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Olivier Darrigol, Research director, CNRS; SPHere; Research scholar at UC-Berkeley, OHST

Thu May 11th 2017, 4:30pm
Building 90-92Q

The Unnamed Structuralism of a few Nineteenth-century Philosopher-physicists

Abstract: Although no physicist in this period employed the word "structure" as we would now do in similar circumstances, it will be shown that four major figures of nineteenth-century physics and its philosophy, James Clerk Maxwell, Hermann Helmholtz, Henri PoincarĂ©, and Pierre Duhem, all defended varieties of structuralism. They used structures as materials or tools for theory construction, as a means to limit the surplus content of theories, and as the basis for an elusive variety of realism in PoincarĂ©'s case. The comparison of their approaches reveals different conceptions of the import of structures in the evolution of theories. It also suggest ways of conciliating the static and abstract definition of structures as self-contained generic systems of relations with their constructive power and with their empirical adequacy.