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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q033-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Experiment, as a specific category of scientific activity, did not emerge until the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Seen primarily as an arbiter in theory choice, there was little, if any, analysis of experimental techniques or, the ways in which data become transformed into established facts. Philosophical analysis of experiment was typically simplistic, focusing on the role of observation alone as the foundation for experimental facts. This was challenged by Thomas Kuhn who stressed the importance of background theory and beliefs in all perception, including (its role in) scientific experiment. This interconnection between theory and experiment severely undermined the idea that experiment could stand as an independent and objective criterion for judging the merits of one theory over another.

In the 1980s new philosophical analyses of experiment began to emerge, emphasizing the ways in which experiment could be seen to have a life of its own embodying activities that could supposedly be understood without recourse to theory. Factors important in the evaluation of experimental results as well as the ways in which laboratory science differs from its theoretical counterpart became the focus for a new history and philosophy of experiment. Consequently, further debates arose regarding the relationship of experiment to theory, and whether it is possible to provide a methodological framework within which experimental practice can be evaluated.

Citing this article:
Morrison, Margaret C.. Experiment, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q033-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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