Theory (Barseghyan-2015)

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This is a definition of Theory that states "A set of propositions that attempt to describe something."

Theory (Barseghyan-2015).png

This definition of Theory was formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015.1

Scientonomic History

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this definition:
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 January 2016The definition became de facto accepted by the community at that time together with the whole theory of scientific change.No15 February 2017The definition became rejected when Theory (Sebastien-2016) became accepted.

Suggestions To Reject

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

Modification Community Date Suggested Summary Date Assessed Verdict Verdict Rationale
Sciento-2016-0002 Scientonomy 3 September 2016 Accept a new taxonomy for theory, normative theory, descriptive theory to reintroduce normative propositions (such as those of ethics or methodology) to the scientific mosaic. 23 January 2017 Not Accepted Since this modification consisted of two interrelated but essentially distinct suggestions - one definitional and one ontological - it was decided by the community to divide it into two modifications so that the gist of the proposed suggestions is properly articulated. In particular, it was agreed that there are two modifications in "the heart of this single modification - one ontological, the other definitional".c1 It was also agreed that the current formulation "is exclusively definitional, and does not give the community an opportunity to appreciate (and, well, accept) the ontological changes that come along with it".c2 Consequently, it was decided to divide this modification into two modifications - one definitional and one ontological.c3
Sciento-2017-0001 Scientonomy 23 January 2017 Accept new definitions for theory, normative theory, and descriptive theory. Also, modify the definition of methodology to reflect these changes. 15 February 2017 Accepted The community agreed that this is "an important addition to theoretical scientonomy".c1 It was agreed that since "the paradox of normative propositions has been solved, a revised set of definitions was needed".c2 It was emphasized that if we're going to have any sort of conversation on the status of normative propositions in the mosaic, "then we need to start from a definition".c3

Question Answered

Theory (Barseghyan-2015) is an attempt to answer the following question: What is theory? How should it be defined?

See Theory for more details.


At any moment of the history of science, there are certain theories that the scientific community of the time accepts as the best available descriptions of their respective domains. According to the original definition of the term suggested in The Laws of Scientific Change, the class of theory includes only those propositions which attempt to describe a certain object under study. A theory may refer to any set of propositions that attempt to describe something. Theories may be empirical (e.g. theories in natural or social science) or formal (e.g. logic, mathematics). Theories may be of different levels of complexity and elaboration, for they may consist of hundreds of systematically linked propositions, or of a few loosely connected propositions. They may or may not be axiomatized, formalized, or mathematized. It encompasses all proposition which attempt to tell us how things were, are or will be, i.e. substantive propositions of empirical and formal sciences. The definition excludes normative propositions, such as those of methodology, ethics, or aesthetics.1pp. 3-5 Examples of theories satisfying the definition include the theory that the Earth is round, Newton's laws of universal gravitation, The phlogiston theory of combustion, quantum mechanics, Einstein's theory of relativity, and the theory of evolution.


Reason: theories are sets of propositions

It has often been argued that theories are best construed not as propositions but as models which are abstract set-theoretic entities. Importantly, on this model-theoretic or semantic view of theories, models do not contain propositions but are structures of non-linguistic elements.2 Whether this is indeed the case is to be established not in this metatheory but in an actual TSC (in collaboration with HSC). What is important from our perspective is that, even on this model-theoretic view, knowledge of the world depends crucially on formulating descriptive propositions.3 For something to become accepted as true or truthlike it must be expressible in descriptive propositions at least in principle. Often propositions are not explicitly formulated but are accepted tacitly. However, what matters is that in principle they too can be expressed as propositions. If something is not expressible as a proposition, then it cannot have a truth value and cannot be accepted or unaccepted as the best description of anything. Take an example of the Aristotelian-medieval model of the cosmos. When the medieval scientific community accepted this model, the community essentially accepted a tightly connected set of propositions, such as “the Earth is in the centre of the universe”, “the Moon, the Sun and all other planets are embedded in concentric crystalline spheres which revolve around the central Earth”, “all celestial bodies are made of element aether”, “aether is indestructible”, “aether has a natural tendency to revolve around the centre of the universe”, “all terrestrial bodies are made of the four terrestrial elements”, etc. In short, while models may as well play an important role in scientific practice, no part of these models can be actually accepted or rejected if it is not expressible in descriptive propositions. Thus, from the perspective of our project, it is safe to treat theories as collections of propositions.

This reason for Theory (Barseghyan-2015) was formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015.1

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  1. a b c  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  2. ^  Suppe, Frederick. (1989) The Semantic Conception of Theories and Scientific Realism. University of Illinois Press.
  3. ^  Chakravartty, Anjan. (2007) A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism. Cambridge University Press.