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We reject theories for being bad explanations (of reality), and accept theories for being good ones. How do we know which are which?

The following properties make theories better:
- says more (deeper)
- simpler
- explains what it purports to
- bold (exposes itself to refutation by all sorts of observations)
- supported by good arguments

The following properties make theories worse:
- contains unexplained complications
- is not consistent with some observation
- criticised by good arguments

Note the use of comparative words. There is no way to measure how good a theory is in absolute terms, only compared to its rivals.

I probably left out some important things, because I tend to do this very intuitively. Please comment on any glaring omission. (And yes I'm aware some items are a bit redundant -- redundancy doesn't hurt anything and can help.)

Elliot Temple on February 4, 2003

Comments (3)

> - says more (deeper)

> - bold (exposes itself to refutation by all sorts of observations)

aren't these the same?

if a theory says more, then there are more things that can be refuted.

Anonymous at 2:12 PM on January 28, 2016 | #4715

for example, we know a lot about physics. so you can say some deep stuff about physics without a lot of risk of refutation.

if you go to another field that's less developed, you could say something with less content but which is on the cutting edge of the field and quite bold.

Anonymous at 3:20 PM on January 28, 2016 | #4725
so, what i missed is the context.

in physics, we already know a lot. and in some other field, say we know very little.

so a new theory in physics, compared to a new theory in said 2nd field, will have different amounts of boldness, because one of the theories has more stuff it could contradict.

Anonymous at 9:36 AM on February 3, 2016 | #4804

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)