Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Michael Dickson


Particle physics (and other fundamental physics research, including searches for a theory of quantum gravity) faces a problem when it comes to acquiring experimental evidence. Many theories and models make predictions that cannot be tested with current, or even prospective technology. Yet these fields continue to develop, with new models and theories regularly being introduced, scrutinized, changed, and discarded. My project aims at examining the way theories and models are constructed, adapted, and assessed in fields that lack the empirical evidence that usually grounds such tasks. I will focus on two prominent examples: string theory and attempts to explain electroweak symmetry breaking beyond the standard model explanation provided by the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. After a brief introduction to the physical and philosophical issues relevant to my arguments, I move on to the core chapters. First, I begin the task of constructing a new framework for understanding the dynamics of scientific change in particle physics by introducing a new concept, the model-group, in order to expand the methodology of scientific research programmes introduced by Imre Lakatos. I use two case studies from particle physics to motivate the use of Lakatosian research programmes. In the following chapter, unsatisfied by Lakatos's account of scientific assessment, I modify his framework further by integrating it with Larry Laudan's problem-solving conception of rational scientific growth. In the final chapter, I criticize one recent and noteworthy attempt to understand confirmation in the absence of experimental evidence, namely Richard Dawid's non-empirical theory assessment scheme. I then conclude, discussing some possible future advancements and applications for my new hybrid framework of scientific progress.