The construction of a (meta-)theory of scientific theories is surely at the very heart of the philosophy of science. However, many attempts in this direction have aimed to construct a theory of scientific theories per se, thereby neglecting that a theory in physics may be very different from one in biology, that even a theory in particle physics may be of a different structure than one in solid state physics. It thus seems sensible to restrict attention first to the development of a meta-theory of a more restricted set of scientific theories, for example to theories that share a domain of application.
A paradigm case is the class of spacetime/gravitation theories, developed as variants and rivals of Einstein‘s theory of General Relativity (GR). There has been some explicit work by physicists with the common aim of constructing a framework to systematise and compare theories of gravitation, some focusing on the experimental and some on the theoretical foundations of such theories. But none of these approaches has been looked at by philosophers. On the other hand, the relevance of recent philosophical and historical work on the foundations of spacetime theories (such as the role of formal vs substantive general covariance, the connection between symmetries and conservation laws, or the structure and history of mathematical extensions of GR) for the meta-theoretic project has not yet been taken into account either.
A meta-theory of spacetime theories would i) reveal insights about the specific theories by showing the similarities and differences for every member of the set of theories it covers, ii) deliver a framework for a class of theories that could be helpful as a blueprint to build other meta-theories; and iii) provide a higher-level viewpoint for judging which theory best describes nature.
The Interdisciplinary Centre for Science and Technology Studies at the University of Wuppertal, Germany, will host a workshop in order to bring together experts from physics and philosophy and history to discuss the topics mentioned above, in the hope to better understand spacetime and the theories describing it.
Attendance to the workshop is free, but please write as an emai to iz1(at)uni-wuppertal.de if you would like to attend, and please do so by July 1, 2010, so that we have an idea of numbers.
Here is the programme: Programme