Theory Pursuit (Barseghyan-2015)

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This is a definition of Theory Pursuit that states "A theory is said to be pursued if it is considered worthy of further development."

Pursuit p 31.jpg

This definition of Theory Pursuit was formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015.1 It is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available definition of the term.

Broader History

Although most philosophers of science in the past did not make clear distinctions between pursued theories and accepted theories, it is also not new to distinguish pursued theories and accepted theories. Many historians and philosophers agreed that certain theories may have potential developmental values, but it does not mean that they are accepted as the best available theory. Some of them formulated the idea of pursued theories before the establishment of scientonomy.

Ideas that tried to distinguish pursued theories and accepted theories can be found in works by David Hume, Imre Lakatos, Larry Laudan and Stephen Wykstra.

A possible early attempt to distinguish acceptance and pursuit can be identified in the work of David Hume. In his book A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume brought up the distinction between believing and entertaining.2p. 83 In the book, the concept of believing can be seen as accepting certain theories, as believing may indicate taking certain theories as truths or best available descriptions of the subject. On the other hand, entertaining means finding certain theories valuable without believing or accepting them.2p. 83

Hume did not make the distinction explicit and obvious; hence it is reasonable to trace the first explicit distinction back to Imre Lakatos, as he stated in his scientific method regarding how to evaluate pursued theories.3 In his Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, he came up with criteria that determine which competing theory is better. This is a clear indication that Lakatos distinguished accepted theories and pursued theories, because it is impossible for theories to be competitive if all theories are equally accepted. Moreover, Lakatos made the concept of pursuing theories even clearer by describing the progress of scientific knowledge as pursuing new facts to fit “phantasies” that scientists came up beforehand.4pp. 8-101 Understanding Lakatos’ theory is a good starting point to understand Barseghyan’s theory in terms of theory pursuit not only because Lakatos was arguably the first person who explicitly distinguished accepting and pursuing. Lakatos does not believe that scientists need to be restricted when they decide which theory is worth pursuing; the idea is closely related to Barseghyan’s idea that pursued theories do not need to have any use values at the moment.

The distinction between pursuing and accepting is also explicitly made by Larry Laudan in his Progress and its Problems, as he states that there are two contexts of theories and research traditions, which are the context of acceptance and the context of pursuit.5pp. 108-114 When discussing pursuing theories, Laudan brought up the idea of “competing theories”, which suggests that Laudan does not see theories as final truths of the world; it is hence reasonable to modify theories without accepting them.5pp. 108-114 The believe of pursuing but not accepting is linked to Barseghyan’s idea of explicitly and clearly distinguish pursuing a theory and accepting a theory.1p. 33

Stephen Wykstra also noticed the distinction as presented in his article Toward a Historical Meta-Method for Assessing Normative Methodologies: Rationability, Serendipity, and the Robinson Crusoe Fallacy, where he made a clear distinction between accepted theories and pursed theories.6p. 216 In his work, pursuing theories is closely related to the notion of testing scientific hypothesis.6p. 218

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.Yes

Question Answered

Theory Pursuit (Barseghyan-2015) is an attempt to answer the following question: What does it mean to say that a theory is pursued? How should theory pursuit be defined?

See Theory Pursuit for more details.


Hakob Barseghyan’s lecture on pursued theories

A theory is said to be pursued if it is considered worthy of further development. 1pp. 30-42 An example is provided by mid-seventeenth century science. Throughout this period, the Aristotelian natural philosophy, with its geocentric cosmology, four elements, and four causes remained accepted by the scientific community of Europe as evidenced, for example, by its central place in university curricula. The theories from this period that we are most familiar with from modern popular and professional literature, like Copernicus's heliocentric cosmology, and Galileo's theories of motion, were not accepted, but pursued theories. More generally these included the mechanical natural philosophy championed by a community which included Descartes, Huygens, Boyle, and many others, and the magnetical natural philosophy, espoused by Gilbert, Kepler, Stevin, Wilkins and others. In our modern world, the major accepted physical theories include Einstein's relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and the standard model of particle physics. A variety of other theories are not accepted but are being pursued. These include various versions of string theory, and attempts to quantize general relativity, to create a quantum theory of gravity.1p. 40

While a variety of unaccepted theories are typically pursued, accepted theories also typically continue to be pursued. General relativity has been the accepted theory of gravitation since roughly 1918. 1p. 203 The theory and its implications for astrophysics and cosmology continue to be pursued in a variety of ways. For example, in 2016, researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in the United States announced the first-ever direct detection of gravitational waves, thereby verifying a major prediction of the theory. 78


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  1. a b c d e  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  2. a b  Hume, David. (2000) A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. In Lakatos (1978a), 8-101.
  4. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1978) Philosophical Papers: Volume 1. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. Cambridge University Press.
  5. a b  Laudan, Larry. (1977) Progress and Its Problems. University of California Press.
  6. a b  Wykstra, Stephen. (1980) Toward a Historical Meta-Method for Assessing Normative Methodologies: Rationability, Serendipity, and the Robinson Crusoe Fallacy. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, 211-222.
  7. ^  Castelvecchi, Davide and Witze, Alexandra. (2016) Einstein's Gravitational Waves Found at Last. Nature. Retrieved from
  8. ^  Abbott, Benjamin. (2016) Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger. Physical Review lettters 116, 061102. Retrieved from