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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 16

Theory Change and Instrumentation

JOSEPH C. PITT

Philosophical theories of scientific change have tended to ignore the role of instruments and the impact of innovation in instrumentation on theory change. What are often referred to as the “standard” theories, those of Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Larry Laudan, with their focus on theory, concentrate primarily on abstract considerations. These include such factors as anomalies (Kuhn), degenerating research programs (Lakatos) and problem-solving ability (Laudan). However, in none of these cases is attention paid to the mechanics behind change. Thus, we are informed that over time paradigms accumulate anomalies, but how these occur is not explained. Research programs degenerate, but what are the specific causes of degeneration? And what exactly contributes to the problem-solving ability of theories? One clear answer is “instruments.”

Instruments contribute to theory change in different ways. Thus, it would be incorrect to propose a single theory regarding how instruments are involved in theory change. Part of the issue here is that theories change in a variety of ways and under multiple circumstances. Thus, one would expect that instruments would also be involved in those changes is a myriad of ways. But there is one constant: if science is what scientists do, then instruments change the way scientists work. So the focus here is on how instruments change science, rather than on theory change per se.

Consider just a few ...

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