This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
1007/s10670-011-9300-4 ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments
Received: 17 February 2010 / Accepted: 26 May 2011 / Published online: 22 July 2011 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Abstract The indispensability argument is a method for showing that abstract mathematical objects exist (call this mathematical Platonism). Various versions of this argument have been proposed (§1). Lately, commentators seem to have agreed that a holistic indispensability argument (§2) will not work, and that an explanatory indispensability argument is the best candidate. In this paper I argue that the dominant reasons for rejecting the holistic indispensability argument are mistaken. This is largely due to an overestimation of the consequences that follow from evidential holism. Nevertheless, the holistic indispensability argument should be rejected, but for a different reason (§3)—in order that an indispensability argument relying on holism can work, it must invoke an unmotivated version of evidential holism. Such an argument will be unsound. Correcting the argument with a proper construal of evidential holism means that it can no longer deliver mathematical Platonism as a conclusion: such an argument for Platonism will be invalid. I then show how the reasons for rejecting the holistic indispensability argument importantly constrain what kind of account of explanation will be permissible in explanatory versions (§4).
1 Mathematical Platonism is a realist ontological position: it asserts that mathematical statements are true, that mathematical statements are committed to the existence of mathematical objects (such as numbers, sets, functions etc.), and thus that these mathematical objects exist (Maddy 1990). In addition to realism, Platonism insists that these mathematical objects are abstract; the Platonist maintains that there exist
J. Morrison (&) Department of Philosophy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
pp. or those who think that ontology can’t be done. one might be horriﬁed to discover that one’s ontology has been furnished with such bizarre entities as abstracta. models and functions. p. A major contemporary source of motivation for Platonism is the indispensability argument (Colyvan 2001. giving an alternative semantics or a reason for understanding mathematical claims non-literally will allow one to accept the indispensability of mathematical claims while trying to avoid their ontological commitments. and more speciﬁcally. Showing that science could be done without mathematics is one option available to those scientiﬁc realists who wish to avoid Platonism about mathematical objects. p. but deny that those claims commit to mathematical abstracta. this is because most people agree that it ‘‘appears to make no sense to ask where numbers or sets are located. p. the speciﬁc heat capacity of H2O is 4. Michael Resnik (Resnik 1997. The argument proceeds from the fact that we make indispensable use of mathematics and mathematical claims in our scientiﬁc theorising to the conclusion that we ought to be ontologically committed to the existence of such things as numbers. without argument. Morrison non-spatiotemporal. pp. 6). Alternatively one could agree that science depends on mathematical claims. But for scientiﬁc realists. It is inaccurate to say that there is such a thing as the indispensability argument since there are many different forms. causally inefﬁcacious mathematical objects (Hale 1994. the argument does not attempt to convince either those who think that matters of ontology are the proprietary domain of metaphysicians. 93–95) critically discusses her position. 299. such as: 1 If most mathematical realists are Platonists. Maddy maintains that sets can be perceivable (Maddy 1990. since it suggests that scientists are committed to the existence of abstracta in the same way as they are to atoms and genes. One exception is Penelope Maddy. Since indispensability arguments explicitly involve the claim that scientiﬁc theories can be a source of ontological commitments. that mathematical claims are indispensable to scientiﬁc theorising. 123 . 545). 58–63). and that the ontological commitments of sentences like: 1. then they are abstract. This is unpalatable to contemporary metaphysical tastes on at least two counts: one might repudiate the idea that scientists can furnish one’s ontology at all. Linnebo 2006 p.200 J/kg/K can be understood directly and literally from their paraphrases into canonical notation. This paper will assume. who attributes physical/causal properties to some mathematical objects. 299). or when they came into existence’’ (Hale 1994. sets.1 So the argument is controversial. In addition. The characteristic that is common to all of them is the dialectical procedure from the premise that science indispensably depends on mathematics to the conclusion that mathematical objects exist. I will not question the initial premise that scientiﬁc theorising indispensably depends on mathematical claims. the indispensability argument does stand as a challenge.264 J. it suggests that normal scientiﬁc practices commit us to the existence of abstract objects. there is general consensus that if such mathematical objects exist at all. who maintain that science can discover what exists.
Regardless of how such a distinction is drawn. p. for example. It says that we should accept the ontological commitments of our best scientiﬁc theories. Let’s call such an argument a Semantic Indispensability Argument (SIA) (see Liggins 2008 and Wagner 1996). ignoring the many differences between tools and results. the present point is that various types of indispensability argument attempt to either remove it or redraw it. and that those mathematical claims are committed to the existence of abstracta. and that as such SIA does not commit her to mathematical Platonism. ontologically-committing results. Examples of the former are Holistic Indispensability Arguments—these approaches have the consequence that the distinction between 2 Clearly. she simply takes actual scientiﬁc practice to licence a restricted notion of scientiﬁc realism: no scientist would think that we should be wholesale scientiﬁc realists. 280). there exists an x such that x = speciﬁc heat capacity of H2O = the number of Joules energy required to raise one kilogramme of water by one degree Kelvin = 4. various arguments can be given for putting particular cases of apparent ontological commitment into either the ‘tool’ or ‘result’ categories. For example. If this is right. Our scientiﬁc realist feels no need to provide any alternative or non-literal semantics for the instrumental parts of a theory. that our best scientiﬁc theories indispensably appeal to mathematical claims. the ontologically committing propositions are just those that can act as explanations. Such a distinction is a consequence of prior philosophical theory.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 265 2. the invocation of a tool.2 So. Our restricted scientiﬁc realist maintains that numbers are tools. a distinction between those claims which are tools and those which are results. but it doesn’t licence drawing this line arbitrarily. 123 . or as attempts to demonstrate that her restricted version of realism is actually committed to numbers after all. then we can understand other varieties of indispensability argument either as attempts to force the restricted realist to be a wholesale realist. hence we should accept the existence of abstracta. our scientiﬁc realist points out that the overwhelming majority of scientiﬁc theories involve explicit idealizations and simpliﬁcations: real-world complex systems are reduced to partial models in which only one or two variables contribute any causal inﬂuence. Rather. Not all parts of a scientist’s theory should be treated equally. etc. of all the propositions indispensable to science. perhaps.200 It may be that these two assumptions. or that identify causes. along with the commitment to scientiﬁc realism. or that are falsiﬁable. Being as respectably-well-informed about actual scientiﬁc practices as she is. But our scientiﬁc realist who has no taste for Platonic entities may not feel the pull of SIA. while talk of numbers is merely instrumental. it’s not enough just to stipulate that some claims are ontologically committing while others are only instrumental—appealing to scientiﬁc practice might allow us to invoke such a distinction (see Maddy 1990. are sufﬁcient to secure mathematical Platonism. and which parts are merely instrumental devices for getting those conclusions. (Thanks to an anonymous referee for encouraging this point). She notes that while scientists might indispensably depend upon idealizations. SIA will only convert wholesale scientiﬁc realists into Platonists. she might try to argue that scientiﬁc discussion of atoms and genes is talk about substantial. the scientiﬁc realist looks to make some sort of distinction between the parts of the theory which are ontologicallycommitting conclusions. neither they nor she are thereby committed to thinking that the world is anything like the way it is represented in those models.
The reasoning is as follows: if the relata of falsiﬁcation are observations and theories. Falsiﬁcation Thesis (FT): Observations only falsify whole theories. Epistemic naturalism tells us that only scientiﬁcally acceptable methods of belief-formation are sufﬁcient to form justiﬁed beliefs. The argument then proceeds as follows: epistemic naturalism tells us that scientiﬁc inquiry is the only source of knowledge or justiﬁed belief. Quine gave an indispensability argument for mathematical Platonism that invokes evidential holism as a premise. So holism’s role in this indispensability argument is to secure this premise: holism (FT) is taken to imply epistemic naturalism. I return to explanatory indispensability arguments in §4. then no propositions are known a priori. 2 Many commentators maintain that W. any mathematical or logical parts). since her ontologically privileged category of scientiﬁc results is really no different from the instrumentally useful mathematical tools— both are importantly instrumental for giving explanations of physical phenomena. because it is not entirely clear quite what Quine’s evidential holism amounts to. Recently. The indispensability thesis tells us that scientiﬁc inquiry cannot proceed without existentially quantifying over mathematical objects. Variations on such an argument are used to provide support for epistemic naturalism. the falsiﬁcation thesis has long since been invoked in Quinean-style arguments against the possibility of a priori knowledge. Conﬁrmation Thesis (CT): Observations conﬁrm entire theories. Explanatory Indispensability Arguments work in the other way: a distinction between tools and results might seem to be permissible. Morrison tools and results is not available to the scientiﬁc realist: the tools are actually a lot more like results.266 J. For example. and if any propositions can in principle be empirically defeated.V. In §2 and §3 I explore holistic indispensability arguments. it remains in principle possible to blame the empirical failures of a theory on any of its a priori constituents (i. It follows that the existence of 3 Strictly speaking there are only two distinct theses here. the argument maintains that a restricted scientiﬁc realist will have to be a mathematical Platonist. If a necessary condition for a proposition to be known a priori is that it is empirically indefeasible.O. This is. I have identiﬁed three distinct evidentially holistic theses that are commonly treated interchangeably (Morrison 2010)3: Prediction Thesis (PT): Only whole theories imply observations. These distinctions are useful as they enable us to identify candidate roles for holism in indispensability arguments. not individual parts thereof. and perhaps it is also acceptable that mathematical talk is more tool-like than result-like. As such.e. not individual parts thereof. in part. but the role which holism is supposed to play is not immediately clear. since I show that PT and FT are contapositives. Nevertheless. then any particular observation underdetermines which of a theory’s constitutive claims is false. 123 .
scientists have empirical conﬁrmation of the mathematical claims on which they (indispensably) depend. The idea is that when a scientist carries out an experiment. it is sufﬁcient to note that this holistic/naturalistic indispensability argument need not convert our restricted scientiﬁc realist into a wholesale scientiﬁc realist. The ﬁrst premise of the argument is the indispensability thesis. it is epistemic naturalism. She can agree that claims which quantify over mathematical abstracta are a necessary condition for scientiﬁcally justiﬁed beliefs. This issue has been much discussed. Morrison 2010. which we saw above: scientiﬁc theorising indispensably depends upon claims that existentially quantify over mathematical abstracta. Penelope Maddy claims that the argument involves the premise that ‘‘as holists. the mathematical along with the physical hypotheses’’ (Maddy 2005b. But for our purposes here. (Resnik 1995. Quine’s holism—his interpretation of Duhem’s thesis—asserts that theories are conﬁrmed only as totalities. Likewise. the question as to whether holism entails mathematical Platonism is dependent on whether holism entails the repudiation of apriority. we take a scientiﬁc theory to be conﬁrmed as a whole. If mathematics is an inextricable part of 123 . A more widely recognised role for evidential holism in indispensability arguments invokes the conﬁrmation thesis (CT). Others argue that the argument sketched above turns on a pivotal and fallacious inference from the underdetermination of falsiﬁcation to the possibility of revising a mathematical or logical belief (Klee 1992. We should note that the pivotal premise of this holistic/naturalistic-indispensability argument is not evidential holism. and she can agree that there are no other sources of epistemic justiﬁcation. Resnik and Orlandi 2003). p. and so it receives conﬁrmation only as a whole. Elliott Sober tells us that [t]his indispensability argument for mathematical realism gives voice to an attitude towards conﬁrmation elaborated by Quine. Some maintain that respectable analyses of a priori knowledge should not make empirical indefeasibility a necessary condition (Rey 1998. So this indispensability argument will only work if it is true that evidential holism entails that there is no a priori knowledge. which is purported to be a consequence of holism (in the form of FT). Jenkins 2008). all the while maintaining that none of this compels her think that mathematical claims are anything more than (importantly) useful tools. 444). p. the results conﬁrm not only the experimental hypotheses at stake but also all of the mathematical claims (along with all other additional theoretical claims). 166) Similarly. The next part of the argument invokes evidential holism. As such. instead. We can see this move being made when Michael Resnik claims that indispensability arguments involve the following premise: Evidential holism: The evidence for a scientiﬁc theory bears directly upon its theoretical apparatus as a whole and not upon its individual hypotheses.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 267 mathematical objects becomes a necessary condition for the possibility of any beliefs being justiﬁed. As such. A theory makes contact with experience only as a whole.
By invoking holism. (Sober 1993. The last step of the argument is to show that this empirical support means that a scientist cannot fail to be committed to the existence of mathematical objects. 35) The argument starts by claiming that scientists often must use mathematical claims. But my 4 I do not mean to imply that Hilary Putnam should be understood as having argued for the existence of abstract mathematical objects. 166. and that it misdescribes actual mathematical and scientiﬁc practices and the important differences between them (Maddy 1992). Elliott Sober thinks that holism so expressed is an incorrect theory of conﬁrmation. rather than restricted. about her realism. then. p. holism generates a problem: how are we to account for the empirical successes of our mathematical claims? And a constraint on a reply is that it seems that we should explain the empirical successes of mathematics in the same way that we explain the empirical successes of any other scientiﬁc hypothesis. Commentators often refer to indispensability arguments as ‘Quine-Putnam indispensability arguments’. So … the existence of mathematical objects is as well grounded as that of the other entities posited by science. where he discusses the ‘‘intellectual dishonesty of denying the existence of what one daily presupposes.’’ (Putnam 1971. p. and yet b) believing ourselves to be committed only to the objects invoked by the physical claim and not to the entities of the mathematical. then we should give a similar explanation of the empirical successes of mathematics. Penelope Maddy thinks that holism so expressed is empirically false as it makes a mistaken claim about the nature of evidence in mathematics. (1995.268 J. we can infer that we can have empirical support for these mathematical claims. any scientiﬁc realist should properly be wholesale. one physical and one mathematical. p. he too suggests that it mischaracterises actual scientiﬁc practice. 3 It should come as no surprise that the premise expressing evidential holism has come under ﬁre. Resnik goes on to describe how this inference might work: [I]f mathematics is an indispensable component of science. and that any overlap is illusory. 123 . by holism. namely that the entities they discuss are real.4 In effect. This is consonant with Putnam’s account of indispensability arguments. then the empirical success of the theory conﬁrms the entire theory—mathematics and all. As such. I disagree that CT gives a mistaken account of actual scientiﬁc and mathematical practices. If we explain the success of physical hypotheses by thinking that the entities they discuss are real. Morrison a physical theory. to the same extent. my emphasis) Resnik’s description of the argument suggests that there would be something remiss in a) supposing that an experiment could conﬁrm two different claims. David Liggins (2008) makes it perfectly clear that the elision is incorrect. and he raises several problems in conﬁrmation theory which he claims it cannot answer (Sober 1993). 347). whatever evidence we have for science is also evidence for the mathematical objects and mathematical principles it presupposes.
The Bayesian formula (plus some argument about the correct measure of conﬁrmation) is just one example of the kind of supplementary presupposition which might enable an observation to be said to support one particular theoretical claim more than another.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 269 assessment of the holistic indispensability argument has this much in common with both Sober and Maddy: evidential holism. But since scientists do not (and indeed. and that CT is a consequence of the mistaken assumption that PT and FT will yield holistic conclusions about inductive relations such as conﬁrmation and disconﬁrmation. She suggests that if CT is correct we should expect mathematicians to be looking to developments in science to tell them which of their theories are conﬁrmed: ‘‘[i]f this is correct. and that if they want to distribute the conﬁrmation of an entire theory amongst its individual parts then they cannot do so differentially—every part of a theory is conﬁrmed to the same extent by the evidence. not individual parts thereof. should not) think about evidence this way. In this section I will argue that the holistic argument just sketched does fail. set theorists should be eagerly awaiting the outcome of debate over 123 . Sober seems to think that by deﬁnition such a position would no longer be ‘holistic’ (Sober 2000. that there are no good reasons for endorsing CT. Maddy’s concerns about CT and mathematical practice are as follows. CT must have something wrong. The conﬁrmation thesis is a claim about the relata of conﬁrmation: observations taken by themselves only support entire theories. taken individually. With: No individual theoretical claims can be differentially supported. He maintains that evidential holists are committed to CT. Following the line taken in (Morrison 2010). will be able to identify particular propositions as being better supported than others. is false. 268 footnote 28). p. and that there are plenty of good reasons for rejecting it. Sober’s objections depend on his giving a particular construal of how he thinks that the holist must ‘distribute’ conﬁrmation accruing to an entire theory among its constitutive parts. Morrison (2010) argues that Quine’s evidential holism is properly understood as a combination of only the prediction and falsiﬁcation theses (PT and FT). as it appears in that argument. But this is entirely consistent with the possibility that observations. observations don’t single out any particular propositions/hypotheses for support. I think that CT is consistent with differential assignments of evidential values among the parts of a theory. The real problem with the holistic indispensability argument given above is that it depends on CT. That is to say that even if one held CT. taken in conjunction with various auxiliary assumptions about the experimental set-up and about the relative likelihoods of various hypotheses. and that its failure is a direct consequence of its invocation of CT. but that is all it denies. I maintain that evidential holism proper describes the holistic nature of the deductive relations that must hold between observations and hypotheses. one could still endorse differential distribution of support. We should not conﬂate: Conﬁrmation Thesis (CT): Observations conﬁrm entire theories. But CT is a holistic position: it denies that observations taken by themselves admit differential support for the constituent parts of a theory.
281). Quine’s evidential holism tells us that ‘‘our statements about the external world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but only as a corporate body’’ (Quine 1951. but only because this was the sentence he was wondering about and is prepared to reject. p. And if CT is consistent with a notion of differential support. without differential support.’’ (1990a. But this is not the case. set theorists do not regularly keep an eye on developments in fundamental physics. If practicing scientists do not think about evidence holistically. If CT is consistent with a notion of differential support. when in fact they do not. 123 . I do not dispute her assessment of the practice of scientists. A proper diagnosis would require an examination of the motivations behind CT to see if there are any particular reasons for thinking that holism about conﬁrmation should be understood in the stronger form which rules out any notion of differential support. then we should have no reason to expect scientists to think that all parts of their theories receive equal conﬁrmation. I do not dispute her assessment of the practice of mathematicians. if CT can be compatible with a notion of differential support. p.5 I think that the expectation is misplaced—CT does not entail that each individual part of a theory is supported by observation when the theory-as-a-whole is supported by observation. Maddy argues that evidential holism is descriptively false: it mischaracterises the actual nature of the evidential relation. preparing to tailor the practice of set theory to the nature of the resulting applications of continuum mathematics. 14). p. then ‘‘[i]f we remain true to our naturalistic principles. Maddy’s argument about CT and scientiﬁc practice is as follows. if they operate as though not all parts of a theory are equally conﬁrmed. The mere fact that a theory that indispensably relies on mathematical claims is supported by observation is no reason to think that the mathematical claims are thereby supported.270 J. as I’ve suggested above. 280). However. then we should have no reason to expect mathematicians to look to scientiﬁc results to ﬁnd support for their theories. in so far as scientists have withheld their assent to the existence of some of the posits of well-conﬁrmed theories until claims about those particular objects have received ‘direct veriﬁcation’. 41). 289). describing scientists as acting as though all parts of a theory are equally conﬁrmed. it was not necessary that it be consonant with the descriptions that scientists might use to describe their own activities. what is surprising is the scarcity of any arguments motivating CT in either form.’’ (Maddy 1992. I think that the expectation is misplaced—CT does not entail that each individual part of a theory is supported by observation when the theory-as-a-whole is supported by observation. as I’ve suggested above. p.’’ (ibid. although it is hard to see why that should be the case. Such an examination is undertaken in Morrison (2010). we must allow a distinction to be drawn between parts of a theory that are true and parts that are merely useful. Morrison quantum gravity. But ‘‘the actual practice of science presents a very different picture’’ (Maddy 1992. CT must get something wrong. Since they do not. p. then the holistic indispensability argument will not work. I can only speculate that the many commentators on holistic indispensability arguments have assumed a stronger version of CT that rules out the possibility of differential support. 5 Quine clearly does not place too much emphasis in what scientists think that they are up to when espousing his holism: ‘‘the scientist thinks of his experiment as a test speciﬁcally of his new hypothesis. So while he was concerned to give an accurate explanation of scientiﬁc practice.
So we can see that in order to establish any sort of deductive link between holism about prediction and holism about conﬁrmation we will need to appeal to something which makes the same connection between prediction and conﬁrmation as this HD principle. which seems to be well motivated. for example. and that inductive support for these laws can be garnered from particular instances of these laws. which is to say that the testable observation is deductively derived from an entire theory. for that very reason it shows up in paradoxes to do with conﬁrmation. indeed. we need to have a principled reason for thinking that whatever predicts an observation gets conﬁrmed by it. if the holist additionally endorses this principle of hypothetico-deductivism then they should also accept that the observation conﬁrms the entire theory (CT). This rather remarkable discrepancy can be explained. and at the same time it is regarded as highly controversial in discussions of evidence in the philosophy of science. By endorsing PT. As such. where it is rarely given any explicit defence or motivation. What motivates endorsing the HD principle as an additional. I have suggested that the prediction thesis is broadly equivalent to the claim that scientiﬁc observations are theory-laden. p. This supposition makes it seem as though the credibility associated with the prediction thesis. the principle seems an intuitive and eminently plausible theory of how conﬁrmation relations might work. The inferential link between CT and PT is at once prima facie plausible and fallacious—indeed. at ﬁrst glance to anyone who is not familiar with the debates that go on in the philosophy of science. The holist who accepts the prediction thesis needs some reason to think that they should be committed to this hypothetico-deductive principle of conﬁrmation before endorsing the conﬁrmation thesis. which is itself in need of independent motivation. will transfer to the conﬁrmation thesis. I suspect that adherents of the conﬁrmation thesis suppose that there is an intimate link between the prediction thesis and the conﬁrmation thesis. the prediction thesis (PT) seems to be straightforwardly motivated. we think that seeing white swans lends inductive support for the claim that all swans are white. In order to make an inference from the prediction thesis to the conﬁrmation thesis. A minimum condition for thinking that the prediction thesis implies the conﬁrmation thesis will involve accepting a principle of the hypothetico-deductive (HD) theory of conﬁrmation. It is important to note that any such adherent of CT is thereby relying upon some extra-holistic machinery. Indeed. As a result. A crude account of this HD principle maintains that for a to conﬁrm b it sufﬁces for a to be deductively derivable from b. the general idea that ‘instances support their generalisations’ seems innocent enough. 35). Sober says it is something like an ‘‘unexceptional observation’’ (Sober 1993. This HD principle does precisely that: it equates conﬁrming instances with deductive consequences. the holist is committed to the idea that an entire theory predicts a testable observation. extra-holistic component? Arguments for this HD principle stem from the view that scientiﬁc laws are universal generalisations. and thus that whatever intuitive plausibility attaches to the theory-ladenness of observation is thereby motivation for the prediction thesis (Morrison 2010). In contrast. it is no surprise that 123 . So. Prima facie.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 271 The conﬁrmation thesis (CT) is openly endorsed in many mainstream epistemological discussions.
no contemporary account of hypotheticodeductivism would maintain the HD principle stated above. the Quinean doctrines which could plausibly be employed to produce CT tend to be more controversial than CT itself. His account of evidence says that only entire theories yield observational predictions. and if those predictions are incorrect then the observations. so such arguments won’t be straightforwardly motivating to most. 123 . simply because it is ¨ve position that it results in these unintuitive consequences. Should he also be committed to the existence of mathematical abstracta? His theory of evidence makes it look as though the mathematical claims are evidentially on a par with the scientiﬁc claims. Moreover. that we should reject the holistic indispensability argument that depends on CT. and is willing to accept those ontological commitments of his best as-yet-unfalsiﬁed theory. In general. both being as-yetunfalsiﬁed. the formalisation that any observed deductive consequence of b thereby conﬁrms b quickly leads to problems. Carl Hempel. whether it is acceptable for him to (a) suppose that two different claims. for example. If so. the evidential holist who accepts PT and FT while repudiating CT—we might think that his theory of evidence is somewhat more like a holistic falsiﬁcationism. Suppose that mathematical claims are necessary constitutive parts of the theory. but it sounds strange to think that an observation of a swan that is a swan conﬁrms or lends inductive support to the claim that all swans are white. and yet (b) believe himself to be committed only to the objects invoked by the physical claim and not to the entities of the mathematical? The relevant consideration here seems to be whether he can insist on treating mathematical statements as mere instrumental tools in his theory rather than substantive ontologically-committing parts of his theory. while PT and FT are well motivated and defensible statements of evidential holism. only falsify the entire theory. we could ask. Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore suggested that something like CT is a consequence of Quine’s dissolution of the analytic/synthetic distinction or his semantic holism. they cannot can be employed to generate indispensability arguments which should compel a restricted scientiﬁc realist to be a wholesale scientiﬁc realist.272 J. All candidate such a naı examples of sophisticated hypothetico-deductive positions. rather than any particular concerns about mathematical or scientiﬁc practice. This issue alone is suggestive that the hypothetico-deductive principle as it is stated above requires modiﬁcation. as we did above.6 It is for this reason. Suppose further that this holistic falsiﬁcationist is a scientiﬁc realist. For example. How could this restricted scientiﬁc realism be defended? 6 It might be that various Quinean doctrines are supposed to yield CT. Once we see that CT is not a consequence of ‘unexceptional observations’ about the nature of prediction. Furthermore. Morrison someone might think that the intuitive appeal of PT is sufﬁcient to motivate CT. from its founder. onwards have tried to capture the intuition that ‘instances support their generalisations’ while avoiding the formalisation that equates conﬁrming instances with deductive consequences precisely because of these problems. one physical and one mathematical. it becomes difﬁcult to discern any other motivations to accept it. Samir Okasha (2000) explains why this gets the direction of ﬁt the wrong way round. Indeed. Consider. these are not the only problems for hypothetico-deductive accounts of evidence. but this seems unlikely (Fodor and Lepore 1992). taken alone. might be evidentially on a par. all swans are white entails that all swans are swans. However.
His holistic falsiﬁcationism can provide a license for treating strictly mathematical claims differently from the strictly scientiﬁc. p. since it adds nothing to what S would logically imply anyway. and that as 123 . as failed predictions fail to determine which of our theory’s claims is at fault. With: No individual theoretical claims can be falsiﬁed. which he thinks are purely instrumental.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 273 One strategy is to explore what would happen if a whole theory (scientiﬁc and mathematical claims combined) made a false prediction. and sundry irrelevant sentences in S will be exempted as well. we shouldn’t conﬂate: Falsiﬁcation thesis: Observations only falsify theories. In this narrow sense. We should separate FT from the claim that no individual claims can be falsiﬁed. and recognize that FT is consistent with understanding failed predictions as allowing for a notion of differential evidential consequences for theoretical claim. he can consistently maintain that those mathematical parts of his theory. So evidential holism. are in no danger of being falsiﬁed. in the form of PT and FT but not CT. Again. That is. this demonstrates that FT does not entail that every claim in a theory must be epistemically on a par. does not generate indispensability arguments that compel a restricted scientiﬁc realist to be a wholesale scientiﬁc realist—quite to the contrary. Doing so enables the holistic falsiﬁcationist to treat some claims differently from others: for example. and that in principle any one of the constituent claims of the theory could be responsible for generating the false prediction. it provides a principled method for resisting going wholesale.’’ (Quine 1990b. Quine has long since advertised this consequence of (falsiﬁcationist) evidential holism: ‘‘We exempt some members of [theory] S from this threat [of falsiﬁcation] on determining that the fateful implication still holds without their help. Any purely logical truth is thus exempted. It follows that the falsiﬁcation thesis (FT) does not entail that every claim in a theory must be epistemically on a par. PT tells us that the whole theory has been falsiﬁed. not individual parts thereof. Does it follow that all of the parts of the theory are epistemically equal? We get the result that the falsifying-observation alone underdetermines which part of the theory is to blame. 4 Holistic indispensability arguments are supposed to suggest that a distinction between the tools of a theory and a theory’s results is not defensible. But this is consistent with the possibility that failed predictions in addition with some other auxiliary might allow us to single out particular claims for refutation. In this case. But it doesn’t follow that they are epistemically on a par more generally. the parts of the theory are epistemically equal: they are observationally on a par. 11). Individual theoretical claims cannot be falsiﬁed by failed predictions alone.
and in its stead they have turned to examination of explanatory indispensability arguments. However. Many commentators have agreed that evidential holism is false. Many commentators have been convinced that Maddy’s concerns about mathematical practice are sufﬁciently problematic to repudiate holistic indispensability arguments. but for all that I agree that CT is indefensible. Bangu 2008. Rather. So. The idea is that even if the scientiﬁc realist wishes to maintain that claims involving mathematical objects are mere tools. for example. the reason she willingly accepts ontological commitments to genes and atoms is principally that they are indispensably instrumental in explanations of physical phenomena. but if true. Such a symmetry thesis is not without intuitive appeal: it seems to make sense that where an observation of litmus paper turning blue is taken to conﬁrm that the liquid is alkali. In these. the fact (if it is one) that the liquid is alkali explains why the litmus paper turned blue (see Bird 2010a for discussion). largely because of the sorts of criticisms suggested by Maddy and Sober against CT. Most contemporary discussions of indispensability arguments no longer turn on issues to do with holism. the observation of litmus paper turning blue might be taken to conﬁrm that the liquid will be dangerous if ingested in large quantities. then she should grant them the same ontological status as she does to other theoretical posits. Leng 2005. could explain some physical phenomena is generally taken to be a reason for thinking that observing the physical phenomena adduces some degree of empirical conﬁrmation on the hypothesis. the live concern is whether there are any genuine mathematical explanations of physical phenomena. I maintain that evidential holism is true. Current interests have turned to explanatory indispensability arguments (Baker 2005. Alan Baker has suggested two such physical explanada: the primenumbered periodic life cycles of North American cicadas. While this is the right result. I have disagreed with their speciﬁc criticisms of CT. I have given reasons above for thinking that it has come about for the wrong reasons. After all. and that as such the holistic indispensability arguments are unsound. That is. There are also good reasons for thinking that the biconditional does not hold without exception—most counterexamples put pressure on the conditional that if e conﬁrms h it follows that h. Morrison such scientiﬁc realists should be as committed to mathematical abstracta as they are to genes and atoms. if true. if it can be shown that those tools are indispensable to explaining physical phenomena. I do not intend to contribute to that issue. there is no valid indispensability argument from this form of evidential holism to the conclusion that scientiﬁc realists should be as committed to mathematical abstracta as they are to genes and atoms. Colyvan 2002. The converse conditional. I think the preceding discussion about evidential holism might constrain what can be said about explanation in these new indispensability arguments. would explain e. would explain e. if true. in the form of PT and FT. if true.274 J. and the relative efﬁciency 123 . however. this claim does not seem to explain why the liquid turned the litmus blue. Hempel thought that explanation is a relation that is symmetrical with conﬁrmation. e conﬁrms h if and only if h. It is this consequence that is signiﬁcant. seems much more defensible: that a hypothesis. Melia 2002). In contrast. Much of these discussions concern whether there are any genuine mathematical explanations of physical phenomena. 2009.
or if they have good reasons for not doing so. or that mathematicians should look for empirical support for their theories. IBE tells us that. 2009). (Bird 2010b. I have not argued that mathematicians do not take considerations of the applied parts of their theories into account. scientiﬁc realists will not want to reject this prima facie plausible link between explanation and conﬁrmation. If we take Maddy’s objections about mathematical practice seriously enough to repudiate holistic indispensability arguments. which in turn appeals to a direct link between explanation and conﬁrmation. then we should expect mathematicians to be looking to developments in science to tell them which of their theories are conﬁrmed. If Baker is correct that the mathematical propositions are the best explanations of the physical phenomena. explanatory indispensability arguments show that mathematical claims are conﬁrmed. several competing hypotheses each provide possible explanations of the evidence. those who are adherents of explanatory indispensability arguments because of Maddy’s criticisms of holistic indispensability arguments should reject the prima facie plausible link between explanation and conﬁrmation. Thus the fact that Einstein’s general theory of relativity could explain the anomalous precession of the perihelion of Mercury was a reason to think that Einstein’s theory is correct. the argument must get something wrong. then the fact that explanatory indispensability arguments offend against those same concerns is equally problematic. As such. the argument here proceeds by parallel steps with the case against holistic indispensability arguments: if we do take Maddy’s concerns about mathematical practice seriously enough to repudiate holistic indispensability arguments. then that evidence provides some degree of conﬁrmation to that hypothesis. and if the relationship between explanation and conﬁrmation just described is plausible. For each physical phenomenon he argues that the correct explanans is a mathematical claim. If this is the case. In some cases. the evidence most strongly conﬁrms that hypothesis which best explains the evidence. Alexander Bird expresses this point succinctly: The basic idea behind IBE is that if a putative hypothesis would explain some evidence. Since they do not. subject to various constraints. 11) Since explanatory indispensability arguments are aimed at scientiﬁc realists. 123 . we should take care not to offend against them with explanatory indispensability arguments. and since scientiﬁc realists appeal to IBE.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 275 of using hexagonal structures in building hives (Baker 2005. Maddy’s concerns about mathematical practice should follow: mathematicians should augment their normal standards and methods of evidence with the additional consideration that if scientists successfully use some mathematical propositions in explaining physical phenomena then those propositions are better conﬁrmed than their rivals. Maddy’s objection from mathematical practice is seen to reapply: if scientiﬁc evidence can conﬁrm mathematical statements. For the most part. Thus. since it goes to the heart of their primary motivation for scientiﬁc realism: inference to the best explanation (IBE). Rather. p. then we have a reason for thinking that in each case the physical phenomenon conﬁrms the mathematical claim.7 7 Maddy’s mathematical practice objection has little force if mathematicians either do look to developments in science to see which of their theories is conﬁrmed.
the issue is not so much of a debate about the metaphysics of mathematics. Considered like this.276 J. then the objection gives a principled reason for doing so: mathematicians don’t take scientiﬁc evidence as conﬁrmation of mathematical claims.8 The tension that is raised by the mathematical practice objection is as follows: naturalistic philosophers of science. entails the conﬁrmation of mathematical claims. who think that the epistemology of science should follow from the actual evidential standards employed by scientists. Bangu 2008. the mathematical practice objection stands as a disagreement between competing methodologies: should the question ‘‘do mathematical objects exist?’’ be answered by scientiﬁc or mathematical ways and means. so neither should scientiﬁc realists. should not consider a mathematical theory conﬁrmed as a result of its ability to explain physical phenomena. why should a scientiﬁc realist be committed to mathematical abstracta? What’s stopping a scientiﬁc realist from accepting IBE. but denying that the mathematical parts are conﬁrmed? If it seems ad hoc or arbitrary to think that best explanations provide conﬁrmation in all cases except those involving mathematical claims. Supposing that IBE is one of the methods of science. Mathematical naturalists. The epistemological premise in the indispensability arguments considered here has changed from conﬁrmational holism to IBE. 358) 9 123 .9 Rather. but the objection from practice remains: since actual mathematicians don’t look to science to discover which of their theories is conﬁrmed. who think that the epistemology of mathematics should follow from the actual evidential standards employed in maths. given that they disagree? The holistic indispensability argument can be understood as an attempt to deny that there are entirely distinct evidential methodologies available for mathematics and science—but I’ve shown how evidential holism (properly construed) fails to support such a conclusion. Penelope Maddy represents the debate this way in her 2005a (see p. (Thanks to an anonymous referee for encouraging this point). nor is it a disagreement between whether one should inquire into the metaphysical questions prior to or only after settling the methodological questions. then we have uncovered a methodological difference between mathematics and science: scientiﬁc theorising involves inferring the conﬁrmation of propositions from their status as best explanations of physical phenomena. where mathematics involves no such inference. Baker 2009). The principled reason for denying a link between explanation and conﬁrmation in the case of mathematical explanations of physical phenomena is that mathematicians don’t consider scientiﬁc applicability to be a source of support for their theories. should endorse inferential methods such as IBE. Consistent application of IBE. endorsing mathematical claims as best explanations. The explanatory indispensability 8 Mathematicians might still employ IBE within mathematics for inferring the conﬁrmation of mathematical theories or propositions from their status as best explanations of mathematical phenomena. and commitment to the existence of mathematical objects. Such applications of IBE wouldn’t be sufﬁcient to compel scientiﬁc realists to accept the existence of mathematical abstracta since in these inferences the explananda aren’t sufﬁciently connected to the general motivations of scientiﬁc realists (see also Leng 2005. following the explanatory indispensability argument. Morrison The wider point of this attack on the explanatory indispensability argument is as follows.
Leng. Many thanks to my colleagues and the audience at the University of Birmingham. (2002). Kirk Surgener. (2010a). 275–289. Philosophy of Science. S. Further thanks for discussion and comments go to Darragh Byrne. Journal of Philosophy. (2005a).). 437–459). 89. Philosophy of logic. Mathematical realism: The indispensability argument. Just how controversial is evidential holism? Synthese. Ø. Duncan Pritchard. Baker. The indispensability of mathematics. Maddy. (2001). (2005b). (1971). J. 166–174. 129. V. (1992). C. Melia. (1992). Liggins. (1990a). 111. Chris Hookway. Resnik. Is platonism epistemologically bankrupt? Philosophical Review. Three forms of naturalism. (2002). 436–450. 123 . 69–74. (1992). Oxford: Oxford University Press. New York: Harper. V. W. The Philosophical Review. P.). 545–574. May 24th 2010. Putnam. O. Colyvan. (1951). The epistemology of science – a bird’s-eye view. A. Quine. (1990). Quine. D. Philosophy Compass. Holism about meaning and about evidence: in defence of W. Paul Faulkner. I’m also grateful to the editors of this journal for having been so responsive with keeping communications clear. Perspectives on Quine (pp. Fodor. B. Scientiﬁc vs. but which conﬂicts with the evidential norms found in mathematics. 60. M. Synthese. W. Erkenntnis.. heuristics and the development of mathematics (pp. Bangu. Pritchard (Eds. D. London: King’s College Publications. Cambridge. Mind. 60. P. (2008). clear and incisive comments. 173(3). (2000). (1990b). In this sense. (2010b). Mathematics and aesthetic considerations in science. M. In C. Two Dogmas of empiricism.). (2005). Bird. Erkenntnis. London: Routledge. M. 167–189). P. V. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 52. 351–376. explanatory indispensability arguments make the same mistake as holistic ones: they are insufﬁciently attentive to the different standards of evidence at work in mathematics and in science. Bernecker & D. Linnebo. 175. Quine. In S. 3(3). Colyvan. Three indeterminacies. J. which appeals to a link between explanation and evidence. Quine. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. (1994). Acknowledgments Thanks to Jacob Busch for his feedback on earlier drafts of this work and ongoing encouragement. Hale. 13–20. & Lepore. Okasha. V. P. 39–61. 59. S. Maddy. Klee. J. (2008). Inference to the best explanation and mathematical realism. Oxford handbook of philosophy of mathematics and logic (pp. Putnam. R. References Baker.Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments 277 argument invokes a different evidential norm that’s found in science: IBE. David Liggins. 611–633. E. 335–352. A. Gillies (Eds. A priori knowledge: debates and developments. Philosophical Studies. Joe Melia. 487–491. In S. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Maddy. Pursuit of truth. Mathematical reasoning. Shapiro (Ed. 1–16). Realism in mathematics. In Barrett & R. Are there genuine mathematical explanations of physical phenomena? Mind. Gibson (Eds. 11(3). 75–79. 5–16. Arash Pessian. Morrison. 103(2). David Walker. Sean Cordell. (2006). (2005). Response to Colyvan. I’m indebted to the anonymous reviewers for this journal for having provided such useful. W. and the ‘Quine-Putnam’ indispensability argument. Nick Wiltsher and Rich Woodward. Quine. Cellucci & D. The Routledge companion to epistemology. The Bulletin of Symbolic Logic. Gerry Hough. A. Jenkins. 68(1). 3(2). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.). 20–43. 299–325. In defense of the Quine-Duhem thesis: a reply to Greenwood. Inductive knowledge. H. Mary Leng. Mathematical existence. Synthese. Philosophia Mathematica. Bird. (2008). Epistemological challenges to mathematical Platonism. Mass: MIT Press. Mind. (2010). 113–127. 223–238. Mathematical explanation. 160. Bob Plant. (2009). A. (1995). M. O. Maddy. 111. Mathematical explanation in science. 114. timely and relevant. Holism: A shopper’s guide. Indispensability and practice. where this work was presented to a research seminar.
In Morton & S. Benacerraf and his critics (pp. D. Philosophical Forum. 92. 34 (3 & 4). G. Oxford: Blackwell. Prospects for platonism. (1996). 301–316. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. S. Sober. Wagner. A naturalistic a priori. 102(1). Mathematics and indispensability. Rey. E. M. 73–99). E. Morrison Resnik. 35–57. & Orlandi. Quine: I—Elliott Sober. Sober. Holistic realism: a response to Katz on holism and intuition. N. (1998). 123 . (2000).). Stich (Eds. Philosophical Review. (2003). Philosophical Studies. (1993). Quine’s Two Dogmas. 74 (Supplementary Volume).278 J. 237–280. 25–43.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.