A puzzling fact about scientific theory choice is that scientists show a strong preference for simple, elegant, or otherwise beautiful theories and a distaste for messy and gerrymandered ones. If we take scientists’ aesthetic evaluation of theories at face value, we have to confront the question of why we should think that these properties are indicative of the truth or even usefulness of theories. In this talk, I’ll explore a new way of thinking about aesthetic criteria for theory choice. Instead of taking them as theoretical virtues in their own right we should take them as heuristics – that is, rules of thumb or mental shortcuts – that are fallible but useful guides for theory choice. This shift in focus opens up both a more psychologically realistic account of the role of aesthetic criteria in theory choice and promising ways of accounting for the usefulness of such criteria. Spelling that out in detail will be left to another day; here I’ll only be concerned with showing what it might mean to take aesthetic criteria as heuristics for theory choice and that it makes sense to do so.
See visit the DPhil Seminar website for details.
DPhil Seminar Convenor: Mariona Miyata - Sturm