B6 - A frame-theoretic investigation of the dynamics of scientific theories, their conceptual systems and their realistic reference

In this project, frame-theory shall be used to investigate the historical transition between (partially incommensurable) theories, with particular focus on the consequences such transitions have on scientific concepts, classificatory systems and ontologies. Frames are especially suited for this purpose because they explicate the central categories and concepts which underlie scientific theories in the form of recursive system of attributes (cf. Chen and Barker 2000, Chen 2003). Several case studies from the development of chemistry in the 17th and 18th century (for example, the comparison of phlogiston versus oxygen theories of combustion), and from the development of biology (from Linnean to Darwinian classification systems) shall be conducted.  We will investigate the historical and epistemological conditions which must be satisfied in order for an attribute to become a central dimension (or node) in a scientific classification system - such as mole number becoming central in the classification of chemical substances and reactions after Avogadro and Dalton, or descendance become central in classification of biological kinds after Darwin.

Three related goals are central to this the project. The first goal concentrates on the question of how can competing (and in some cases in­commensurable) theories or research programs be compared? We conjecture that frame-representations are especially suited to reveal structural correspondence relations between different theories. Such relations can be construed as invariances, as the structural realists call them, that disclose objective information about the world (Worrall 1989, Votsis 2005, Schurz 2006b).

The second goal will focus on the question of which concepts or nodes of a theory frame can be regarded to successfully refer to entities in the world as opposed to merely having an instrumental value. We conjecture that typically we can identify successfully referring nodes of a frame when at least part of their content survived theory change in the form of structural correspondence relations between the frames of the consecutive theories.

The third goal in this project concerns the development of evaluation criteria for scientific classification. Two evaluation dimensions will circumscribe the discussion: (a) the degree of theoretical unification provided by a classification frame, and (b) its diagnostic efficiency. It will be asked whether there are cases in which the aim of theoretical unification and the aim of diagnostic efficiency come into conflict. For example, certain tensions of this sort seem to exist between a classification of biological kinds in terms of attributive similarities, and in terms of their evolutionary ancestry (cf. Ridley 1993, 358f, 369f). Where conflicts exist, we will try to develop strategies to resolve them.