Pierre Duhem

Pierre Duhem.jpg
Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem (French:  (About this sound listen); 9 June 1861 – 14 September 1916) was a French physicist, mathematician, historian and philosopher of science. He is best known for his work on chemical thermodynamics, for his philosophical writings on the indeterminacy of experimental criteria, and for his historical research into the science of the European Middle Ages. As a scientist, Duhem also contributed to hydrodynamics and to the theory of elasticity.

Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, vol 13, p. 19

Duhem's views on the philosophy of science are explicated in his 1906 work The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. In this work, he opposed Newton's statement that the Principia's law of universal mutual gravitation was deduced from 'phenomena', including Kepler's second and third laws. Newton's claims in this regard had already been attacked by critical proof-analyses of the German logician Leibniz and then most famously by Immanuel Kant, following Hume's logical critique of induction. But the novelty of Duhem's work was his proposal that Newton's theory of universal mutual gravity flatly contradicted Kepler's Laws of planetary motion because the interplanetary mutual gravitational perturbations caused deviations from Keplerian orbits. Since no proposition can be validly logically deduced from any it contradicts, according to Duhem, Newton must not have logically deduced his law of gravitation directly from Kepler's Laws.

Duhem's name is given to the under-determination or Duhem–Quine thesis, which holds that for any given set of observations there is an innumerably large number of explanations. It is, in essence, the same as Hume's critique of induction: all three variants point at the fact that empirical evidence cannot force the choice of a theory or its revision. Possible alternatives to induction are Duhem's instrumentalism and Popper's thesis that we learn from falsification.

As popular as the Duhem–Quine thesis may be in the philosophy of science, in reality Pierre Duhem and Willard Van Orman Quine stated very different theses. Pierre Duhem believed that experimental theory in physics is fundamentally different from fields like physiology and certain branches of chemistry. Also Duhem's conception of theoretical group has its limits, since not all concepts are connected to each other logically. He did not include at all a priori disciplines such as logic and mathematics within these theoretical groups in physics which can be tested experimentally. Quine, on the other hand, conceived this theoretical group as a unit of a whole human knowledge. To Quine, even mathematics and logic must be revised in light of recalcitrant experience, a thesis that Duhem never held.

Duhem's philosophy of science was criticized by one of his contemporaries, Abel Rey, in part because of what Rey perceived as influence on the part of Duhem's Catholic faith.

This page was last edited on 18 June 2018, at 13:30.
Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Duhem under CC BY-SA license.

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