Four theses of underdetermination of theories by observational evidence: meanings, plausibilities and implications




Underdetermination;, scientific theories;, empirical equivalence;, translatability;, unconceived alternatives;, values


This paper singles out and analyzes four theses of underdetermination of scien-tific theories by observational evidence, showing that each has its own meaning, plausibility,and implications. We show that the strongest theses are nothing but conjectures, whereasthe weaker ones are more plausible but do not carry with them robust philosophical conse-quences — such as scientific anti-realism — although they do provide evidence of systemat-ically unknown theoretical alternatives in science, as well as indirect evidence of the use ofvalue-laden criteria of theory choice.

Author Biographies

Guilherme Gräf Schüler, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Departamento de Filosofia - discente de graduação

Rogério P. Severo, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Departamento de Filosofia - doscente


Acuña, P. (2014). Artificial examples of empirical equivalence. In: Galavotti, M. C. et al. (eds.), New Directions in the Philosophy of Science, pp. 453-467. Springer.

Acuña, P.; Dieks, D. (2014). Another look at empirical equivalence and underdetermination of theory choice. European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 4(2), 153-180.

Bangu, S. (2006). Underdetermination and the argument from indirect confirmation. Ratio, 19(3), 269- 277.

Belot, G. (2015). Down to earth underdetermination. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 91(2), 456-464.

Belousek, D. W. (2005). Underdetermination, realism, and theory appraisal: an epistemological reflection on quantum mechanics. Foundations of Physics, 35(4), 669-695.

Betz, G. (2009). Underdetermination, model-ensembles and surprises: on the epistemology of scenario- analysis in climatology. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 40(1), 3-21.

Biddle, J. (2013). State of the field: transient underdetermination and values in science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part A, 44(1), 124-133.

Brown, M. (2013). Values in science beyond underdetermination and inductive risk. Philosophy of Science, 80(5), 829-839.

Butterfield, J. (2014). On under-determination in cosmology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 46, 57-69. Disponível em: Acesso em: 10 de fevereiro de 2019.

Chakravartty, A. (2008). What you don’t know can’t hurt you: realism and the unconceived. Philosophical Studies, 137(1), 149-158.

Ćirković, M.; Perović, S. (2018). Alternative explanations of the cosmic microwave background: a historical and an epistemological perspective. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part B - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 62(2), 1-18.

Craver, C. F. (2002). Structures of scientific theories. In: P. Machamer; M. Silberstein (eds.), The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of science. pp. 55-79. Oxford: Blackwell.

Currie, A.; Turner, D. (2016). Introduction: scientific knowledge of the deep past. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 55, 43-46.

Cushing, J. T. (1993). Underdetermination, conventionalism and realism: the Copenhagen vs. the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics. In: S. French; H. Kamminga (eds.), Correspondence, invariance and heuristics. pp. 261-278. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 148. Dordrecht: Springer.

Dellsén, F. (2017). Realism and the absence of rivals. Synthese, 194(7), 2427-2446.

Devitt, M. (2011). Are unconceived alternatives a problem for scientific realism? Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 42(2), 285-293.

Douglas, H. (2000). Inductive risk and values in science. Philosophy of Science, 67(4), 559-579. Douven, I. (2008). Underdetermination. In: S. Psillos; M. Curd (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science, pp. 292-301. New York: Routledge.

Duhem, P., (1954 [1914]) The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, trans. from 2nd ed. by P. W. Wiener; originally published as La Théorie Physique: Son Objet et sa Structure (Paris: Marcel Riviera & Cie.), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dummett, M. (1981 [1st ed. 1973]). Frege: philosophy of language. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Earman, J. (1992). Bayes or Bust. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Earman, J. (1993). Underdetermination, realism, and reason. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 18, 19-38. Elliott, K.; Richards, T. (eds.) (2017). Exploring inductive risk: case studies of values in science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fine, A. (1993). Fictionalism. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 18, 1-18.

Frost-Arnold, G.; Magnus, P. D. (2010). The identical rivals response to underdetermination. In: P. D. Magnus; J. Busch (eds.), New waves in philosophy of science. pp. 112-130. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Disponível em: Acesso em 10 de fevereiro de 2019.

García Martínez, L. M. (2019). Es la tesis de la subdeterminación una tesís coherente? Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, 51(151), 35-63.

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2003). Theory and reality: an introduction to the philosophy of science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Godfrey-Smith, P. (2008). Recurrent transient underdetermination and the glass half full. Philosophical Studies, 137(1), 141-148.

Goodman, N. (1979) Fact, fiction, and forecast. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Hacking, I. (1983). Representing and intervening: introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hempel, C. G. (1958). The theoretician’s dilemma. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, II, 37-98.

Hoefer, C.; Rosenberg, A. (1994). Empirical equivalence, underdetermination, and systems of the world. Philosophy of Science, 61(4), 592-607.

Kitcher, P. (2001). Science, truth, and democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kukla, A. (1993) Laudan, Leplin, empirical equivalence and underdetermination. Analysis, 53(1), 1-7.

Kukla, A. (1996). Does every theory have empirically equivalent rivals? Erkenntnis, 44(2), 137-166.

Kukla, A. (1998). Studies in scientific realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kukla, A. (2001). Theoreticity, underdetermination, and the disregard for bizarre scientific hypotheses. Philosophy of Science, 68(1), 21-35.

Laudan, L. (1990). Demystifying underdetermination. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 14, 267-297.

Laudan, L.; Leplin, J. (1991). Empirical equivalence and underdetermination. The Journal of Philosophy, 88(9), 449-472.

Leplin, J. (1987). Surrealism. Mind, 96, 519-524.

Leplin, J.; Laudan, L. (1993). Determination underdeterred: reply to Kukla. Analysis 53(1), 8-16.

Longino, H. (2004). How values can be good for science. In: P. Machamer; G. Wolters (eds.), Science, values, and objectivity. pp. 127-142. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Lyons, T. D. (2013). A historically informed modus ponens against scientific realism: articulation, critique, and restoration. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 27(4), 369-392.

Lyre, H., & Eynck, T. O. (2003). Curve it, gauge it, or leave it? Practical underdetermination in gravitational theories. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 34(2), 277-303.

Magnus, P. D. (2003). Underdetermination and the claims of science. PhD Thesis in Philosophy. University of California, San Diego. Disponível em: Acesso em: 10 de fevereiro de 2019.

Manchak, J. B. (2009). Can we know the global structure of spacetime? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part B - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 40(1), 53-56.

Massimi M. (2004). What demonstrative induction can do against the threat of underdetermination: Bohr, Heisenberg, and Pauli on apectroscopic anomalies (1921–24). Synthese, 140, 243-177.

Merikangas Darling, K. (2002). The complete Duhemian underdetermination argument: scientific language and practice. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 33, 511-533.

Norton, J. (1993). The determination of theory by evidence: the case for quantum discontinuity 1900-1915. Synthese, 97, 1-31.

Norton, J. (2005). A little survey of induction. In: P. Achinstein (ed.), Scientific evidence: philosophical theories and applications. pp. 9-34. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Norton, J. (2008). Must evidence underdetermine theory? In: M. Carrier; D. Howard; J. Kourany (eds.), The challenge of the social and the pressure of practice: science and values revisited. pp. 17-44. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Okasha, S. (1997). Laudan and Leplin on empirical equivalence. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 48(2), 251-256.

Okasha, S. (2002). Underdetermination, holism and the theory/data distinction. Philosophical Quarterly, 52(2), 303-319.

Pietsch, W. (2012). Hidden underdetermination: a case study in classical electrodynamics. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 26(October), 125-151.

Pinheiro, F. (2018). Ensaio sobre o caráter metafísico das medições. Intuitio, 12(1), 1-29.

Pitts, J. B. (2011). Permanent underdetermination from approximate empirical equivalence in field theory: massless and massive scalar gravity, neutrino, electromagnetic, Yang-Mills and gravitational theories. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 62(2), 259-299.

Poincaré, H. (1952 [1902]) Science and hypothesis. New York: Dover.

Psillos, S. (1999). Scientific realism: how science tracks truth. London: Routledge.

Quine, W. V. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Quine, W. V. (1975). On empirically equivalent systems of the world. Erkenntnis, 9, 313-328.

Quine, W. V. (1992). Pursuit of truth. rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Reichenbach, H. (1958). The philosophy of space and time. New York: Dover.

Rowbottom, D. P. (2011). The instrumentalist’s new clothes. Philosophy of Science, 78(5), 1200-1211.

Severo, R. (2008). “Plausible insofar as it is intelligible”: Quine on underdetermination. Synthese, 161(1), 141-165.

Severo, R. (2012). The intelligibility objection against underdetermination. Principia, 16(1), 121-146.

Severo, R. (2019). Strawson e Quine. In: I. Gelain; J. Conte (eds.), Strawson e a tradição filosófica. Porto Alegre: Editora Fi.

Sklar, L. (1975). Methodological conservatism. The Philosophical Review, 84(3), 374-400.

Stanford, K. (2001). Refusing the devil’s bargain: what kind of underdetermination should we take seriously? Philosophy of Science, 68(3), S1-S12.

Stanford, K. (2006). Exceeding our grasp: science, history and the problem of unconceived alternatives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stanford, K. (2015a). “Atoms Exist” is probably true, and other facts that should not comfort scientific realist. Journal of Philosophy, 112(8), pp. 397-416.

Stanford, K. (2015b). Unconceived alternatives and conservatism in science: the impact of professionalization, peer-review, and Big Science. Synthese, pp. 1-18.

Stanford, K. (2017). Underdetermination of scientific Theory. In: E. N. Zalta (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition). Disponível em: Acesso em: 29 de julho de 2018.

Tal, E. (2016) How Does Measuring Generate Evidence? The Problem of Observational Grounding. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 772 012001.

Turnbull, M. G. (2018). Underdetermination in science: what it is and why we should care. Philosophy Compass, 13(2), 1-11.

Turner, D. (2005). Local underdetermination in historical science. Philosophy of Science, 72(1), 209-230.

van Fraassen, B. (1980). The scientific image. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Vuillemin, J. (1998). “On Duhem’s and Quine’s theses”. In: L. E. Hanh; A. Schilpp (eds.), The philosophy of W.V. Quine. pp. 565-619. Chicago: Open Court.

Worrall, J. (1989). Structural realism: the best of both worlds? Dialectica, 43(1-2), 99-124.

Worrall, J. (2011). Underdetermination, realism and empirical equivalence. Synthese, 180(2), 157-172.