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theories, Theories, and explanations in Mathematical Psychology

Prof. Colin Allen
University of Pittsburgh ~ History & Philosophy of Science

While psychology has an abundance of theories, many psychologists lament the lack of what I’ll call big “T” Theories. Theories such as Newton’s, Einstein’s and Darwin’s (augmented by formal developments in the 20th C.) have provided unifying explanations of disparate phenomena, and contributed to cumulative progress in their respective areas of science. In my presentation I point out that in the writings of mathematical psychologists, the notions of explanation and understanding are themselves undertheorized. I support this case by quickly surveying three recent papers by Rich Shiffrin, JimTownsend, and Danielle Navarro (the latter focusing on Roger Shepard’s theory of generalization), all of which make a case for the importance of mathematical psychology to psychological theorizing. I find the philosophy of science appearing in these papers to be limited to the 20th Century, so I point towards more recent work in philosophy of science, where a consensus is emerging about the diversity of scientific explanations. This literature could provide a robust set of ideas for discriminating among the various roles that formal mathematical psychology can play in psychological theorizing, hopefully leading to more Theories.


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Cite this as:

Allen, C. (2021, November). theories, Theories, and explanations in Mathematical Psychology. Paper presented at MathPsych at Virtual Psychonomics 2021. Via