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A historical question

  1. Oct 11, 2012 #1
    This would go nicely in the Philosophy subforum, but I seem to have arrived just in time to see that being closed. So I guess it goes under General Discussion. This is not quite a "philosophy of science" question, but more a history of science question anyway.

    There seem to be plenty of knowledgeable discussions about science and the nature of scientific theory here, and I see the term "theoretical construct" used frequently. But does anyone know the history of the concept itself? When does a "construct" as a tool of science first appear? The ability to distinguish between an observable phenomenon and a concept in the mind would seem to point to Kant as the earliest backstop for the origin of this usage. Kant's definition of science and scientific progress certainly looks like a good source for someone to develop the idea from.

    Is a "construct" directly related to a "category of the understanding"? Perhaps some "scientist" around the time the word "scientist" was coined by William Whewell (1833) realized that the broad and apparently undefinable "category" (philosophers were still fighting over the "right" number and definition long after Kant's death) could be reduced to a more manageable "construct of the mind" for the purpose of discussing scientific uncertainty? There doesn't seem to be any readily available source for the history of the term. All of the encyclopedias of science I can find do not give an origin, only a definition.
     
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  3. Oct 11, 2012 #2

    Evo

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    Staff: Mentor

    Post the links to which you are referring. All I can find has to do with sociology. What is your need/purpose? That might change the results, or where you need to go to ask.

    If it's not about a hard science and is philosophical, you should try a forum dedicated to philosophy. We won't backtrack into philosophy.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2012
  4. Oct 12, 2012 #3
    This wiki article gives the strong impression the idea was first expressed and defined by Cronbach and Meehl in 1955) or perhaps by McCorquodale and Meehl in 1948.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construct_(philosophy_of_science)

    Finding and reading their papers would surely lead you back to any previous incarnations of the concept, if there be any.
     
  5. Oct 12, 2012 #4
    This was definitely explored by Kant and many others in the 19th and maybe even 18th century when science as we know it today was just emerging. As you mentioned, Whewell was very interested in the nature of facts, vs observations vs intuition. And also the bias that observers have. Have you read his "Of Facts and Theories"? It addresses the exact issues I think you're talking about.

    The word "construct" itself I don't even think has a well defined meaning today, so perhaps it's not a good idea to focus on that word but rather the concept which you're interested in.
     
  6. Oct 12, 2012 #5

    Evo

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    Staff: Mentor

    Good suggestions, and in order to keep it from becoming "philosophical", thread closed.
     
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