Mechanism of Theory Pursuit

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What is the mechanism of theory pursuit, if any? How do theories become pursued by communities? Is pursuit purely determined by sociocultural factors or is there an epistemic element to it as well?

The scope of scientonomy encompasses the process of theory acceptance, whereas the question of how theories become pursued is currently not within the scope of theoretical scientonomy. However, in principle, it might be interesting to see if there is any logic to the process of theory pursuit. Theory pursuit is heavily influenced by sociocultural factors which can affect incentive structures and constrain the pursuit of various theories. However, is it solely determined by sociocultural factors or are there epistemological aspects to theory pursuit as well?

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.

Broader History

Among classical philosophers of science, there was no unanimity as to whether the question of theory pursuit can have a reasonable answer. For instance, Imre Lakatos can be interpreted as claiming that while one has to accept the most progressive research programme, one can legitimately pursue any research programme whatsoever.1p. 117 The latter part of the claim would be readily accepted by Paul Feyerabend.2pp. 213-216

Lakatos divided research programs into two different categories: progressive and degenerating. Lakatos judged research programs on explanatory power and this looked at them in terms of whether modifications to their protective belt had been progressive or regressive. In short, progressive modifications fit into unity with the current research program with excess corroborated empirical content3pp. 31-32 while regressive modifications did not fit and had no corroborated empirical content.3pp. 110-112 Both progressive and degenerative programs could be pursued for Lakatos, however degenerative programs are irrational to pursue. It is worth knowing however, a program could at any point of time change from degenerative and become progressive again with a few progressive modifications.

Feyerabend criticized Lakatos’ degenerating programs as having no set time limit on when to stop pursuing them. A program could become degenerative and stay this way for millions of years but to Lakatos it will always be available for pursuit. Feyerabend believed there had to be a sharp line as to where and when a program becomes not worth pursuing.4p. 9 In contrast to Lakatos’ understanding of the mechanisms of theory pursuit, Feyerabend believed that all theories are worth pursuing at all times, a much more anarchical view.

However, there were other philosophers who thought that there can be rules telling us which theories are pursuit worthy. In his Progress and Its Problems, Larry Laudan devises a methodological rule indicating when it is rational to pursue a certain research tradition. According to Laudan, "it is always rational to pursue any research tradition which has a higher rate of progress than its rivals".5p. 111

In another example, for Kuhn, a theory would become worth pursuit so long as it satisfied the method of the time and views.6p 91-92

Scientonomic History

In The Laws of Scientific Change, Barseghyan left the question of including the logic of pursuit into the scope of scientonomy open. According to Barseghyan, "we are neither restrained nor obliged to provide an account of pursuit in an actual TSC".7p. 41

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 2016The question became de facto accepted by the community as legitimate at that time together with the whole theory of scientific change.Yes

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Accepted Theories

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Suggested Modifications

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Current View

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Related Topics

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

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  1. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1971) History of Science and Its Rational Reconstructions. In Lakatos (1978a), 102-138.
  2. ^  Feyerabend, Paul. (1976) On the Critique of Scientific Reason. In Cohen et al. (Eds.) (1976), 109-143.
  3. a b  Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-101.
  4. ^  Motterlini, Matteo. (Ed.). (1999) For and Against Method. University of Chicago Press.
  5. ^  Laudan, Larry. (1977) Progress and Its Problems. University of California Press.
  6. ^  Godfrey-Smith, Peter. (2003) Theory and Reality. University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.