Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem (10 June 1861 – 14 September 1916) was a French physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science, best known for his writings on the indeterminacy of experimental criteria and on scientific development in the Middle Ages. Duhem also made major contributions to the science of his day, particularly in the fields of hydrodynamics, elasticity, and thermodynamics.
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The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906)
- The first question we should face is: What is the aim of a physical theory? To this question diverse answers have been made, but all of them may be reduced to two main principles:
"A physical theory," certain logicians have replied, "has for its object the explanation of a group of laws experimentally established."
"A physical theory," other thinkers have said, "is an abstract system whose aim is to summarize and classify logically a group of experimental laws without claiming to explain these laws...
Now these two questions — Does there exist a material reality distinct from sensible appearances? and What is the nature of reality? — do not have their source in experimental method, which is acquainted only with sensible appearances and can discover nothing beyond them. The resolution of these questions transcends the methods used by physics; it is the object of metaphysics.
Therefore, if the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics...
Now, to make physical theories depend on metaphysics is surely not the way to let them enjoy the privilege of universal consent.
- Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, translated by Philip P. Wiener (1991). The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. Princeton University Press. p. 10. ISBN 069102524X.
- [U]n symbole n'est, à proprement parler, ni vrai, ni faux; il est plus ou moins bien choisi pour signifier la réalité qu'il représente, il la figure d'une manière plus ou moins précise, plus ou moins détaillée...
- Now, a symbol is not, properly speaking, either true or false; it is, rather, something more or less well selected to stand for the reality it represents, and pictures that reality in a more or less precise, or a more or less detailed manner.
- Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, translated by Philip P. Wiener (1991). The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. Princeton University Press. p. 168. ISBN 069102524X.