The problem of meaning change in Friedman's notion of constitutive a priori principle

Kairos (misc) 5 (1):57-76 (2012)
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Abstract
What I want to point out is the “meaning change” that Friedman ascribes to terms and principles, which he calls a priori, in the transition from the old framework to the new: 'This captures the sense, in particular, in which there has indeed been a ”meaning change” in the transition from the old framework to the new: even if the same terms and principles reappear in the new framework they do not have the same meaning they had in the old' (Friedman 2001, p. 99, ft. 37). Following Friedman, we should admit that the same words possess different meanings in different frameworks. In fact, terms and principles that are empirical in an old framework may shift to constitutive status in the new framework, and vice- versa. If Friedman’s account seemed to entrust the prospective rationality of science to constitutive a priori principle, the notion of meaning change suggests instead that Friedman’s argument upholds the Kuhnian account of incommensurability, while we were expecting he aimed to mitigate it. As he clearly states in the passage to follow: 'The later framework is not translatable into the earlier framework, of course, simply because the concepts used in formulating the later framework have not yet come into existence' (Friedman 2001, pp. 98-99). Friedman’s account purports to emphasize that a transition from empirical laws to principles, and vice-versa, should imply a conceptual shift. But is “meaning change” the appropriate expression that may describe such a conceptual shift? What does the word “concept” mean for Friedman? How are concepts related to the meaning of terms? What does the “meaning” mean in Friedman’s view? What is the relation between terms and theories? Does theory change entail a meaning change of scientific terms, that is, do terms determine theory change (i.e. difference in theories is ipso facto difference in terms)? Recently, some specialists (Tsou 2010, for instance) have stressed Friedman’s notion of constitutive a priori principle in light of Putnam’s positive account of apriority. Friedman's and Putnam’s notions of relativized a priori are presented as similar insofar as they both affirm the existence of principles in science, which are revisable and relativized to a particular body of knowledge. However, the similarities do not take into account that Friedman ascribed a meaning change to coordinating principles that are constitutive of the new framework. Could Putnam subscribe such a meaning change? This paper aims to analyse Friedman’s notion of constitutive a priori principle in relation to the problem of meaning change by taking into account Putnam’s theory of meaning and his notion of framework principle.
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