Confirmation holism

In philosophy of science, confirmation holism, also called epistemological holism, is the view that no individual statement can be confirmed or disconfirmed by an empirical test, but only a set of statements (a whole theory).

It is attributed to Willard Van Orman Quine who motivated his holism through extending Pierre Duhem's problem of underdetermination in physical theory to all knowledge claims.[1][2] Duhem's idea was, roughly, that no theory of any type can be tested in isolation but only when embedded in a background of other hypotheses, e.g. hypotheses about initial conditions. Quine thought that this background involved not only such hypotheses but also our whole web-of-belief, which, among other things, includes our mathematical and logical theories and our scientific theories. This last claim is sometimes known as the Duhem–Quine thesis.[3] A related claim made by Quine, though contested by some (see Adolf Grünbaum 1962),[4] is that one can always protect one's theory against refutation by attributing failure to some other part of our web-of-belief. In his own words, "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system.".[5]

Underdetermination in physical theory

By 1845 astronomers found that the orbit of planet Uranus around the Sun departed from expectations. Not concluding that Newton's law of universal gravitation was flawed, however, astronomers John Couch Adams as well as Urbain Le Verrier independently predicted a new planet, eventually known as Neptune, and even calculated its weight and orbit through Newton's theory. And yet neither did this empirical success of Newton's theory verify Newton's theory.

Le Verrier soon reported that Mercury's perihelion—the peak of its orbital ellipse nearest to the Sun—advanced each time Mercury completed an orbit, a phenomenon not predicted by Newton's theory, which astrophysicists were so confident in that they predicted a new planet, named Vulcan, which a number of astronomers subsequently claimed to have seen. In 1905, however, Einstein's special theory of relativity claimed that space and time are both relative, refuting the very framework of Newton's theory that claimed that space and time were both absolute.

In 1915, Einstein's general theory of relativity newly explained gravitation while precisely predicting Mercury's orbit. In 1919, astrophysicist Arthur Eddington led an expedition to test Einstein's prediction of the Sun's mass reshaping spacetime in its vicinity. The Royal Society announced confirmation—accepted by physicists as the fall of Newton's theory. Yet few theoretical physicists believe general relativity is a fundamentally accurate description of gravitation, and instead seek a theory of quantum gravity.

Total vs. partial holism

Some scholars, like Quine, argue that if a prediction that a theory makes comes out true, then the corresponding piece of evidence confirms the whole theory and even the whole framework within which that theory is embedded. Some have questioned this radical or total form of confirmational holism. If total holism were true, they argue, that would lead to absurd consequences like the confirmation of arbitrary conjunctions. For example, if the general theory of relativity is confirmed by the perihelion of Mercury then, according to total holism, the conjunction of the general theory of relativity with the claim that the moon is made of cheese also gets confirmed. More controversially, the two conjuncts are meant to be confirmed in equal measure.

The critics of total holism do not deny that evidence may spread its support far and wide. Rather, they deny that it always spreads its support to the whole of any theory or theoretical framework that entails or probabilistically predicts the evidence. This view is known as partial holism. One early advocate of partial confirmational holism is Adolf Grünbaum (1962).[6] Another is Ken Gemes (1993).[7] The latter provides refinements to the hypothetico-deductive account of confirmation, arguing that a piece of evidence may be confirmationally relevant only to some content parts of a hypothesis.

More recently, and in a similar vein, Ioannis Votsis (2014)[8] argues for an objectivist account of confirmation, according to which, monstrous hypotheses, i.e. roughly hypotheses that are put together in an ad hoc or arbitrary way, have internal barriers that prevent the spread of confirmation between their parts. Thus even though the conjunction of the general theory of relativity with the claim that the moon is made of cheese gets confirmed by the perihelion of Mercury since the latter is entailed by the conjunction, the confirmation does not spread to the conjunct that the moon is made of cheese. In other words, it is not always the case that support spreads to all the parts of a hypotheses, and even when it does, it is not always the case that it spreads to the different parts in equal measure.

See also

References

  1. ^ W. V. O. Quine. 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism.' The Philosophical Review, 60 (1951), pp. 20–43. online text
  2. ^ Duhem, Pierre. The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1954.
  3. ^ Curd, M. and Cover, J.A. (Eds.) (1998). Philosophy of Science, Section 3, The Duhem-Quine Thesis and Underdetermination, W.W. Norton & Company.
  4. ^ Grünbaum, A. 1962. 'The falsifiability of theories: total or partial? A contemporary evaluation of the Duhem-Quine thesis', Synthese, vol. 14:17-34. online text
  5. ^ W. V. O. Quine. 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism.' The Philosophical Review, 60 (1951), pp. 20–43. online text
  6. ^ Grünbaum, A. 1962. 'The falsifiability of theories: total or partial? A contemporary evaluation of the Duhem-Quine thesis', Synthese, vol. 14:17-34. online text
  7. ^ Gemes, K. 1993. 'Hypothetico-Deductivism, Content, and the Natural Axiomatization of Theories', Philosophy of Science, vol. 60:477-487. online text
  8. ^ Votsis, I. 2014. 'Objectivity in Confirmation: Post hoc Monsters and Novel Predictions, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 45: 70-78. online text
A General View of Positivism

A General View of Positivism (Discours sur l'ensemble du positivisme) was an 1848 book by the French philosopher Auguste Comte, first published in English in 1865. A founding text in the development of positivism and the discipline of sociology, the work provides a revised and full account of the theory Comte presented earlier in his multi-part The Course in Positive Philosophy (1830–1842). Comte outlines the epistemological view of positivism, provides an account of the manner by which sociology should be performed, and describes his law of three stages.

Berlin Circle

The Berlin Circle (German: die Berliner Gruppe) was a group that maintained logical empiricist views about philosophy.

Coherence theory of truth

In epistemology, the coherence theory of truth regards truth as coherence within some specified set of sentences, propositions or beliefs. The model is contrasted with the correspondence theory of truth.

A positive tenet is the idea that truth is a property of whole systems of propositions and can be ascribed to individual propositions only derivatively according to their coherence with the whole. While modern coherence theorists hold that there are many possible systems to which the determination of truth may be based upon coherence, others, particularly those with strong religious beliefs hold that the truth only applies to a single absolute system. In general, truth requires a proper fit of elements within the whole system. Very often, though, coherence is taken to imply something more than simple formal coherence. For example, the coherence of the underlying set of concepts is considered to be a critical factor in judging validity. In other words, the set of base concepts in a universe of discourse must form an intelligible paradigm before many theorists consider that the coherence theory of truth is applicable.

Consensus theory of truth

A consensus theory of truth is the process of taking statements to be true simply because people generally agree upon them.

Constructive empiricism

In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.

Epistemological idealism

Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.

Geisteswissenschaft

Geisteswissenschaften (German pronunciation: [ˈɡaɪstəsˌvɪsənʃaftən], "sciences of mind") is a set of human sciences such as philosophy, history, philology, musicology, linguistics, theater studies, literary studies, media studies, and sometimes even theology and jurisprudence, that are traditional in German universities. Most of its subject matter would come under the much larger humanities faculty in the typical English-speaking university.

Hypothetico-deductive model

The hypothetico-deductive model or method is a proposed description of scientific method. According to it, scientific inquiry proceeds by formulating a hypothesis in a form that can be falsifiable, using a test on observable data where the outcome is not yet known. A test outcome that could have and does run contrary to predictions of the hypothesis is taken as a falsification of the hypothesis. A test outcome that could have, but does not run contrary to the hypothesis corroborates the theory. It is then proposed to compare the explanatory value of competing hypotheses by testing how stringently they are corroborated by their predictions.

Index of philosophy of science articles

An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.

Positivism in Poland

Positivism in Poland was a socio-cultural movement that defined progressive thought in literature and social sciences of partitioned Poland, following the suppression of the 1863 January Uprising against the occupying army of Imperial Russia. The Positivist period lasted until the turn of the 20th century, and the advent of the modernist Young Poland movement.

Post-behavioralism

Post-behavioralism (or post-behaviouralism) also known as neo-behavioralism (or neo-behaviouralism) was a reaction against the dominance of behavioralist methods in the study of politics. One of the key figures in post-behaviouralist thinking was David Easton who was originally one of the leading advocates of the "behavioral revolution". Post-behavioralists claimed that despite the alleged value-neutrality of behavioralist research it was biased towards the status quo and social preservation rather than social change.

Russian Machism

Russian Machism is a political/philosophical viewpoint which emerged in Imperial Russia in the beginning of the twentieth century before the Russian Revolution. They upheld the scientific and philosophical insights of Ernst Mach to be of great interest. Many of the Russian Machists were Marxists, and indeed viewed Machism as an essential ingredient of a materialist outlook on the world.

Semantic holism

Semantic holism is a theory in the philosophy of language to the effect that a certain part of language, be it a term or a complete sentence, can only be understood through its relations to a (previously understood) larger segment of language. There is substantial controversy, however, as to exactly what the larger segment of language in question consists of. In recent years, the debate surrounding semantic holism, which is one among the many forms of holism that are debated and discussed in contemporary philosophy, has tended to centre on the view that the "whole" in question consists of an entire language.

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

The Logic of Scientific Discovery is a 1959 book about the philosophy of science by Karl Popper. Popper rewrote his book in English from the 1934 German original, titled Logik der Forschung. Zur Erkenntnistheorie der modernen Naturwissenschaft, which literally translates as, "Logic of Research: On the Epistemology of Modern Natural Science"'.

The Universe in a Nutshell

The Universe in a Nutshell is a 2001 book about theoretical physics by Stephen Hawking. It is generally considered a sequel and was created to update the public concerning developments since the multi-million-copy bestseller A Brief History of Time published in 1988.

Theory-ladenness

In the philosophy of science, observations are said to be "theory‐laden" when they are affected by the

theoretical presuppositions held by the investigator. The thesis of theory‐ladenness is most strongly

associated with the late 1950s and early 1960s work of Norwood Russell Hanson, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend, and was probably first put forth (at least implicitly) by Pierre Duhem about 50 years earlier.

Werturteilsstreit

The Werturteilsstreit (German for "value judgment dispute") is a Methodenstreit, a quarrel in German sociology and economics around the question whether the social sciences are a normative obligatory statement in politics and its measures applied in political actions, and whether their measures can be justified scientifically.The quarrel took place in the years before World War I, between the members of the Verein für Socialpolitik. Main opponents were Max Weber, Werner Sombart and Gustav Schmoller.

The Zweiter Werturteilsstreit is the debate between the supporter of the Kritische Theorie and the Kritischer Rationalismus during the 1960s — better known as Positivismusstreit.

Willard Van Orman Quine

Willard Van Orman Quine (; known to intimates as "Van"; June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as "one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century." From 1930 until his death 70 years later, Quine was continually affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of logic and set theory, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement. He filled the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard from 1956 to 1978. A 2009 poll conducted among analytic philosophers named Quine as the fifth most important philosopher of the past two centuries. He won the first Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy in 1993 for "his systematical and penetrating discussions of how learning of language and communication are based on socially available evidence and of the consequences of this for theories on knowledge and linguistic meaning." In 1996 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for his "outstanding contributions to the progress of philosophy in the 20th century by proposing numerous theories based on keen insights in logic, epistemology, philosophy of science and philosophy of language."Quine falls squarely into the analytic philosophy tradition while also being the main proponent of the view that philosophy is not conceptual analysis but the abstract branch of the empirical sciences. His major writings include "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (1951), which attacked the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions and advocated a form of semantic holism, and Word and Object (1960), which further developed these positions and introduced Quine's famous indeterminacy of translation thesis, advocating a behaviorist theory of meaning. He also developed an influential naturalized epistemology that tried to provide "an improved scientific explanation of how we have developed elaborate scientific theories on the basis of meager sensory input." He is also important in philosophy of science for his "systematic attempt to understand science from within the resources of science itself" and for his conception of philosophy as continuous with science. This led to his famous quip that "philosophy of science is philosophy enough." In philosophy of mathematics, he and his Harvard colleague Hilary Putnam developed the "Quine–Putnam indispensability thesis," an argument for the reality of mathematical entities.

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