Interpretation and equivalence; or, equivalence and interpretation

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Dewar, Neil
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Philosophers of science spend a lot of time “interpreting” scientific theories. In this paper, I try to get a handle on what it is they might be up to. My main contention is that a certain picture of interpretation is widespread (though implicit) in contemporary philosophy of science: a picture according to which interpretation of theories is relevantly analogous to the interpretation of foreign literature. On this picture, which we might call the external account of theory-interpretation, meaning is to be imported into the equations by putting them in correspondence with some discourse whose signs and symbols are already endowed with significance. However, there is an alternative way of thinking about interpretation—what we can call the “internal” account of interpretation—which instead takes interpretation to be a matter of delineating a theory’s internal semantic architecture.