Einstein and the Development of Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science

The development of Einstein’s philosophy and the development of logical empiricism were both driven in crucial ways by the quest for an empiricism that could defend the empirical integrity of general relativity in the face of neo-Kantian critiques. But logical empiricism was more than a philosophy of relativity theory, and Einstein’s philosophy of science was more than an answer to Kant. A fuller account of Einstein’s philosophy of science would have to include discussion of his belief in simplicity as a guide to truth, especially in areas of physics comparatively far removed from extensive and direct contact with experiment, as in his own long search for a unified field theory. A fuller account would also investigate Einstein’s largely original and, I think, quite profound distinction between “principle theories” and “constructive theories,” the former constituted of mid-level, empirically well-grounded generalizations like the light principle and the relativity principle, which, by constraining the search for constructive models, often facilitate progress in science, as Einstein thought was the case in his discovery of special relativity. And a fuller account would examine Einstein’s appropriation of what Joseph Petzoldt dubbed “the law of univocalness”, in effect the requirement that theories determine for themselves unique models of the phenomena they aim to describe, for this idea was central to Einstein’s thinking about a permissible space-time event ontology, his solution of the “hole argument” via the “pointcoincidence argument” in the genesis of general relativity, and his more general attitude toward physical reality and objectivity. And partly through its influence on Einstein, this idea of Petzoldt’s also played a significant role in the history of logical empiricism, especially in the development of Carnap’s thinking.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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