Reasoning to New Theories in the Face of Inconsistency: The Case of Blackbody Radiation
Molly Kao (University of Western Ontario, UNIVERSITE DE MONTREAL)

January 31, 2020, 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario

UC 2105
1151 Richmond Street
London
Canada

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In the early stages of attempting to construct a new theory, scientists are sometimes beset by a wealth of conflicting information, possibly in the form of incompatible theoretical assumptions arising somehow from particular empirical results. Understanding how we can legitimately and effectively reason about a new theory under such circumstances contributes directly to an improved understanding of the mechanics of theory construction. I examine a prime example of reasoning from problematic assumptions, namely, the hypothesis of quantized energy that emerged from Planck's work on blackbody radiation. I will present two different ways in which this inconsistency was addressed by Planck’s contemporaries, namely James Jeans and Albert Einstein. I argue that the main concern was not so much the oft-cited conceptual problem of attributing conflicting properties to certain physical entities, but rather, criticisms that such assumptions lacked independent motivation, or even that they led to predictions that were not borne out by observation.

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