Theoretical Virtues in Scientific Practice: An Empirical Study

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 73 (4):879-902 (2022)
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It is a common view among philosophers of science that theoretical virtues (also known as epistemic or cognitive values), such as simplicity and consistency, play an important role in scientific practice. In this article, I set out to study the role that theoretical virtues play in scientific practice empirically. I apply the methods of data science, such as text mining and corpus analysis, to study large corpora of scientific texts in order to uncover patterns of usage. These patterns of usage, in turn, might shed some light on the role that theoretical virtues play in scientific practice. Overall, the results of this empirical study suggest that scientists invoke theoretical virtues explicitly, albeit rather infrequently, when they talk about models (less than 30%), theories (less than 20%), and hypotheses (less than 15%) in their published works. To the extent that they are mentioned in scientific publications, the results of this study suggest that accuracy, consistency, and simplicity are the theoretical virtues that scientists invoke more frequently than the other theoretical virtues tested in this study. Interestingly, however, depending on whether they talk about hypotheses, theories, or models, scientists may invoke one of those theoretical virtues more than the others.

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Moti Mizrahi
Florida Institute of Technology


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