Economy of Research   

Economy of Research

Digital Companion to C. S. Peirce
Economy of Research
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1879 | Note on the Economy of Research | W 4:72

The doctrine of Economy, in general, treats of the relations between utility and cost. That branch of it which relates to research considers the relations between utility and the cost of diminishing the probable error of our knowledge. Its main problem is how with a given expenditure of money, time, and energy, to obtain the most valuable addition to our knowledge.

1896 [c.] | Lessons of the History of Science | CP 1.122

Dr. Ernst Mach, who has one of the best faults a philosopher can have, that of riding his horse to death, does just this with his principle of Economy in science. But of course there is a doctrine of the Economies of Research. One or two of its principles are easily made out. The value of knowledge is, for the purposes of science, in one sense absolute. It is not to be measured, it may be said, in money; in one sense that is true. But knowledge that leads to other knowledge is more valuable in proportion to the trouble it saves in the way of expenditure to get that other knowledge. Having a certain fund of energy, time, money, etc., all of which are merchantable articles to spend upon research, the question is how much is to be allowed to each investigation; and for us the value of that investigation is the amount of money it will pay us to spend upon it. Relatively, therefore, knowledge, even of a purely scientific kind, has a money value.

This value increases with the fullness and precision of the information, but plainly it increases slower and slower as the knowledge becomes fuller and more precise. The cost of the information also increases with its fullness and accuracy, and increases faster and faster the more accurate and full it is. It therefore may be the case that it does not pay to get any information on a given subject; but, at any rate, it must be true that it does not pay (in any given state of science) to push the investigation beyond a certain point in fullness or precision.