Unification

In Martin Curd & Stathis Psillos (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Routledge (2008)
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Abstract
Summary: Throughout the history of science, indeed throughout the history of knowledge, unification has been touted as a central aim of intellectual inquiry. We’ve always wanted to discover not only numerous bare facts about the universe, but to show how such facts are linked and interrelated. Large amounts of time and effort have been spent trying to show diverse arrays of things can be seen as different manifestations of some common underlying entities or properties. Thales is said to have originated philosophy and science with his declaration that everything was, at base, a form of water. Plato’s theory of the forms was thought to be a magnificent accomplishment because it gave a unified solution to the separate problems of the relation between knowledge and belief, the grounding of objective values, and how continuity is possible amid change. Pasteur made numerous medical advancements possible by demonstrating the interconnection between microorganisms and human disease symptoms. Many technological advances were aided by Maxwell’s showing that light is a kind of electromagnetic radiation. The attempt to unify the various known forces is often referred to as “The Holy Grail” of physics. Some philosophers have even suggested that providing explanations is itself just a sort of unifying of our knowledge. But while unification (like simplicity) has often been hailed as a tremendous virtue in science, the meaning of the term is not altogether clear. Scientists often don’t specify what, precisely, they mean by unification. And in cases where what they mean is clear, different thinkers plainly mean different things by the term. What are the various senses of unification, and why has unification been such an important aim in the history of inquiry?
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