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Huygens versus Fermat: No clear winner

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2003

Paul J. H. Schoemaker
Affiliation:
Department of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104 schoemak@wharton.upenn.edu

Abstract

How should we assess the appeal of multiple scientific theories when they can all explain a particular empirical phenomenon of interest? We contrast Huygens' and Fermat's explanations of the law of refraction of light and find that neither dominates the other when considering multiple criteria for assessing the overall appeal of a scientific theory. The absence of teleology in Huygens' account is a strong plus compared to Fermat's. But Huygens' wave theory scores less well with respect to other desiderata for a scientific theory. In this case, there does not appear to be a clear winner, nor need there be one.

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© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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