The Theory Theory Thrice Over: The Child as Scientist, Superscientist or Social Institution?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (1):117-132 (2002)
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Abstract

Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff have argued for a view they call the ‘theory theory’: theory change in science and children are similar. While their version of the theory theory has been criticized for depending on a number of disputed claims, we argue that there is a fundamental problem which is much more basic: the theory theory is multiply ambiguous. We show that it might be claiming that a similarity holds between theory change in children and (i) individual scientists, (ii) a rational reconstruction of a Superscientist, or (iii) the scientific community. We argue that (i) is false, (ii) is non-empirical (which is problematic since the theory theory is supposed to be a bold empirical hypothesis), and (iii) is either false or doesn’t make enough sense to have a truth-value. We conclude that the theory theory is an interesting failure. Its failure points the way to a full, empirical picture of scientific development, one that marries a concern with the social dynamics of science to a psychological theory of scientific cognition.

Author Profiles

Stephen M. Downes
University of Utah
Michael Bishop
Florida State University

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