The Second Law (Barseghyan-2015)

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This is an answer to the question Mechanism of Theory Acceptance that states "In order to become accepted into the mosaic, a theory is assessed by the method actually employed at the time."

The Second Law Barseghyan 2015.png

This version of The Second Law was formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015.1 It is also known as the law of theory acceptance.

Broader History

In his 'Structure of Scientific Revolutions'2, Thomas Kuhn supposed that theories, methods, and values formed integrated units which he called paradigms. Kuhn's holism lead him to view scientific change as a kind of gestalt shift, seemingly involving a non-rational leap of faith. Critics charged him with attributing scientific change to "mob psychology". Later, he suggested that scientists are guided by epistemic values in making such choices. He supposed these values were fixed through history 3.

Past philosophers of science have generally failed to provide a definitive answer concerning the existence of a mechanism that governs transitions from one accepted theory to the next. In regard to theory acceptance, they have often failed to clearly distinguish between "method" and "methodology"1pp. 52-61.

Both Rudolf Carnap and Karl Popper realized the beginnings of a distinction between method and methodology by recognizing that it is the implicit method of a scientific community that is employed in theory assessment instead of its explicit prescriptions. Larry Laudan also tacitly acknowledged the distinction within his reticulated model by showing that the accepted rules of scientific practice (methodology) were at odds with the actual scientific practice of the time (method)4. However, he then goes on to explicitly criticize a similar distinction accepted by Lakatos and Worrall.

There has also been a fierce debate among philosophers of science over the status of novel predictions. While, Popper, Lakatos and Musgrave argued for a special status of novel predictions, Hempel, Carnap, and Laudan maintained that, as far as criteria for theory goes, there is no substantial difference between the value of novel predictions and post factual explanations of known facts. Nonetheless, some philosophers have used the lack of novel predictions in past historical episodes as a way to argue against the idea that theories are always accepted when they meet the criteria of the employed method. However this argument is unsound because it assumes that the hypothetico-deductive method was employed in every historical case.

Scientonomic History

This was the original formulation of the second law proposed by Barseghyan in The Laws of Scientific Change. 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. 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 and, thus, replaced the initial formulation.5

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this theory:
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 January 2016The law became de facto accepted by the community at that time together with the whole theory of scientific change.No29 November 2017The law became rejected as a result of the acceptance of the new formulation of the Second Law by Patton, Overgaard, and Barseghyan. For details, refer to the modification.

Suggestions To Reject

These are all the modifications where the rejection of this theory has been suggested:

Modification Community Date Suggested Summary Date Assessed Verdict Verdict Rationale
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. 29 November 2017 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

Question Answered

The Second Law (Barseghyan-2015) is an attempt to answer the following question: How do theories become accepted into a mosaic?

See Mechanism of Theory Acceptance for more details.


The second law explained by Hakob Barseghyan

According to Barseghyan's original formulation of the second law, "theories become accepted only when they satisfy the requirements of the methods actually employed at the time. In other words there is only one way for a theory to become accepted – it must meet the implicit expectations of the scientific community".1p. 129

According to the law, in order to become accepted, a theory is assessed by the method employed at the time by the scientific community in question.1p. 129 The key idea behind the second law is that theories are evaluated by the criteria employed by the community at the time of the evaluation. Thus, different communities employing different method of evaluation can end up producing different assessment outcomes.

Barseghyan notes an important consequence of the law:

So the question that the historian must ask here is: what were the expectations of the respective scientific communities that allowed for the acceptance of the respective natural philosophies? The second law suggests that, in order to reconstruct the actual method employed at a particular time, we must study the actual transitions in theories that took place at that time.1p. 130

A further important consequence of the law has to do with the famous, long-standing debate on the status of novel predictions. Some authors (including Popper, Lakatos, and Musgrave) argue for a special status of novel predictions, where others (like Hempel, Carnap, and Laudan) argue that novel predictions do not substantially differ from post factum explanations or "retro-dictions". But by the second law, as Barseghyan writes, "the whole debate in its current shape is ill-founded".1p. 131 Whether novel predictions have a special status, in that "a new theory is expected to have confirmed novel predictions in order to become accepted", is, by the second law, dependent on a community's employed method at the time. Instead of being concerned with all theories in all contexts, we must ask whether theories in specific communities at specific time periods were required to have confirmed novel predictions.

The gist of this theory can be illustrated by the following examples.

Acceptance of General Relativity

The example is presented in The Laws of Scientific Change:

Even the most “revolutionary” theories must meet the actual requirements of the time in order to become accepted. Einstein’s general relativity is considered as one of the most ground-breaking theories of all time and, yet, it was evaluated in an orderly fashion and became accepted only after it satisfied the requirements of the time. From that episode we can reconstruct what the actual requirements of the time were. It is well known that the theory became accepted circa 1920, after the publication of the results of Eddington’s famous observations of the Solar eclipse of May 29, 1919 which confirmed one of the novel predictions of general relativity – namely, the deflection of light in the spacetime curved due to the Sun’s mass. Thus, it is safe to say that the scientific community of the time expected (among other things) that a new theory must have confirmed novel predictions.1p. 130

Acceptance of Cartesian and Newtonian Theories

Another example from The Laws of Scientific Change:

Suppose we study the history of the transition from the Aristotelian-medieval natural philosophy to that of Descartes in France and that of Newton in Britain circa 1700. It follows from the second law that both theories managed to satisfy the actual expectations of the respective scientific communities, for otherwise they wouldn’t have become accepted.1p. 130



Barseghyan argued that the second law directly follows from the the definition of employed method. According to him, "since employed method is defined as a set of implicit criteria actually employed in theory assessment, it is obvious that any theory that aims to become accepted must meet these requirements".1p. 129 Thus, he argues, the second law is a mere explication of what is implicit in the definition of employed method.

This reason for The Second Law (Barseghyan-2015) was formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015.1

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Questions About This Theory

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  1. a b c d e f g  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  2. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  3. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1977) The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. University of Chicago Press.
  4. ^  Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.