Article ID: CBB001211973

Applicability, Indispensability, and Underdetermination: Puzzling Over Wigner's “Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics” (2013)


In his influential 1960 paper `The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences', Eugene P. Wigner raises the question of why something that was developed without concern for empirical facts---mathematics---should turn out to be so powerful in explaining facts about the natural world. Recent philosophy of science has developed `Wigner's puzzle' in two different directions: First, in relation to the supposed indispensability of mathematical facts to particular scientific explanations and, secondly, in connection with the idea that aesthetic criteria track theoretical desiderata such as empirical success. An important aspect of Wigner's article has, however, been overlooked in these debates: his worries about the underdetermination of physical theories by mathematical frameworks. The present paper argues that, by restoring this aspect of Wigner's argument to its proper place, Wigner's puzzle may become an instructive case study for the teaching of core issues in the philosophy of science and its history.

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Authors & Contributors
McCullough-Benner, Colin
Eric, Cindy Hodoba
Josh Hunt
Wright, Aaron Sidney
Schlote, Karl-Heinz
Reich, Karin
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Science and Education
Rutherford Journal: The New Zealand Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
Physics in Perspective
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
Verlag Harri Deutsch
Princeton University Press
Harrassowitz in Kommission
Indiana University
Mathematics and its relationship to science
Mathematics and its relationship to nature
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of mathematics
Wigner, Eugene Paul
Polanyi, Michael
Newton, Isaac
Locke, John
Kant, Immanuel
Time Periods
20th century, late
Early modern
21st century
20th century

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