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Adolf Grunbaum - The Duhemian Argument

Adolf Grunbaum - The Duhemian Argument

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Philosophy of Science Association
The Duhemian ArgumentAuthor(s): Adolf GrunbaumSource:
Philosophy of Science,
Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan., 1960), pp. 75-87Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Philosophy of ScienceAssociationStable URL:
Accessed: 07/10/2009 19:41
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Lehigh UniversityThis paper offers a refutation of P. Duhem's thesis that thefalsifiabilityofanisolated empiricalhypothesis
asanexplanansisunavoidablyinconclusive.Its centralcontentions arethefollowing:1.Nogeneralfeaturesof thelogicoffalsifiabilitycanassure,foreveryisolatedempiricalhypothesisH andindependentlyof thedomaintowhich itpertains,thatHcanalways be preserved as an explanans of any empirical findings0whatever by somemodification of the auxiliary assumptions A in conjunction withwhichHfunctionsas anexplanans.For Duhem cannotguaranteeonany generallogical grounds thededucibility of0from an explanans constituted by the conjunctionof
and somerevised non-trivial version R of A: theexisteniceof the required
Rof collateralassumptionsmust be demonstratedforeachparticularcase.2.Thecategoricalformof the Duhemian thesis is not only a non-sequiturbut actually false. This is shown by adducing the testing of physical geometryas a counterexampleto Duhem in the formof a rebuttal to A. Einstein's geometricalarticulation ofDuhem's thesis.3. The possibilityofa quasi dpriori choice of a physical geometry inthe sense of Duhemmust beclearly distinguished fromthefeasibility of a conventionaladoption of suchageometryinthesenseof H. Poincare. And thelegitimacyofthe latter cannotbe invoked tosave the Duhemnianthesis fromrefuitationbytheforegoingconsidela-tions.
Ina recent paper published inthisjournal, Herburt [6] expoundsand endorsesthe Duhemianargument butcontests itsbeingadducedbyQuinetorepudiatethe distinctionbetween analytic and syntheticstatements.Thepresent paperis intended toreporttheresultofaninvestigation bytheauthorwhich shows that the categorical formofDuhem'scontention, viz.that the falsification of partofan explanans is always unavoidablyinconclusive,is untenable. In particular, it turns out that it is one thingto maintain withHerburt that"inevery empirical test a certainnumberofstatementsofvarioustypesisinvolved"[6, p. 109]butquite anotherto concludein Duhe-mianfashion,ashedoes,that "inprinciple,it ispossible. ..to maintainany particular empirical statement, whateverthedataof experience, providedwe makeappropriate changesinthesystemofhypotheseswhichisputtotest"[6, p. 108].WemustdistinguishthefollowingtwoformsofDuhem's thesis:(i)thelogic of everydisconfirmation,nolessthan of every confirmation,of apresumably empirical hypothesis
issuch astoinvolveatsomestage
ReceivedJuly, 1959.**The author is indebted to the NationalScienceFoundationfor thesupportof researchandwishes to acknowledge the benefit of discussionswithDr. GroverMaxwell andotherfellow-participantsin the1959 sumiimersessions ofthe Minnesota Center forPhilosophyofScience.75
orotheranentire network of interwoven hypotheses inwhich Hisingredientrather than the separate testing of the component H,(ii) No one constituenthtypothesisH can everbeextricated from the ever-present web of collateral assumptions so as tobeopen to decisive refutationbytheevidence as partofan explanansofthatevidence, justasno suchisolation is achievable for purposes of verification. This conclusion becomesapparent byaconsiderationofthe two partsof theschemaofunavoidably inconclusive falsifiability, which are:(a) itisan elementary fact of deductive logic that if certain observationalconsequences0are entailed by theconjunctionofHandaset A of auxiliaryassumptions,thenthe failureof 0 tomaterializeentailsnot the falsity of Hbyitself butonlytheweaker conclusion that Hand A cannotboth be true;thefalsifiabilityofH is therefore inconclusivein the sensethat the falsityofHisnotdeductively inferablefrom thepremiss [(H-A)
0],(b)theactual observationalfindings 0',whichareincompatible with 0,allow that Hbetrue while Aisfalse, because they always permit the theoristtopreserveHwithimpunityasapartof theexplanansofO'bysomodifyingA that theconjunctionofHand the revised version A' of Adoesexplain(entail) O'.ThispreservabilityofH is to be understoodasaretainabilityinprincipleand does notdependon theabilityof scientists topropoundtherequiredset A of collateralassumptionsatany giventime.Thus, thereis aningressionof a kindofapriorichoiceintophysical theory:atthe priceof suitablecompensatorymodificationsinthe remainderof thetheory, anyone of its
lhypothesesHlmaybe retained in thefaceofseemingly contrary empirical findingsasanexplanansof thesevery findings.Andthisquasiapriori preservabilityofHissanctionedbythefar-reachingtheoretical ambiguityandflexibility ofthelogicalconstraintsimposed by theobservationalevidence.'Let us now considerthetwoparts (a)and(b)oftheschema which thestronger form (ii)of the Duhemianthesis claimstobetheuniversalparadigmofthelogicoffalsifiabilityinempirical science. Clearly, part (a)isvalid,beinga modustollens argumentinwhichthe antecedentofthe conditional
Cf. P.
The Aimand Structure of Physical Theory (tr.P. P.Wiener), Princeton,1954,Part II, chapter VI,esp. pp. 183-190. Duhem'sexplicit disavowalof bothdecisivefalsifiabilityand crucial verifiabilityofan
will not bear K. R. Popper'sreadingofhim[9, p.78]:Popper, who is anexponent of decisive falsifiability[9], misinterpretsDuhemasallowingthat tests of a hypothesismay be decisively falsifyingand as denyingonly that they maybe cruciallyverifying. NotwithstandingPopper's exegeticalerror,we shallfindpresentlythat histhesisof the feasibility ofdecisivelyfalsifyingtests can bebuttressedbyatellingcounterexampleto Duhem's categoricaldenial of thatthesis.A defense of theclaim that isolatedpartsof physical theorycanbeconfirmedisoutlined byI-I. Feigl in his "Confirmabilityand Confirmation,"RevuteInternationale dePhilosophieV(1951),pp. 268-279, whichisreprintedin P. P. Wiener (ed.), ReadingsinI'hilosophy of Science,NewYork, 1953, esp. pp.528-529.

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