Mechanism of Theory Acceptance

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How do theories become accepted into a mosaic?

The question of theory acceptance is one of the central problems of theoretical scientonomy. Any scientonomic theory should explain how theories become part of a mosaic. It is clear that epistemic agents replaces their theories with theories that they considers superior, and they do this on a regular basis. Thus, the question is how epistemic agents accept theories.

In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community.

In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is:

  • If a theory satisfies the acceptance criteria of the method employed at the time, it becomes accepted into the mosaic; if it does not, it remains unaccepted; if assessment is inconclusive, the theory can be accepted or not accepted.

Broader History

This question has been one of the central topics of the philosophy of science. Initially, philosophy held a static conception of science. Immanuel Kant believed that the axioms of Newtonian mechanics were a priori synthetic propositions. 1 Philosophers believed in a static conception of science because no scientific revolution had been experienced since the advent of modern science. While Scientonomy recognizes the transition from the Aristotelian-Medieval method to the Newtonian world view as a scientific revolution, this was not the case historically.

The scientific revolutions in the early twentieth century caused philosophers of science to wonder how science accepts its theories. In his Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl Popper argued that old theories are replaced by new theories when an old theory is falsified and a new theory is corroborated in by experimental evidence. This occurs when an experiment successfully tests a bold conjecture made by the new theory.2

A major development occurred when Thomas Kuhn presented his groundbreaking analysis of scientific change in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions According to Kuhn, periods of 'normal science' are interrupted by 'scientific revolutions' that involve paradigm shifts. In a paradigm shift involves a fundamental change in world view for the relevant scientific communities. In his conception of theory change, the old and new theories are incommensurable.3 While Kuhn's ideas stirred much controversy, they were generally recognized as highly important.

In his Methodology of Scientific Research Programs, Imre Lakatos advocated a less cataclysmic view of scientific change. In a refinement of Popper's views, he believed that theories are not necessarily falsified by failed predictions. Rather, a theory's fate depends on its centrality in an overarching research program. The more central a theory is to its research program, the more effort will be extended towards saving it by modifying the research program's auxiliary hypotheses. 4

Paul Feyerabend argued in Against Method that the methods of theory acceptance change over time in science, and that these changes are largely arbitrary. Dudley Shapere agreed that scientific methods change over time. In The Character of Scientific Change, Shapere argued that the scientific methods used at the time are affected by the beliefs that the scientific community holds.56

Larry Laudan agreed. In Science and Values, Laudan argues that the methods that scientific theories are accepted depend on the epistemic values that scientists hold. He recounted how knowledge of experimenter's bias and the placebo effect led to the development of the double blind method in drug testing. Laudan's ideas are important precursors to Scientonomy.78

In contrast, the strong program of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK), including sociologists like Barry Barnes and David Bloor seek to explain science as a sociological phenomenon and sometimes stress the role played by non-empirical social values in scientific change.

Scientonomic History

The second law explained by Gregory Rupik

The original formulation of the second law was proposed by Barseghyan in The Laws of Scientific Change.8pp. 129-132 However, subsequent seminar discussions revealed the law's two major flaws. First, it didn't clearly indicate what happened to a theory when a certain assessment outcome obtained. Specifically, it didn't link theory assessment outcomes to the theory's acceptance or unacceptance. Secondly, the law sounded like a tautology which is not what a good law should sound like.9

Consequently, in 2017, a new formulation of the law was suggested by Patton, Overgaard, and Barseghyan, which became accepted towards the end of that year, thus, replacing the initial formulation.9 The reformulated second law also clearly indicated the possibility of an inconclusive outcome of theory assessment, as opposed to sneaking the idea of inconclusiveness from the back door when dealing with the phenomenon of mosaic split.9

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this question (it includes all the instances when the question was accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by a community):
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 January 2016This is when the community accepted its first answer to this question, The Second Law (Barseghyan-2015), which indicates that the question is itself considered legitimate.Yes

All Theories

The following theories have attempted to answer this question:
TheoryFormulationFormulated In
The Second Law (Barseghyan-2015)In order to become accepted into the mosaic, a theory is assessed by the method actually employed at the time.2015
The Second Law (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017)If a theory satisfies the acceptance criteria of the method employed at the time, it becomes accepted into the mosaic; if it does not, it remains unaccepted; if assessment is inconclusive, the theory can be accepted or not accepted.2017

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Accepted Theories

The following theories have been accepted as answers to this question:
CommunityTheoryAccepted FromAccepted Until
ScientonomyThe Second Law (Barseghyan-2015)1 January 201629 November 2017
ScientonomyThe Second Law (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017)29 November 2017

Suggested Modifications

Here is a list of modifications concerning this topic:
Modification Community Date Suggested Summary Verdict Verdict Rationale Date Assessed
Sciento-2017-0004 Scientonomy 5 February 2017 Accept the reformulation of the second law which explicitly links theory assessment outcomes with theory acceptance/unacceptance. To that end, accept three new definitions for theory assessment outcomes (satisfied, not satisfied, and inconclusive) as well as the new ontology of theory assessment outcomes, and accept the new definition of employed method. Accepted The new formulation of the law became accepted as a result of a communal consensus. It was noted by the commentators that the "modification provides a much improved formulation of the 2nd law".c1 It was noted that the new formulation "decouples the method from acceptance outcomes" and "is needed to avoid a contradiction for cases where assessment by the method is inconclusive, but the theory is accepted".c2 It was agreed that the new law eliminates two of the major flaws of the previous formulation. First, it clearly states the relations between different assessment outcomes and the actual theory acceptance/unacceptance. Second, it clearly forbids certain conceivable courses of events and, thus, doesn't sounds like a tautology.c3 29 November 2017

Current View

In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is The Second Law (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017).

The Second Law (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017) states: "If a theory satisfies the acceptance criteria of the method employed at the time, it becomes accepted into the mosaic; if it does not, it remains unaccepted; if assessment is inconclusive, the theory can be accepted or not accepted."

The Second Law (Patton-Overgaard-Barseghyan-2017).png

According to this formulation of the second law, if a theory satisfies the acceptance criteria of the method actually employed at the time, then it becomes accepted into the mosaic; if it does not, it remains unaccepted; if it is inconclusive whether the theory satisfies the method, the theory can be accepted or not accepted.

Unlike the previous formulation of the second law, this formulation makes the causal connection between theory assessment outcomes and cases of theory acceptance/unacceptance explicit. In particular, it specifies what happens to a theory in terms of its acceptance/unacceptance when a certain assessment outcome obtains.

In addition, this new formulation is clearly not a tautology because it forbids certain logically possible scenarios, such as a theory satisfying the method of the time yet remaining unaccepted.

Related Topics

This question is a subquestion of Mechanism of Scientific Change. It has the following sub-topic(s):

This topic is also related to the following topic(s):


  1. ^  Kant, Immanuel. (1781) Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^  Popper, Karl. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Hutchinson & Co.
  3. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  4. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1978) Philosophical Papers: Volume 1. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^  Feyerabend, Paul. (1975) Against Method. New Left Books.
  6. ^  Shapere, Dudley. (1980) The Character of Scientific Change. In Nickles (Ed.) (1980), 61-116.
  7. ^  Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
  8. a b  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  9. a b c  Patton, Paul; Overgaard, Nicholas and Barseghyan, Hakob. (2017) Reformulating the Second Law. Scientonomy 1, 29-39. Retrieved from