Underdetermination Thesis

Two or more rival theories (together with suitable initial conditions) may entail exactly the same observational consequences.

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If the theory is not just a summary of the evidence, the evidence cannot determine, in the sense of proving, the theory.

For instance, no finite amount of evidence of the form Aa can entail an unrestricted universal generalization of the form All A's are B.

The challenge, then, is this: Where do these prior probabilities come from?

A total denial of the legitimacy of any prior probabilities would amount to inductive skepticism.

Though simplistic accounts of the hypothetico-deductive method need to be jettisoned, there are ways to meet the challenge of deductive underdetermination, even if we stay close to hypothetico-deductivism.

Since theories entail observational consequences only with the aid of auxiliary assumptions, and since the available auxiliary assumptions may change over time, the set of observational consequences of a theory is not circumscribed once and for all.

Inductive underdetermination takes for granted that any attempt to prove a theory on the basis of evidence is futile.

Still, it is argued, no evidence can confirm a theory or make it probable, or no evidence can confirm a theory more than its rivals. In all its generality, it is a recapitulation of inductive skepticism.

So inductive underdetermination must rest on some arguments that question the confirmatory role of the evidence vis--vis the theory.

There is a battery of such arguments, but they may be classified under two types.


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