Poincare's impact on 20th century philosophy of science

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Yemima Ben-Menahem
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conference paper description
Poincaré’s conventionalism has thoroughly transformed both the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mathematics. Not only proponents of conventionalism, such as the logical positivists, were influenced by Poincaré, but also outspoken critics of conventionalism, such as Quine and Putnam, were inspired by his daring position. Indeed, during the twentieth century, most philosophers of mathematics and of science engaged in dialogue with conventionalism. As is often the case with such complex clusters of ideas, there is no consensus about the meaning of conventionalism in general, and Poincaré’s original version of it, in particular. Nonetheless, notions such as the under-determination (of theory), empirical equivalence (of incompatible theories), implicit definition, holism and conceptual relativity, all of which can be linked to Poincare's writings (even if not under those very names) have become central to philosophy. This essay explores the impact of some of these notions on twentieth century philosophy of science. In addition to inspiration based on Poincare's actual views, it emphasizes directions based on misreading and unjustified appropriations of Poincaré.

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