Clusters' last stand: Toward a theory of the process of meaning-making in science
Chokr, Nader N.
Grandy, Richard E.
Doctor of Philosophy
The nature of the process of meaning-making in science has been one of the central problems in the philosophy of science of the 20th century. Yet, in spite of strenuous efforts by many able philosophers and historians of science over the past three decades or so, our understanding of this process continues to be unsatisfactory and fragmented at best. The need for an adequate account has been particularly exacerbated by the "infamous" and often misinterpreted problem of incommensurability (of meaning), and its alleged consequence, the incomparability of scientific theories--which presumably threatens the rationality, objectivity, and progress of science. In this project, I argue that a new and revised cluster theory can be articulated, which meets the objections typically raised against (i) traditional (contextual or cluster) theories of meaning (Carnap, Kuhn, Gasking, Putnam, Achinstein) and (ii) theories of reference (Scheffler, Putnam, Kitcher). Such a theory is not only based on more plausible assumptions and principles, but, in addition, it satisfies the main adequacy requirements formulated by proponents of a "cognitive-historical approach" (Shapere, Nersessian, Kuhn). I am thus concerned not just with refuting "the entering wedge" of the argument against a defense of cluster theory, but with offering a relatively developed theory, sufficiently fleshed out to permit appreciation of its distinctiveness and evaluation of its merits. I argue that the new cluster theory provides not only an adequate account of the process of meaning-making in science, but also a nuanced and context-sensitive one, which exhibits the fine-structure of the history of science. It is thus capable of accounting for the different kinds and degrees of meaning and reference changes in science. Furthermore, when applied in a case-study of the "chemical revolution," it accounts for that which has escaped change without discontinuity, or even, as result of (and simply within) a broader framework of continuous conceptual change. The new cluster theory constitutes a proposal showing how the comparability of scientific theories is possible, how we have in fact been comparing them all along, despite "local incommensurabilities" of various kinds and degrees. Such a theory offers new insights into the developments of the chemical revolution in particular, but also into the structure and process of scientific revolutions in general. In short, it gives us a new framework for understanding the rationality, objectivity, and progress of science.
Philosophy; History of science; Psychology