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Encyclopedia > Confirmation holism

Confirmation holism, also called epistemological holism is the claim that a scientific theory cannot be tested in isolation; a test of one theory always depends on other theories and hypotheses.


For example, in the first half of the 19th century, astronomers were observing the path of the planet Uranus to see if it conformed to the path predicted by Newton's law of gravitation. It didn't. There were an indeterminate number of possible explanations, such as that the telescopic observations were wrong because of some unknown factor; or that Newton's laws were in error, or that God was causing the perturbation in order to show the hubris of modern science. However, it was eventually accepted that an unknown planet was affecting the path of Uranus, and that the hypothesis that there are seven planets in our solar system was false. Le Verrier calculated the approximate position of the interfering planet and its existence was confirmed in 1846. We now call the planet Neptune. Adjective Uranian Atmospheric characteristics Atmospheric pressure 120 kPa (at the cloud level) Hydrogen 83% Helium 15% Methane 1. ... Urbain Le Verrier. ... Adjective Neptunian Atmospheric characteristics Surface pressure ≫100 MPa Hydrogen - H2 80% ±3. ...


There are two aspects of confirmation holism. The first is that observations are dependent on theory (sometimes called theory-laden). Before accepting the telescopic observations one must look into the optics of the telescope, the way the mount is constructed in order to ensure that the telescope is pointing in the right direction, and that light travels through space in a straight line (which itself is sometimes not so, as Einstein demonstrated). The second is that evidence alone is insufficient to determine which theory is correct. Each of the alternatives above might have been correct, but only one was in the end accepted.


That theories can only be tested as they relate to other theories implies that one can always claim that test results that seem to refute a favoured scientific theory have not refuted that theory at all. Rather, one can claim that the test results conflict with predictions because some other theory is false or unrecognised. Maybe the test equipment was out of alignment because the cleaning lady bumped into it the previous night. Or, maybe, there is dark matter in the universe that accounts for the strange motions of some galaxies. In astrophysics, dark matter refers to matter that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation (such as light, x-rays and so on) to be detected directly, but whose presence may be inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter. ...


That one cannot unambiguously determine which theory is refuted by unexpected data means that scientists must use judgments about which theories to accept and which to reject. Logic alone does not guide such decisions.

Contents


Theory-dependence of observations

Suppose some theory T' implies an observation O:

T rightarrow O

The required observation, however, is not made, therefore

sim O

So by Modus Tollens, Modus tollens (Latin for mode that denies) is the formal name for indirect proof or proof by contrapositive (contrapositive inference), often abbreviated to MT. It can also be referred to as denying the consequent, and is a valid form of argument (unlike similarly-named but invalid arguments such as affirming...

sim T

All observations make use of prior assumptions, which can be symbolised as:

O equiv left( p_1 wedge p_2 wedge p_3 cdots p_n right)

and therefore

sim O equiv sim left( p_1 wedge p_2 wedge p_3 cdots wedge p_n right)

which is by De Morgan's law equivalent to In logic, De Morgans laws (or De Morgans theorem) are the two rules of propositional logic, boolean algebra and set theory not (P and Q) = (not P) or (not Q) not (P or Q) = (not P) and (not Q) which allow us to move a negation over a...

sim left( p_1 wedge p_2 wedge p_3 cdots wedge p_n right) equiv left( sim p_1 vee sim p_2 vee sim p_3 cdots vee sim p_n right).

In words, the failure to make some observation only implies the failure of at least one of the prior assumptions that went into making the observation. It is always possible to reject an apparently falsifying observation by claiming that only one of its underlying assumptions is false; since there are an indeterminate number of such assumptions, any observation can potentially be made compatible with any theory. So it is quite valid to use a theory to reject an observation.


Underdetermination of a theory by evidence

Similarly, a theory consists of some indeterminate conjunction of hypotheses,

Failed to parse (unknown errorampersand): T equiv left( h_1 ampersand h_2 ampersand h_3 cdots ampersand h_n right)


and so

sim T equiv sim left( h_1 wedge h_2 wedge h_3 cdots wedge h_n right)

which implies that

sim left( h_1 wedge h_2 wedge h_3 cdots wedge h_n right) equiv left( sim h_1 vee sim h_2 vee sim h_3 cdots vee sim h_n right)

In words, the failure of some theory implies the failure of at least one of its underlying hypotheses. It is always possible to resurrect a falsified theory by claiming that only one of its underlying hypotheses is false; again, since there are an indeterminate number of such hypotheses, any theory can potentially be made compatible with any particular observation. Therefore it is in principle impossible to determine if a theory is false by reference to evidence.


Conceptual schemes

The framework of a theory (formal conceptual scheme) is just as open to revision as the "content" of the theory. The aphorism that Willard Quine uses is: theories face the tribunal of experience as a whole. This idea is problematic for the analytic-synthetic distinction because (in Quine's view) such a distinction supposes that some facts are true of language alone, but if conceptual scheme is as open to revision as synthetic content, then there can be no plausible distinction between framework and content, hence no distinction between the analytic and the synthetic. W. V. Quine Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 - December 25, 2000) was one of the most influential American philosophers and logicians of the 20th century. ... The terms analytic and synthetic are philosophical terms, used by philosophers to divide propositions into two types: analytic propositions and synthetic propositions. ... The terms analytic and synthetic are philosophical terms, used by philosophers to divide propositions into two types: analytic propositions and synthetic propositions. ...


One upshot of confirmational holism is the underdetermination of theories: if all theories (and the propositions derived from them) of what exists are not sufficiently determined by empirical data (data, sensory-data, evidence); each theory with its interpretation of the evidence is equally justifiable. Thus, the Greek's worldview of Homeric gods is as credible as the physicists' world of electromagnetic waves. Quine later argued for Ontological Relativity, that our ordinary talk of objects suffers from the same underdetermination and thus does not properly refer to objects. This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... A world view, also spelled as worldview is a term calqued from the German word Weltanschauung (look onto the world). The German word is also in wide use in English, as well as the translated form world outlook. ...


While underdetermination does not invalidate the principle of falsifiability first presented by Karl Popper, Popper himself acknowledged that continual ad hoc modification of a theory provides a means for a theory to avoid being falsified. In this respect, the principle of parsimony, or Occam's Razor, plays a role. This principle presupposes that between multiple theories explaining the same phenomenon, the simplest theory--in this case, the one that is least susceptible to continual ad hoc modification--is to be preferred. In science and the philosophy of science, falsifiability, contingency, and defeasibility are roughly equivalent terms referring to the property of empirical statements that they must admit of logical counterexamples. ... Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH, MA, Ph. ... Ad hoc is a Latin phrase which means for this [purpose]. It generally signifies a solution that has been tailored to a specific purpose, such as a tailor-made suit, a handcrafted network protocol, and specific-purpose equation and things like that. ... William of Ockham Occams razor (also spelled Ockhams razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham (Guilhelmi Ockam and Guillermi de ockam in Latin [1]). Originally a tenet of the reductionist philosophy of nominalism, it is more often taken...


References

  • Curd, Martin; Cover, J.A. (Eds.) (1998). Philosophy of Science, Section 3, The Duhem-Quine Thesis and Underdetermination, W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Duhem, Pierre. The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1954.
  • W. V. Quine. 'Two Dogmas of Empiricism.' The Philosophical Review, 60 (1951), pp. 20-43.
  • W. V. Quine. Word and Object. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1960.
  • W. V. Quine. 'Ontological Relativity.' In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, New York, Columbia University Press, 1969, pp. 26-68.
  • D. Davidson. 'On the Very Idea of Conceptual Scheme.' Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, 17 (1973-74), pp. 5-20.

Quines paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism, published 1951, is one of the most celebrated papers of twentieth century philosophy in the analytic tradition. ...

See also

Common dictionary definitions of truth mention some form of accord with fact or reality. ... Sojourner Truth A truth theory or a theory of truth is a conceptual framework that underlies a particular conception of truth, such as those used in art, ethics, logic, mathematics, philosophy, the sciences, or any discussion that either mentions or makes use of a notion of truth. ... Coherentism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ...

Theories of truth

There are two distinct types of Coherentism. ... The consensus theory of truth, originated by Charles Sanders Peirce who called it pragmatism, and later pragmaticism, holds that a statement is true if it would be agreed to by all those who investigate it if investigation were carried sufficiently far in that particular direction. ... The correspondence theory of truth states that something is rendered true by the existence of a fact with corresponding elements and a similar structure. ... The deflationary theory of truth is a family of theories which all have in common the belief that assertions that predicate truth of a statement do not provide any substantive information or insight into the nature of truth. ... In philosophy, epistemic theories of truth are attempts to analyse the notion of truth in terms of epistemic notions such as belief, acceptance, verification, justification, perspective and so on. ... The pragmatic theory of truth is a philosophical theory of truth. ... The Redundancy theory of truth is a philosophical theory about the way in which the predicate is true functions in such sentences as Snow is white is true. In its simplest version, the redundancy theory holds that Snow is white is true says no more than does Snow is white... The semantic theory of truth holds that any assertion that a proposition is true can be made only as a formal requirement regarding the language in which the proposition itself is expressed. ...

Related topics


  Results from FactBites:
 
Confirmation holism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (856 words)
Confirmation holism, also called the Quine-Duhem thesis (after philosophers Willard Van Orman Quine and Pierre Duhem), is the claim a scientific theory cannot be tested in isolation; a test of one theory always depends on other theories and hypotheses.
Le Verrier calculated the approximate position of the interfering planet and its existence was confirmed in 1846.
One upshot of confirmational holism is the underdetermination of theories: if all theories (and the propositions derived from them) of what exists are not sufficiently determined by empirical data (data, sensory-data, evidence); each theory with its interpretation of the evidence is equally justifiable.
Encyclopedia: Holism (599 words)
Holism (from holon, a Greek word meaning entity) is the idea that the properties of a system cannot be determined or explained by the sum of its components alone.
Holism (or nonreductionism) is sometimes described as the opposite of reductionism, although proponents of scientific reductionism state that it is better regarded as the opposite of greedy reductionism.
Holism, especially in its metaphysical varieties, is controversial.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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