Hermann von Helmholtz has been widely acknowledged as one of the forerunners of contemporary theories of measurement. However, his conception of measurement differs from later, representational conceptions in two main respects. Firstly, Helmholtz advocated an empiricist philosophy of arithmetic as grounded in some psychological facts concerning quantification. Secondly, his theory implies that mathematical structures are common to both subjective experiences and objective ones. My suggestion is that both of these differences depend on a classical approach to measurement, according to which the arithmetic laws of addition define what is measurable as a particular domain for their application, and, at the same time, the extensibility of these laws to all known physical processes works as a heuristic principle for empirical research. Such an approach is worth reconsidering, not only because it lends plausibility to some of the controversial aspects of Helmholtz’s theory, but also because it offers a philosophical perspective on quantification problems that originated in the nineteenth-century. This paper draws insights on Helmholtz’s philosophical views from his engagement with the measurability of sensations via Fechner’s psychophysical law. This seems to be in contrast with the fact that the reception of Helmholtz’s theory culminated with the formulation of the theory of extensive measurement. I will contend that Helmholtz reached a no less important standpoint in the nineteenth-century debate on whether sensations are different (i.e., intensive) kinds of magnitudes and on how, if at all, they can be measured.

Hermann von Helmholtz and the Quantification Problem of Psychophysics

Francesca Biagioli
2023-01-01

Abstract

Hermann von Helmholtz has been widely acknowledged as one of the forerunners of contemporary theories of measurement. However, his conception of measurement differs from later, representational conceptions in two main respects. Firstly, Helmholtz advocated an empiricist philosophy of arithmetic as grounded in some psychological facts concerning quantification. Secondly, his theory implies that mathematical structures are common to both subjective experiences and objective ones. My suggestion is that both of these differences depend on a classical approach to measurement, according to which the arithmetic laws of addition define what is measurable as a particular domain for their application, and, at the same time, the extensibility of these laws to all known physical processes works as a heuristic principle for empirical research. Such an approach is worth reconsidering, not only because it lends plausibility to some of the controversial aspects of Helmholtz’s theory, but also because it offers a philosophical perspective on quantification problems that originated in the nineteenth-century. This paper draws insights on Helmholtz’s philosophical views from his engagement with the measurability of sensations via Fechner’s psychophysical law. This seems to be in contrast with the fact that the reception of Helmholtz’s theory culminated with the formulation of the theory of extensive measurement. I will contend that Helmholtz reached a no less important standpoint in the nineteenth-century debate on whether sensations are different (i.e., intensive) kinds of magnitudes and on how, if at all, they can be measured.
2023
1
16
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10838-022-09605-6
Francesca Biagioli
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/2318/1893661
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