractThe periodic table poses a difficulty for both scientific realists and anti-realists. The antirealist
has difficulty accounting for the success of the table during a period in chemistry
when many theories and concepts changed; the spatial relations of current tables in use do
not show fundamental changes from the original tables proposed by Mendeleev. Yet,
most versions of scientific realism are based upon the understanding that theories are
some collection of written propositions or equations. The table as an image successfully
functions very much like a theory: it is an organization of known facts, has been used to
make predictions, and is plastic enough to accommodate unforeseen novel facts.
Assuming the truth of the representational relations between the table and the world
poses interesting issues for the realist. Ian Hacking's entity realism and the structural
realism of several philosophers are both possible versions of scientific realism that fail to
account for the table. Hacking's version fails in this case because the role of
representation is central to understanding the history of the table; structural realism fails
because it diminishes to much the role that first order properties have as they relate to the
formulation of the second order relationships that comprise the table. Philip Kitcher of
Science, Truth, and Democracy leaves himself open to two interpretations about the
metaphysics of pluralism. One of these is indefensible; the other is quite well supported
by the plurality of successful periodic tables.
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