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P.D. Magnus

Underdetermination and the Claims of Science

This was my PhD thesis in Philosophy at UC San Diego. Paul Churchland was the chair of my committee.

Parts of the thesis were developed into almost a dozen separate papers, and themes from it arise in much of my later work.

Versions available

Abstract

The underdetermination of theory by evidence is supposed to be a reason to rethink science. It is not. Many authors claim that underdetermination has momentous consequences for the status of scientific claims, but such claims are hidden in an umbra of obscurity and a penumbra of equivocation. So many various phenomena pass for `underdetermination' that it's tempting to think that it is no unified phenomenon at all, so I begin by providing a framework within which all these worries can be seen as species of one genus: A claim of underdetermination involves (at least implicitly) a set of rival theories, a standard of responsible judgment, and a scope of circumstances in which responsible choice between the rivals is impossible.

Within this framework, I show that one variety of underdetermination motivated modern scepticism and thus is a familiar problem at the heart of epistemology. I survey arguments that infer from underdetermination to some reëvaluation of science: top-down arguments infer a priori from the ubiquity of underdetermination to some conclusion about science; bottom-up arguments infer from specific instances of underdetermination, to the claim that underdetermination is widespread, and then to some conclusion about science. The top-down arguments either fail to deliver underdetermination of any great significance or (as with modern scepticism) deliver some well-worn epistemic concern. The bottom-up arguments must rely on cases. I consider several promising cases and find them to either be so specialized that they cannot underwrite conclusions about science in general or not be underdetermined at all. Neither top-down nor bottom-up arguments can motivate any deep reconsideration of science.

BibTeX

@PHDTHESIS(Magnus2003a,
	AUTHOR = {P.D. Magnus},
	TITLE = {Underdetermination and the Claims of Science},
	SCHOOL = {University of California, San Diego},
	YEAR = {2003}
)
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