Networks in contemporary philosophy of science: tracking the history of a theme between metaphor and structure

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Bezerra, Valter Alnis
conference paper description
Our purpose in the present work is to survey some of the formulations that the theme of networks has received in contemporary philosophy of science over a period spanning twelve decades, from the end of the 19th century up to the present time. The proposal advanced herein is to interpret the evolution of this theme in four stages: first, one that goes from a metaphor or expressive image to a notion aspiring at implementation, but still having a virtual character, in the orthodox view of theories; second, a shift towards networks viewed as explicit, with the notion still having an enormous metaphorical power, as in Neurath and Quine; third, from this towards a concept amenable to implementation, as in Thagard, but still in search of an epistemological rationale, supposedly provided by BonJour and Dancy; and finally, as a notion fully endowed with a precise structuralist implementation, in the scope of the structuralist metatheory of Balzer-Moulines-Sneed. The interpretive framework adopted in this exercise in the history of philosophy of science is a modified version of Gerald Holton's thematic model, adapted to the history of philosophy instead of its original domain, the history of scientific ideas. In our version of the thematic model, we posit two main dimensions for the appraisal of any given philosophical concept, besides the thematic dimension: the metaphorical one and the dimension of its systematic implementation.