The AHRC research project on “Contingency and Dissent In Science” invites you to a talk by Professor Peter Achinstein, founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for History and Philosophy of Science on

“What to do if you want to defend a theory you can’t prove: Maxwell’s method of physical speculation.”

(See abstract below.)

The talk will take place in Room T206 of the Lakatos Building, London School of Economics and Political Science from 5-6:30 pm on Friday, October 10th, 2008.

All are welcome

Abstract: My paper discusses James Clerk Maxwell’s so-called “method of physical speculation” used by him in defending his kinetic-molecular theory in a paper in Nature in 1875. At the outset he presents a general scientific method for developing and defending theories that postulate bodies that at the time cannot be observed and that make claims about such bodies that at the time cannot be demonstrated to be true by observation and experiment.  Maxwell’s question is whether and how you can develop and defend such a theory in a way that makes it possible to be justified in believing the theory to be true without being able to experimentally prove it.  Maxwell contrasts his method with Newtonian inductivism, which is much stronger than he wants for his purposes, and with the method of hypothesis, which is much weaker than he wants. My paper attempts to spell out his method (which Maxwell describes sketchily, mainly by example), defend it against ! objections, and illustrate more generally how it is to be used.

Sophia Efstathiou Research Assistant Contingency and Dissent in Science