Can Theories Be Refuted Essays On The Duhem-Quine Thesis

Can Theories Be Refuted Essays On The Duhem-Quine Thesis-35
It is simply not true that for practical purposes and in concrete contexts a single revision of our beliefs in response to disconfirming evidence is always obviously correct, or the most promising, or the only or even most sensible avenue to pursue.To cite a classic example, when Newton’s celestial mechanics failed to correctly predict the orbit of Uranus, scientists at the time did not simply abandon the theory but protected it from refutation by instead challenging the background assumption that the solar system contained only seven planets.

It is simply not true that for practical purposes and in concrete contexts a single revision of our beliefs in response to disconfirming evidence is always obviously correct, or the most promising, or the only or even most sensible avenue to pursue.To cite a classic example, when Newton’s celestial mechanics failed to correctly predict the orbit of Uranus, scientists at the time did not simply abandon the theory but protected it from refutation by instead challenging the background assumption that the solar system contained only seven planets.

When the world does not live up to our theory-grounded expectations, we must give up In sum, the physicist can never subject an isolated hypothesis to experimental test, but only a whole group of hypotheses; when the experiment is in disagreement with his predictions, what he learns is that at least one of the hypotheses constituting this group is unacceptable and ought to be modified; but the experiment does not designate which one should be changed.

([1914] 1954, 187) The predicament Duhem here identifies is no mere rainy day puzzle for philosophers of science, but a methodological challenge that constantly arises in the course of scientific practice itself.

René Descartes ([1640] 1996) famously sought to doubt any and all of his beliefs which could possibly be doubted by supposing that there might be an all-powerful Evil Demon who sought only to deceive him.

Descartes’ challenge essentially appeals to a form of underdetermination: he notes that all our sensory experiences would be just the same if they were caused by this Evil Demon rather than an external world of tables and chairs.

But in condemning this system as a whole by declaring it stained with error, the experiment does not tell us where the error lies.

Is it in the fundamental hypothesis that light consists in projectiles thrown out with great speed by luminous bodies?

Moreover, claims of underdetermination of either of these two fundamental varieties can vary in strength and character in any number of further ways: one might, for example, suggest that the choice between two theories or two ways of revising our beliefs is evidence.

Indeed, the variety of forms of underdetermination that have been suggested to confront scientific inquiry, and the causes and consequences claimed for these different varieties, are sufficiently heterogeneous that attempts to address “the” problem of underdetermination for scientific theories have often engendered considerable confusion and argumentation at cross-purposes.

But it turns out that this simple and familiar predicament only scratches the surface of the various ways in which problems of underdetermination can arise in the course of scientific investigation.

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.

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