I want to analyse some thermodynamical theories, i.e. theories that are concerned with temperature, heat, pressure, volume, states, systems etc. etc.

These theories obviously differ in many ways. Some differ in their ontologies (if one may speak of an ontology of a theory?) putting engines, systems and environment at their foundation or putting state functions and axioms at their foundations etc. Some develop their concepts through a sequence of consecutive laws, each giving rise to a new concept required in the formulation of the next.

Now I am wondering what is the discipline that is concerned with the structure of theories. I want to complete my sentence, saying that 'I conduct a .... analysis of the theories of thermodynamics'.

So far a few ones came to mind that are somehow not satisfactory:

  1. epistemological (concerning the epistemology of)
  2. nomological (concerning the laws of)
  3. logological (concerning the science of)
  4. structural (concerning the structure of)

I think that broadly speaking such an endeavour might fall into the branch of epistemology. Such an analysis, however, is not really an epistemological one, because it's not concerned with knowledge or acquisition thereof in the narrow sense, but with the structure of a theory. So I feel tempted to rule out number 1. I also feel tempted to rule out 'nomological analysis', since laws are just one aspect of the structure of a theory. I picked up the word logological somewhere, but don't know whether it fits here. The word 'structural' seems to be too vague to capture the type of analysis I envision. I also do not want to confound the type of analysis with the method of analysis.

2 Answers 2


One word answer, like metatheory? It might just be science. From Blackwell's Companion on the Philosophy of Science:

Some decades ago, Fred Suppe...remarked that "it is only a slight exaggeration to claim that a philosophy of science is little more than analysis of theories and their roles in the scientific enterprise" (p. 515)

If there's a single discipline of theory of theories, I'd love to know the term. But there are some strongly related topics to your question:

First, I'd begin with examining measurement theory and science. Give the highly mathematical and empirical nature of thermodynamics, it might be good to think about what lies behind the notion of the nature of mathematical observations, given the role of observation in regards to theory:

The development of model-based accounts discussed in the previous section is part of a larger, “epistemic turn” in the philosophy of measurement that occurred in the early 2000s. Rather than emphasizing the mathematical foundations, metaphysics or semantics of measurement, philosophical work in recent years tends to focus on the presuppositions and inferential patterns involved in concrete practices of measurement, and on the historical, social and material dimensions of measuring. The philosophical study of these topics has been referred to as the “epistemology of measurement” (Mari 2003, 2005a; Leplège 2003; Tal forthcoming-b).

If you are talking about the ontological basis of a theory, perhaps how it blends different ontological structures, metaontology is the study of the forms and purposes of ontological structure. I own a copy of Ontology and Metaontology by Berto and Plebani which lays out some rough demarcation between ontology, metaontology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of science. Metaepistomology procedes along the same lines epistemically. This would place emphasis on the phenomenologically semantic nature of theoretic practice.

If you'd like to take a look at the linguistic basis of the theory, then there's an interdisciplinary framework called cognitive linguistics which would address qualitative aspects of the elements of a theory. This would place emphasis on the psycholinguistically semantic nature of theoretic practice.

If you'd like to take a look at the mathematical basis of a theory, then there's both model theory and proof theory which address semantics and syntactical elements of a theory construction in regards to mathematical structures and logic.

Mereology is the philosophical analysis of parts and wholes, and the topics of philosophy of science gives a list of particulars that might be relevant to some aspect of your pursuit.

  • Thanks for the refs to Measurement Theory, Metaontology, Metaepistemology and Mereology. I also believe that metatheoretical is surely not the worst of options. Maybe I look for something more refined, but that could do. I don't quite understand Blackwell's quote. By saying that "it is only a slight exaggeration to claim that a philosophy of science is little more than X", does he mean that philosophy of science is precisely X, or not more than X? Or do I completely misinterpret it?
    – Marlo
    Dec 7, 2019 at 20:49
  • 1
    Suppe's quotation shows how heavy the pursuit of science is with the concept of theory; a glance at the TOC shows that about 1/3 of the non-biographical entries are explicitly related to the notion of theory. Just about every article touches upon theory in some regard.
    – J D
    Dec 7, 2019 at 20:58

Personally speaking, I would probably use nomological, since at least the word isn't a neologism (it's got a history, and is enough in the ballpark that people will understand what you mean). There isn't a particular word for what you're talking about. In the philosophy of science, people generally generally analyze theoretical structures in terms of the 'scientific method' (as vague as that is), without really using a specific adjective for the act.

If you want something else, you might try cratological: cratology is (speaking literally) the study of authoritative rules. It's normally used in the political sense, of understanding the rules of authority in society, but it could be extended to cover the understanding of any sort of authoritative rule structure, including the structures of a scientific theory.

  • Thanks for bringing to my attention the word cratology. I wasn't aware of it. Also I wonder why you choose 'being a neologism' as a criterion.
    – Marlo
    Dec 7, 2019 at 20:54
  • 1
    Neologisms are sometimes useful — usually when you are trying to deal with a concept that is distinct enough to merit its own terminology — but they carry a lot of overhead. It's not sufficient to merely use a neologism; you have to explain it, distinguish it from other terms, and otherwise get readers up to speed on your intent. I mean, if I were to say: "Your attitude is very bruché", what would you make of that? It's not a word in the dictionary, so I'm stuck with the meta-task of making sure you understand the word as I'm using it. Dec 7, 2019 at 21:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .