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  • Reduction and Unification

    The concepts of reduction and unification are central to the philosophy of science. Roughly speaking, we say that a field or theory is reducible to another field or theory when the notions, laws and ontology of the one are in some sense accounted for (typically entailed in some limit form) by the other. For example, Galileo’s law of free falling bodies is said to reduce to Newtonian physics because the latter entails a corrected version of the former. (NB: Keep in mind that physicists, more correctly in my opinion, talk of the newer theory reducing to the older theory instead of the other way around). Unification is a closely related concept. Roughly speaking, we speak of unification when a theory or field manages to link together some phenomena that were previously thought of as unrelated. For example, Newtonian physics unifies terrestrial and celestial phenomena by providing simple principles that apply to both domains. In joint work I carried out as a post-doc funded by the German Research Foundation (Schurz and Votsis 2014; Votsis and Schurz 2012), I argued that some such reduction relations hold between defunct and current theories of calcination and combustion as well as defunct and current theories of heat. Moreover, in related work (Votsis 2014; 2015; 2016; 2017), I argued that the notion of unification is intimately connected with the notion of confirmation. To be precise, I offered a novel conception and an associated measure of unification. On this view, the more the content of a hypothesis is confirmationally connected, i.e. support flows between its content parts, the more that content is unified. Since the confirmational connectedness of two content parts is determined by purely objective matters of fact, the proposed notion and measure of unification are themselves strictly objective, i.e. not merely pragmatic.

    Schurz, G. & I. Votsis (2014) 'Reconstructing Scientific Theory Change by Means of Frames', in T. Gamerschlag et al. (eds.), Frames and Concept Types, Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy, vol. 94, Springer, pp. 93-109.

    Votsis, I. (2014) ‘Objectivity in Confirmation: Post-Hoc Monsters and Novel Predictions’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 45(1): 70-78.

    Votsis, I. (2015) ‘Unification: Not Just a Thing of Beauty’, Theoria: An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, vol. 30(1): 97-114.

    Votsis, I. (2016) ‘Ad Hoc Hypotheses and the Monsters within’ in V. C. Müller (ed.), Fundamental Issues of Artificial Intelligence (Synthese Library), Berlin: Springer, pp. 299-313.

    Votsis, I. (2017) ‘Unification through Confirmation’, EPSA15 Selected Papers, European Studies in Philosophy of Science, vol 5, Berlin: Springer, pp. 83-93.

    Votsis, I & G. Schurz (2012) 'A Frame-Theoretic Analysis of Two Rival Conceptions of Heat', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 43(1): 105-114.