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Unifying theories: some lessons from the Cartwright-Smith exchange

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I examine the Cartwright-Smith debate over the disunity of classical physics as a test case for understanding the relationship between a formal strategy called Schematic Unification (SU) and ‘horizontal’ Theoretical Unification (TU). I then argue that (i) Smith’s charge of incoherence against Cartwright is unsuccessful; and (ii) the abstract unification proposed by Smith (which turns out to be a form of SU) falls short of securing TU for classical physics. On the other hand, Cartwright’s deflationary attitude towards SU seems to neglect some of its genuine virtues: as we shall see, it can play an important role in theory/model construction and in formulating contrastive explanations.

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

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