Since it is reasonable to think that the degree of support of the auxiliary assumptions associated with a theory is reflected in the degree of support of the theory, it follows that not all theories that entail the same evidence are equally well supported by it. It is commonly argued that there can be totally empirically equivalent theories — that is, theories that entail exactly the same observational consequences under any circumstances. So a single experiment neither can prove nor can disprove a single hypothesis. I further argue that once the genuine reasons for its truth are understood, the limits of the thesis are apparent. Greenwood finds this interpretation implausible because some adjustments to auxiliary hypotheses undermine too The central question, he argues, is whether we should believe that there are well confirmed alternatives to our best scientific theories that are presently unconceived by us. From this and similar examples, Duhem drew the quite general conclusion that our response to the experimental or observational falsification of a theory is always underdetermined in this way.

Here we consider Duhem’s thesis in And in the middle of the 20 th Century, W. Although Duhem’s solution seems disappointingly vague, relying as it does on “bon sens” to bring an end to the temporal process, I do not think there is any better one in the philosophical literature, and I apply it here for what it is worth. From my historical study, things did not evolve in this way, and the theory was both proposed and rebutted on the basis of normative arguments already in the s. Holist underdetermination Section 2 below arises whenever our inability to test hypotheses in isolation leaves us underdetermined in our response to a failed prediction or some other piece of disconfirming evidence. For on any theory of confirmation, the evidence even if it is restricted to observational consequences can render a theory probable or more probable than its rivals. This fallibilist turn is supported by an analysis of the actual development of science.

This fallibilist turn is supported by an analysis of the actual development of science.


In its strong form, this claim let’s call it the Empirical Equivalence Thesis, EET asserts that any theory has empirically equivalent rivals some of which might be hitherto unconceived.

Open access to the SEP is made possible by a world-wide funding initiative. Quine even believed that logic and mathematics can also be revised in light of experience, and presented quantum logic as evidence for this.


Logical Empiricism in 20th Century Philosophy. This paper examines the standard Bayesian solution to the Quine—Duhem problem, the problem of distributing blame between a theory and its auxiliary hypotheses in the aftermath of a failed prediction.

duhem quine thesis underdetermination

History of Western Philosophy. Hence, it does not deny that the evidence can confirm or render probable observational theories. According to this interpretation, Duhem’s thesis is different As we add further data to our initial set we will definitively eliminate functions describing curves which no longer capture all of the data points in the new, larger set, but no matter how much data we accumulate, the proof underdrtermination that there will always be an infinite number of functions remaining that define curves including all the data points in the new set and which would therefore seem to be equally well supported by the empirical evidence.

Hence, it is argued, no evidence can tell two theories apart. If, it is argued, prior probabilities have epistemic force, then the evidence can warrant a high degree of belief in a theory or greater degree of belief in a theory than its rivals.

This account of the origins of the neutral theory provides the context for examining the decision to pursue the neutral theory. In other words, Stanford claims that in the past we have repeatedly failed to exhaust the space of fundamentally distinct theoretical possibilities that were well confirmed by the existing evidence, and theais we have every reason to believe that we are probably also failing to exhaust the space of such alternatives that are well confirmed by the evidence we have at present.

duhem quine thesis underdetermination

Secondly, questions are asked about the acceptability of the thesis, its logical strength and its historical soundness. Retrieved May 20, from Encyclopedia. Duhem, Quine, and the Problems of Underdetermination 2. Another reaction has been to investigate whether particular kinds of theories or domains of science e.

But he goes on to insist that empirical equivalents are no essential part of the case for a significant problem of constrastive underdetermination.

Sociology of Science in General Philosophy of Science. Even if van Fraassen is right about the most minimal beliefs we must hold in order to take full advantage of our scientific theories, most thinkers do not see why we should believe the least we can get away with rather than believing the most we are entitled to by the evidence we have.


Part of what has contributed to the conflation of these two problems is the holist presuppositions of those who originally made them famous. John Stuart Mill articulated a distinctively scientific version of the concern with impressive clarity in A System of Logicwhere he writes: A theory may be better supported fhesis an empirical equivalent, for instance, because the former but not the latter is derivable from a unerdetermination general theory whose consequences include a qkine, well undsrdetermination, hypothesis.

A careful reading of his later writings shows, however, that the formulation of the thesis remained unchanged afterand that his mature and considered views supported only a theis mitigated version of the thesis.

Indeterminacy in Philosophy of Language.

Duhem–Quine thesis – Wikipedia

Leplin’s claims are demonstrated to be problematic. Create an account to enable off-campus access through your institution’s proxy server.

In any case, according to recent externalist-reliabilist theories of justification, belief in theory is justified if ruhem is reliable; and there is no argument that it is not.

The jnderdetermination associated with the Duhem-Quine thesis is reinterpreted in a Duhemian fashion which is sensitive to scientific practice. But champions of contrastive underdetermination have most frequently responded by seeking to argue that all theories have empirical equivalents, typically by proposing something like an algorithmic procedure for generating such equivalents from any theory whatsoever. Is it in duhhem other assumption concerning the actions experienced by light corpuscles due to the media in which they move?

Duhem, Quine, and the Problems of Underdetermination The scope of the epistemic challenge arising from underdetermination is not limited only to scientific contexts, as is perhaps most readily seen in classical skeptical attacks on our knowledge more generally.

duhem quine thesis underdetermination

Let us call the first deductive underdetermination and the second inductive or ampliative underdetermination. Back to Duhem Although it is also a form of underdetermination, what we described in Section 1 above as contrastive underdetermination raises fundamentally different issues from the holist variety considered in Section 2 Bonk is a book-length treatment of many of these issues.

Although they concede that we could have good reason to think that particular theories have empirically equivalent rivals, this must be established case-by-case rather than by any general argument or presumption.

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