Ernst Mach’s appeal to the ‘economy of science’ has sometimes been interpreted as an overarching principle of minimisation, promoting the increasing simplification of scientific knowledge via principles that increase calculating power without adding substantively to the knowledge embedded in empirical facts. There is a growing literature arguing for a more robust understanding of Mach’s ‘economy of science’. Machian ‘economy’ appeals to the continuity between scientific experiences and concepts, but also to the increasing complexity of scientific concepts, building on connections between what Mach called world-elements or sensation-elements. Mach’s account emphasises not only continuities between experiences that allow for simplification, but also areas of divergence that promote the branching of scientific concepts and methods. I emphasise the roles of abstraction, pragmatism, and history in Mach’s economy of science and argue that these elements allowed Mach to investigate the productive tension between creative and conservative moments in the history of science.
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