Le scepticisme et les hypothèses de la physique

Revue de Synthèse 119 (2-3):211-255 (1998)
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The History of scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza is often called upon to support three theses: first, that Descartes had a dogmatic notion of systematic knowledge, and therefore of physics; second, that the hypothetical epistemology of physics which spread during the xviith century was the result of a general sceptical crisis; third, that this epistemology was more successful in England than in France. I reject these three theses: I point first to the tension in Descartes’ works between the ideal of a completely certain science and a physics replete with hypotheses; further, I argue that the use of hypotheses by mechanical philosophers cannot be separated from their conception of physics; finally I show that, at the end of the xviith century, physicists in France as well as in England spoke through hypotheses and I examine different ways of explaining this shared practice. Richard H. Popkin’s book serves therefore as a starting point for insights into the general problem: to what extent and for what reasons some propositions in physics have been presented as hypotheses in the xviith century?
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