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2014 Patrick Suppes Prize in Philosophy of Science

Spring General Meeting
William L. Harper

The American Philosophical Society is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2014 Patrick Suppes Prize in Philosophy of Science is William L. Harper in recognition of his book Isaac Newton's Scientific Method: Turning Data into Evidence about Gravity and Cosmology published in 2012 by Oxford University Press. William L. Harper is Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, where he has taught since 1970. From 2002 to 2005 he served as President of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science. The prize was awarded to Professor Harper at the American Philosophical Society’s annual Spring Meeting in Philadelphia on April 25, 2014.

The unique and important contribution to the study of Newton’s work by Harper is the emphasis on the rich interaction between theory and data used by Newton. Harper emphasizes that Newton’s gravitational theory did not simply lead to more accurate predictions than those of Kepler, Ptolemy, and others. In the hands of Newton, what came to the fore was a continual interaction between new data and new theoretical estimation of parameters based on the new data. This method led to an increasingly accurate theory of the motion of the solar system. The thoroughness of Newton’s work has perhaps never been so philosophically appreciated as in Harper’s book. It is a triumph of quantitative analysis moving back and forth from theory to data. It is hard to think of another example in the philosophy of science that matches the wealth of detail and results given by Harper, and is certainly the case that modern mathematical statistical methods have never before been so thoroughly applied to Newton’s celestial mechanics and the data supporting it.

The Patrick Suppes Prize honors accomplishments in three very different and deeply significant scholarly fields, with the prize rotating each year between philosophy of science, psychology, and history of science. The Patrick Suppes Prize in Philosophy of Science is awarded for an outstanding book in philosophy of science appearing within the preceding six years.

Chaired by Patrick Suppes, the selection committee members were all senior philosophers of science: Jeffrey Barrett, University of California, Irvine; Nancy Cartwright, Durham University; John Dupre, University of Exeter; Arthur Fine, University of Washington; Maria Carla Galavotti, University of Bologna; Stephan Hartmann, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München; Helen Longino, Stanford University; Elliott Sober, University of Wisconsin; Bas vas Fraassen, Princeton University; and Michael Weisberg, University of Pennsylvania.