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Beauty, truth and understanding

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In this paper I explore the epistemic justification of aesthetic values in scientific practice. It is well documented that scientists use aesthetic values in the evaluation and choice of theories they employ. Aesthetic values are not only regarded as leading to practically more convenient theories, but are very often taken to indicate the likelihood of a theory to be true. That is, often scientists place epistemic import on the aesthetic values of theories, deciding whether to commit to a theory in light of its beauty, especially in situation when the empirical data is not available to guide such decisions. The question then arises as to whether beauty can be trusted to be informing our epistemic attitudes towards scientific theories.

I outline some timely defences of the idea that beauty can be a guide to the truth and evaluate whether such defences have been successful. I turn to an alternative explanation for the relevance and importance of beauty in science. I argue that the employment of aesthetic values reflects our own intellectual capacities and provide heuristic guides to achieving understanding.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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