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Collective Belief, Kuhn, and the String Theory Community

Weatherall, James Owen and Gilbert, Margaret (2015) Collective Belief, Kuhn, and the String Theory Community. [Preprint]

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One of us [Gilbert, M. (2000). “Collective Belief and Scientific Change.” Sociality and Responsibility. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 37-49.] has proposed that ascriptions of beliefs to scientific communities generally involve a common notion of collective belief described by her in numerous places. A given collective belief involves a joint commitment of the parties, who thereby constitute what Gilbert refers to as a plural subject. Assuming that this interpretive hypothesis is correct, and that some of the belief ascriptions in question are true, then the members of some scientific communities have obligations that may act as barriers both to the generation and, hence, the fair evaluation of new ideas and to changes in their community’s beliefs. We argue that this may help to explain Thomas Kuhn’s observations on “normal science”, and go on to develop the relationship between Gilbert's proposal and several features of a group of physicists working on a fundamental physical theory called “string theory”, as described by physicist Lee Smolin [Smolin, L. (2006). The Trouble with Physics. Mariner Books: New York.]. We argue that the features of the string theory community that Smolin cites are well explained by the hypothesis that the community is a plural subject of belief.

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Item Type: Preprint
Weatherall, James
Additional Information: Forthcoming in "The Epistemic Life of Groups", Miranda Fricker and Michael Brady eds.
Keywords: Collective belief; string theory; Kuhn; normal science
Subjects: General Issues > Theory Change
Depositing User: James Owen Weatherall
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2015 14:08
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2015 14:08
Item ID: 11413
Subjects: General Issues > Theory Change
Date: 2015

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