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Whewell, William (1794–1886)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC084-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

William Whewell’s two seminal works, History of the Inductive Science, from the Earliest to the Present Time (1837) and The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon their History (1840), began a new era in the philosophy of science. Equally critical of the British ‘sensationalist’ school, which founded all knowledge on experience, and the German Idealists, who based science on a priori ideas, Whewell undertook to survey the history of all known sciences in search of a better explanation of scientific discovery. His conclusions were as bold as his undertaking. All real knowledge, he argued, is ‘antithetical’, requiring mutually irreducible, ever-present, and yet inseparable empirical and conceptual components. Scientific progress is achieved not by induction, or reading-out theories from previously collected data, but by the imaginative ‘superinduction’ of novel hypotheses upon known but seemingly unrelated facts. He thus broke radically with traditional inductivism – and for nearly a century was all but ignored. In the Philosophy the antithetical structure of scientific theories and the hypothetico-deductive account of scientific discovery form the basis for novel analyses of scientific and mathematical truth and scientific methodology, critiques of rival philosophies of science, and an account of the emergence and refinement of scientific ideas.

Citing this article:
Fisch, Menachem. Whewell, William (1794–1886), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC084-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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