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Beauty and Revolution in Science


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A "Choice" magazine "Outstanding Academic Book for 1997" and an Alternate Selection of the Library of Science Book Club.

About the Author

James W. McAllister is Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy, University of Leiden, and the editor of the journal, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science.


McAllister (philosophy, Univ. of Leiden) critically explores the influences that aesthetic judgments have on deciding which theories best account for natural phenomena. Given his own rationalist image of scientific practice, he gives priority to objective empirical adequacy over both subjective aesthetic evaluations and traditional metaphysical preferences. Accordingly, he argues that theoretical innovations have aesthetic constraints. McAllister contends that neither Copernicus nor Einstein brought about a true revolution in astronomy or physics, respectively, because each retained the established aesthetic of theory choice. In sharp contrast, introducing ellipses over circles into mathematical astronomy and indeterminism over determinism in quantum physics represent two genuine revolutionary episodes in the history of science. Empirical success and subsequent aesthetic induction result in new norms for the scientific evaluation of future theories. This scholarly analysis of aesthetic predilections and paradigm switchings in scientific communities is recommended for all academic libraries.‘H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.

"This is a great book. It clearly and concisely does what it sets out to do: It examines the basic philosophical and sociological theories of the role of aesthetics in science, it identifies the critical assumptions and contradictions that differentiate these views, and it provides a carefully reasoned, well-documented and novel approach to the issues. Best of all, the book is eminently readable. Anyone interested in the bases of scientific controversies, the nature of scientific revolutions, or the similarities and differences between the sciences and the arts should definitely read McAllister's book. It may prove to be as fundamental as Thomas S. Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions."-American Scientist "A valuable, important, persuasively argued book. Highly recommended."-Choice "An outstanding contribution to a little developed aspect of the philosophy and history of science."-Marx W. Wartofsky, Baruch College

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