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Crucial experiments

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q021-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

A ‘crucial experiment’ allegedly establishes the truth of one of a set of competing theories. Francis Bacon (1620) held that such experiments are frequent in the empirical sciences and are particularly important for terminating an investigation. These claims were denied by Pierre Duhem (1905), who maintained that crucial experiments are impossible in the physical sciences because they require a complete enumeration of all possible theories to explain a phenomenon – something that cannot be achieved. Despite Duhem, scientists frequently regard certain experiments as crucial in the sense that the experimental result helps make one theory among a set of competitors very probable and the others very improbable, given what is currently known.

Citing this article:
Achinstein, Peter. Crucial experiments, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q021-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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