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The Concept of Fact in German Physics around 1900: A Comparison between Mach and Einstein

de Waal, Elske and ten Hagen, Sjang L. (2020) The Concept of Fact in German Physics around 1900: A Comparison between Mach and Einstein. Physics in Perspective, 22 (2). pp. 55-80. ISSN 1422-6944

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Abstract

The concept of “fact” has a history. Over the past centuries, physicists have appropriated it in various ways. In this article, we compare Ernst Mach and Albert Einstein’s interpretations of the concept. Mach, like most nineteenth-century German physicists, contrasted fact and theory. He understood facts as real and complex combinations of natural events. Theories, in turn, only served to order and communicate facts efficiently. Einstein’s concept of fact was incompatible with Mach’s, since Einstein believed facts could be theoretical too, just as he ascribed mathematical theorizing a leading role in representing reality. For example, he used the concept of fact to refer to a generally valid result of experience. The differences we disclose between Mach and Einstein were symbolic for broader tensions in the German physics discipline. Furthermore, they underline the historically fluid character of the category of the fact, both within physics and beyond.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
de Waal, Elske
ten Hagen, Sjang L.sjangleonard@gmail.com
Keywords: Facts; Theory; Ernst Mach; Albert Einstein; Epistemology; Physics
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
Specific Sciences > Physics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Depositing User: Mr. Sjang L. ten Hagen
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2020 02:44
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2020 02:44
Item ID: 17447
Journal or Publication Title: Physics in Perspective
Official URL: http://doi.org/10.1007/s00016-020-00256-y
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1007/s00016-020-00256-y
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Logical Positivism/Logical Empiricism
Specific Sciences > Physics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Theory/Observation
Date: 22 May 2020
Page Range: pp. 55-80
Volume: 22
Number: 2
ISSN: 1422-6944
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/17447

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