The philosophy of experimental practice has mostly focused on studying activities unframed by pre-existing scientific theories. The dissociation of theory and experiment, common to the “practice turn”, entails at least two problems. The first problem has already been pointed out by the literature: understanding experimental practice in terms of a distinction between practice and theory precludes conceptualizing theory itself as “practice”. The second problem motivates this proposal. By characterizing experimentation as independent from theory, the philosophy of experimental practice has been led to neglect the activities aimed at testing pre-existing hypotheses. “Exploratory experimentation” has seemed much more adequate to demonstrate the intrinsic capacities and the autonomous functioning of experimental systems. However, what happens in the case of theory-centred, non-exploratory experimentation? Does theory-centred experimentation have specific characteristics that, while distinguishing it from merely exploratory experimentation, but that do not transform it, however, into a secondary or ancillary activity that is subordinated to pre-existing theories?
In this project, we will try to show that the autonomous functioning of experimental systems is not conflicted with experimentation intended at testing pre-existing hypotheses. Moreover, we will argue that experimental systems possess intrinsic sui generis theoretical capacities that determine their functioning in the context of non-exploratory, theory-centred research. The general objective of this project is to characterize these capacities. We will do so by studying three problems: (1) the integration of experimental results through concepts conveying properties that transcend the particularities and idiosyncrasies of experimental systems; (2) the construction of complex causal mechanisms across different experimental systems; (3) the confirmation of pre-existing hypotheses through locally generated predictions.