August 26, 2022

Quine’s Underdetermination Thesis

Abstract

In On Empirically Equivalent Systems of the World from 1975, Quine formulated a thesis of underdetermination roughly to the effect that every scientific theory has an empirically equivalent but logically incompatible rival, one that cannot be discarded merely as a terminological variant of the former. For Quine, the truth of this thesis was an open question. If true, some would argue that it undermines any belief in scientific theories that is based purely on their empirical success. But despite its potential significance, surprisingly little has been done by way of establishing or refuting it. My aim is to establish the thesis for as large a class of theories as possible. Under various precisifications of the concepts involved, I show that it holds for all consistent and recursively axiomatizable theories that postulate infinitely many theoretical entities.

August 26, 2022 at 06:04PM

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