PhilSci Archive

Like Thermodynamics before Boltzmann. On the Emergence of Einstein’s Distinction between Constructive and Principle Theories

Giovanelli, Marco (2020) Like Thermodynamics before Boltzmann. On the Emergence of Einstein’s Distinction between Constructive and Principle Theories. [Preprint]

[img]
Preview
Text
Principles - FINAL.pdf

Download (909kB) | Preview

Abstract

In a 1919 article for the Times of London, Einstein declared the relativity theory to be a ‘principle theory,’ like thermodynamics, rather than a ‘constructive theory,’ like the kinetic theory of gases. The present paper attempts to trace back the prehistory of this famous distinction through a systematic overview of Einstein’s repeated use of the relativity theory/thermodynamics analysis after 1905. Einstein initially used the comparison to address a specific objection. In his 1905 relativity paper he had determined the velocity-dependence of the electron’s mass by adapting Newton’s particle dynamics to the relativity principle. However, according to many, this result was not admissible without making some assumption about the structure of the electron. Einstein replied that the relativity theory is similar to thermodynamics. Unlike the usual physical theories, it does not directly try to construct models of specific physical systems; it provides empirically motivated and mathematically formulated criteria for the acceptability of such theories. New theories can be obtained by modifying existing theories valid in limiting case so that they comply with such criteria. Einstein progressively transformed this line of the defense into a positive heuristics. Instead of directly searching for new theories, it is often more effective to search for conditions which constraint the number of possible theories. The paper argues that the latter was the strategy that led Einstein to most of his major successes. The constructive/principle theories opposition should be considered not only as abstract classification of theories, but also as Einstein’s attempt to formulate a sort of ‘logic of discovery.’ The paper argues that most of Einstein’s scientific successes were obtained by following the principle strategy. Most of his failures happened when he was forced to fall back to the constructive strategy.


Export/Citation: EndNote | BibTeX | Dublin Core | ASCII/Text Citation (Chicago) | HTML Citation | OpenURL
Social Networking:
Share |

Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Giovanelli, Marcomarco.giovanelli@uni-tuebingen.de
Keywords: Albert Einstein - Constructive theories - Principle theories - Relativity theory - Electron theories - Scientific discovery
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Depositing User: PD Dr. Marco Giovanelli
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2020 16:57
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2020 16:57
Item ID: 16829
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Date: 2020
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16829

Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Monthly Downloads for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item