GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 9-4
Presentation Time: 9:20 AM


ROSSETTER, Thomas, Department of Philosophy, Durham University, 50 Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3HN, United Kingdom

An aspect of contemporary science which receives curiously little attention from philosophers of science is the philosophical considerations of scientists themselves. Warren B. Hamilton’s final paper “Toward a myth-free geodynamic history of Earth and its neighbours”, forthcoming in Earth-Science Reviews, builds on previous work in challenging various well-entrenched dogmas in geology and geodynamics and proposing alternative models for the onset and mechanism of plate tectonics, the development of Earth, the Moon, and other terrestrial planets, and rapid biological evolution during the Cambrian period. Also in this paper Hamilton articulates a number of interesting philosophical points concerning, among other things, scientific method, evidence, model construction, and the use of scientific terminology. The purpose of my talk is to unpack Hamilton’s position on these issues and elucidate the ways in which these philosophical concerns underpin his rejection of prevailing theories and his formulation of alternative models by providing careful analysis of both the forthcoming version of Hamilton’s paper and his original draft. I also consider what implications Hamilton’s work may have for the future development of Earth science. I argue that Hamilton’s philosophy of science may be characterised in two ways. One is a view that Earth science is in the grip of a Kuhnian “crisis” and that a major “paradigm shift” is imminent (see Kuhn 1996, pp. 66-135). The other is a commitment to a sophisticated falsificationist methodology reminiscent of Imre Lakatos’s “methodology of scientific research programmes” and a view that contemporary Earth science embodies several of what Lakatos refers to as “degenerating research programmes” (see Lakatos 1968; 1970). The implications of Hamilton’s work may likewise be understood in either Kuhnian or Lakatosian terms as potentially resulting in either a major paradigm shift or – I argue more plausibly – the development of several new and potentially progressive research programmes.


Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The structure of scientific revolutions, third edition. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press.

Lakatos, I. (1968). Criticism and the methodology of scientific research programmes. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 69, 149-86.

Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (Eds.), Criticism and the growth of knowledge (pp. 91-196). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.