You are on page 1of 16

W. v.

QUINE

ON EMPIRICALLY EQUIVALENT SYSTEMS
OF THE WORLD

I f all observable events can be accounted for in one comprehensive
scientific theory - one system of the world, to echo Duhem's echo of
Newton - then we m a y expect that they can all be accounted for equally
in another, conflicting system of the world. We may expect this because
o f how scientists work. For they do not rest with mere inductive general-
izations of their observations: mere extrapolation to observable events
f r o m similar observed events. Scientists invent hypotheses that talk of
things beyond the reach of observation. The hypotheses are related to
observation only by a kind of one-way implication; namely, the events
we observe are what a belief in the hypotheses would have led us to expect.
These observable consequences of the hypotheses do not, conversely,
imply the hypotheses. Surely there are alternative hypothetical substruc-
tures that would surface in the same observable ways.
Such is the doctrine that natural science is empirically under-deter-
mined; under-determined not just by past observation but by all observ-
able events. The doctrine is plausible insofar as it is intelligible, but it is
less readily intelligible than it m a y seem. M y main purpose in this paper
is to explore its meaning and its limits.
This doctrine of empirical under-determination is not to be confused
with holism. It is holism that has rightly been called the D u h e m thesis
and also, rather generously, the Duhem-Quine thesis. It says that scientific
statements are not separately vulnerable to adverse observations, because
it is only jointly as a theory that they imply their observable consequences.
Any one of the statements can be adhered to in the face of adverse obser-
vations, by revising others of the statements. This holism thesis lends
credence to the under-determination theses. I f in the face of adverse
observations we are free always to choose a m o n g various adequate modi-
fications of our theory, then presumably all possible observations are
insufficient to determine theory uniquely.
The holism thesis is less beset with obscurities than the under-deter-
mination thesis, and again it is a thesis that must c o m m a n d assent, with

Erkenntnis 9 (1975) 313-328. All Rights Reserved
Copyright 9 1975 by D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland

this fact of being shared by all branches of science. even for these observation statements. Another reservation regarding the Duhem thesis has to do with breadth. In the face of a recalcitrant observation we are free to choose what statements to revise and what . Thus I see science as a considerably inte- grated system of the world even now. v . for logic is shared by all branches of science. It is this bias that makes science empirical. has encouraged people to think of the logical and mathematical components as different in kind from the rest. These statements are indeed separately susceptible to tests of observation. though the explicit reduction of major branches to theoretical physics is incomplete. and much of mathematics is shared by many. Bat the Duhem thesis would be wrong if understood as im- posing an equal status on all the statements in a scientific theory and thus denying the strong presumption in favor of the observation statements. this very neutrality. how inclusive does that theory have to be? Does it have to be the whole of science. in a somewhat literalistic way. and hence to fail to recog- nize the unity that they confer. and at the same time they do not stand free of theory. If it is only jointly as a theory that the scientific statements imply their observable consequences. and hence fail to see these components as something common to all the branches. by the process of language learning. for they share much of the vocabulary of the more remotely theoretical statements. Ironically. They are what link theory to observation. taking all science as the unit that is responsible to observation. taken as a comprehensive theory of the world? We should note that the sciences do link up more systematically than people are apt to realize who forget about logic and mathematics. Now the Duhem thesis still holds. It is variously jointed. For the scientist does occasionally revoke even an observation statement. People tend unduly to see the logical and mathematical components of science as different in kind from the rest. affording theory its empirical content. and loose in the joints in varying degrees. One reservation has to do with the fact that some statements are closely linked to observation.314 w . QUINE reservations. But we can appreciate this degree of integration and still appreciate how unrealistic it would be to extend a Duhemian holism to the whole of science. Science is neither discontinuous nor monolithic. when it conflicts with a well attested body of theory and when he has tried in vain to reproduce the experiment.

in our most rudimentary learning of language. All agree in calling the object blue. and even in calling their sensations blue. This notion is subject to a curious internal tension. however defensible this claim may be in a legalistic way. Yet observation must be shared if it is to provide the common ground where scientists can resolve their disagreements. EMPIRICALLY E Q U I V A L E N T S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 315 ones to hold fast. Specialists rest content with the level of evidence that commands their expert agreement . happily. We do well to recognize this crucial role of language. is plausible insofar as it is intelli- gible. and to consider its limits and its consequences. varying in severity. thus cleaving to linguistic forms: 'blue'. somehow. Observation affords the sensory evidence for scientific theory. It is a doctrine which. that the object induces in oneself. M y purpose will be to examine the meaning of this thesis more closely. One learns the word 'blue' from another speaker. Little is gained by saying that the unit is in principle the whole of science. The observation must be the distillate. of what is publicly relevant in the private sensations of present witnesses. and one now learns to associate the word with the sensation. This is the end of my digression on the thesis of holism. We can speak rather of observation terms and observation sentences. and sensation is private. The other speaker has learned to associate the word with whatever inscrutable sensation it may be that such an object induces in him. It is sometimes objected that a specialist may recognize at a glance what the untrained observer cannot. if they are conver- sant with the language. 'This is blue'. same or different. The above behavioral criterion settles this discrepancy in favor of the untrained observer. I shall be con- cerned from here on with the empirical under-determination of natural science. For this is charac- teristic of them: witnesses will agree on the spot in applying an observa- tion term. This delicate process of distillation is already accomplished. A notion that is evidently central to the thesis is that of observation. Obser- vational expressions can be roughly distinguished from others by a be- havioral criterion. Their verdicts do not vary with variations in their past experience. as I said. involving no probing of sensations. and these alternatives will disrupt various stretches o f scientific theory in various ways. in the presence o f something blue. for in view of it we can spare ourselves the finicky task of defining the elusive notion of observation. or in assenting to an observation sentence.

the ready concurrence of witnesses. an arbitrary numerical system of spatio-tempo- ral coordinates. A witness who has assented to an observation sentence on the spot is permitted to reconsider his verdict later in the face of conflicting theory. and let us contemplate the infinite totality of what I shall call pegged observation sentences. and in the recognition of tones. N o w the doctrine that is up for clarification is that scientific theory is under-determined by observable events. And of course the typical observation terms are not subjective in reference. So we shall want to get clear on the relation of theories to observations. let us look to the relation of theories to observation sentences. 'ball'. Observation sentences are not incorrigible. by incorporating specifications of place- times. others are 'water'. 'rabbit'. Each observation sentence expressible . Or. On the other hand the sentences of scientific theory are standing sentences. N o t always. rather than of observations. depending on what is happening where and when the sentence is queried. we must first change them into standing sentences. They are meant to be true or false independently of the occasion of utterance. as occasion sentences. now that we have taken to talking of observation sentences and terms. then. in wine tasting. and timbre. There is expertise in tea tasting. but each of them could be learned by sufficiently per- sistent ostension. contrary to the proposed behavioral criterion.316 w . where witnesses m a y disagree in their verdicts. then. They are actually learned ostensively in some cases and dis- cursively in others. The observation sentences cannot. QUINE but in principle they usually could reduce this recondite evidence to ob- servation terms at the layman's level. Let us adopt. v . namely. 1 We should like to be able to reckon the esoteric terms in these domains as observational for the experts. Observational expressions are expressions that can be learned ostensively. 'hard'. The really distinctive trait of observation terms and sentences is to be sought not in concurrence of witnesses but in ways of learning. be implied by theory. They recur in theoreti- cal sentences. that resists conversion to the c o m m o n coin. And indeed even a c o m m o n observation term such as 'blue' has its penumbra of vagueness. The behavioral manifestation of observationality. An observation sentence is an occasion sentence: it commands assent on some occasions and not others. but objective. 'Blue' was one. chords. serves merely as a rough practical criterion.

However. I say 'typically' because I do not want to exclude particulars from theories altogether. we could as well say that the theory implies. the goal is not yet. The doctrine of under-determination says there is a certain slack between observation and theory. will seldom be observational. implies some further pegged observation sentence that can now be checked. plus some set of pegged ob- servation sentences that have already been verified. though particular. Instead of saying that the theory and the boundary conditions together imply the further pegged observation sentence. it matters only that the observable state or event in question occur. We need to know not only a bit of mathematics but also quite a lot about the physical world in order to establish a system of coordinates. I do not want to exclude such particular and uncon- ditional conclusions as might concern the m o o n or Ur of the Chaldees or the cave painters of Altamira. some true and some false. a conditional sentence whose antecedent comprises the boundary conditions and whose consequent is the further . But even such unconditional conclu- sions. in fact. we must look to the use of boundary conditions. E M P I R I C A L L Y E Q U I V A L E N T S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 317 in our language gets joined to each combination of spatio-temporal co- ordinates. The resulting sentences are standing sentences. Just in order to define the slack. and we have already lost some of that slack by granting the system of coordinates. For a just view of the relation of scien- tific theory to the observations that support or refute it. outright. The time and place m a y be beyond the reach of all sentient life. but let us not lose sight of the magnitude of our assumptions. in order to get on better with further questions. Typically a theory traffics rather in generalities. The true ones do not depend for their truth on anyone's having made the observations. at the specified place-time. such is the test of a theory. I shall suppose this much achieved. We have moved from the occasional observation sentences to the pegged observation sentences because we want sentences that theories can imply. we are having to take some of it up. Typically a theory will descend to particulars only conditionally upon other particulars. Typically a theory does not imply even a pegged observation sentence outright. they will seldom be pegged observation sentences. assumed as boundary condi- tions. 2 Our move from occasional observation sentences to these pegged ob- servation sentences is already an abrupt ascent from observation into theory. The theory.

F o r now. Meanwhile a word about implication. with its explicit logical notation. it is less clear when to say that one theory formulation implies another. all that is required is that they be logically equivalent. When problems outside the scope of this paper call for lifting these arbitrary limitations. Such a conditional sentence I shall call an observation conditional. It will be better to speak of a theory formulation as doing the implying. Its antecedent is a conjunction of pegged observa- tion sentences and its consequent is a pegged observation sentence. accordingly. v . The notions are clear as long as the theory formula- tions and their consequences are couched in our regimented scientific language. and we shall find also that some such broader notion of theory is wanted for making proper sense of the thesis of underdetermination. the relation of theory to observation: the theory implies observation conditionals. I have spoken of a theory as implying sentences. that will be soon enough to consider how best to do so. the logical consequences of the theory formulation. Incidentally a yet more drastic limitation has been with us for some time. The theory formulation is simply a sentence . is often identified with an infinite set of sentences. with help of our own regimented logical notation. and logical equivalence. or logical consequence. But we shall find that even this requirement is too stringent to fit the more c o m m o n and traditional usage of the term 'theory'. we can say that theories are always formulated . I f we try to accommodate formulations of theory in other languages.318 w . For these are pegged to a coordinate system. in this sense. however. Currently the theory itself. At last we can state. These paro- chial limitations will help us move forward to central issues. Such has usually been my own usage. and even to a single arbitrarily chosen coordinate system adhered to throughout the present theory of theories. namely. then. admits of m a n y formulations. as if the theory were itself a sentence or a set of sentences. I prefer in the present study to set aside the whole question of formulating theories in other languages. A single theory. tentatively. Problems of translation intrude.typically a conjunctive sentence comprising the so-called axioms of the theory. and to think of theories only as formulated in our own language. in the pegged observation sentences that go into our observation conditionals. QUINE pegged observation sentence. we have still to tidy up the notion of a theory. However. or implies a given observation conditional.

of standard logical form. Take some theory formulation and select two of its terms. Certainly two formulations of a theory should be empirically equiva- lent. however perversely. moreover. The two formulations express. in any event. unless we are to repudiate the doctrine of underdetermination out of hand. that we should individuate theories in such a way as to agree with the man in the street: the two formulations formu- late the same theory. 3 The new theory formulation will be logically incompatible with the old: it will affirm things about so-called electrons that the other denies. and tram- . the one theory formulation uses the technical terms 'molecule' and 'electron' to name what the other formulation calls 'electron' and 'mole- cule'. The next consideration will show why. for that doc- trine says that empirically equivalent theories can conflict. I do not want to require that two formulations of a theory be logically equivalent. the man in the street would say. But even within these cozy limits I shall not want simply to identify a theory with the logical Consequences of a theory formulation. This is why I do not want to identify a theory with the logical consequences of a formulation. despite their overt logical incompatibility. is terminological. Now let us transform our theory formulation merely by switching these two terms throughout. the same theory. in short. that they express very differ- ent theories: both of them treat of molecules in the same sense but dis- agree sharply regarding the behavior of molecules. in- tuitively speaking. I am supposing that these do not figure essentially in any observation sentences. his point was that it could be resolved by treating the one formulation as not quite English. Clearly. in the sense just defined. I think. When the man in the street protested that the conflict between the two theory formulations was merely terminological.that is. and correpondingly for electrons. some relation stronger than empirical equivalence and weaker than logical equivalence. in switching the meanings of the two words. What is re- quired of two formulations of a theory must be. say 'electron' and 'molecule'. he would say. EMPIRICALLY EQUIVALENT S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 319 within our own language. the two theory formulations are e m p i r i c a l l y e q u i v a l e n t . nor even logically compatible. Yet their only difference. Still em- pirical equivalence must not be the only requirement. Someone else might urge. The unsatisfying example of 'molecule' and 'electron' consisted. they are purely theoretical. they imply the same observation condi- tionals. even if not logically equivalent.

The intuitive notion.320 w . we should allow permutations of many. producing our example. and a finite lexicon of predicates. . 4 I was able to define reconstrual more simply than otherwise only by assuming something about the form of our language that I now ought to make explicit. we should only require it to render them logically equivalent. the two formulations can be rendered identical by switching predicates in one of them. was a reconstruing of predicates. of course. I made no provision for names or for functors. we should not require that a switching of terms render formulations identical. after all. while the predicates 'molecule' and 'electron' might be mapped to the respective open sentences 'x is an electron' and 'x is a molecule'. in obvious respects. an identity mapping changing nothing. So I propose to individuate theories thus: two formulations express the same theory if they are empirically equivalent and there is a recon- strual of predicates that transforms the one theory into a logical equiva- lent of the other. QUINE lating its respective words 'molecule' and 'electron' into the English words 'electron' and 'molecule'. By a reconstrual of the predicates of our language. I can do so by appealing to little more than a permutation of vocabulary. Further. I propose that we count two formulations as formulations of the same theory if. accordingly. quantification. This criterion needs a little broadening. Thus the predicate 'heavier than' might be mapped to the open sentence 'x is heavier than y'. let me mean any mapping of our lexicon of predicates into our open sentences (n-place predicates to n-variable sentences). Finally. Since logically equivalent formulations were in any event to count as formula- tions of the same theory. and the general way of re- construing an n-place predicate is by supplying an open sentence in n variables. there are just truth functions. a mere switching of the predicates 'molecule' and 'electron' throughout one of the theory formulations. in the present case. it would be arbitrary to require this transformation to carry predicates always into simple one-word predicates. I am assuming the standard logical form of language at its most economical. we should not limit the permutation to a switching of two predicates. not caring whether there happens to be a word in our language with the same extension as that open sentence. v . besides being empirically equivalent. I want to preserve this insight while avoiding problems raised by the terms 'meaning' and 'translation'.

W h a t are wanted rather are linguistic sequences in the abstract sense. But at this point we must liberalize the notion of a theory formulation. all 'possible' expressions. In our present terms. not identical. hence classes of expressions in this abstract sense. are classes of formulations. the second with 2. as one might say. are to be taken rather as mathematical sequences of their component words or letters. it is a routine matter to say what a theory is. Because the question how to define a theory is interesting in itself. I have pursued it farther than required for what I want to say about the . all texts as yet unwritten. so as not to be limited to the few formulations that are physically available on paper. An expres- sion in this sense is a function. however. in their infinite variety. the result will still be a formulation of the same theory. classes o f functions. since we are as- sured that these classes all have members variously situated in space-time. and so on. The method is artificial but familiar: theories are the equivalence classes of that equivalence relation. and longer expressions. Thanks to the circumstance that any formulation is equivalent to itself plus any of its consequences. what this means is that if you change a formulation of a theory merely by annexing some logical consequences of that formulation. EMPIRICALLY EQUIVALENT S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 321 for there are well known ways of serving the purposes of these devices on the more austere basis. finally. within our parochial confines. We have insured this by requiring only that the reconstrual of predicates render the formulations logically equivalent. In this way we can assure the existence of all expressions however long. The theory expressed by a given formulation is the class of all the formulations that are empirically equivalent to that formulation and can be transformed into logical equi- valents of it or vice versa by reconstrual of predicates. We have now settled the individuation of theories. theories are classes of theory formulations. It is usual in the literature to require of a theory that it be deductively closed. all theory formulations as yet unconceived. Given this equivalence relation. Theories. or class of ordered pairs. Sentences. We have said when to count two formulations as expressing the same theory. So defined. Each single word or letter can still be explained as the class of all its tokens. the first word or letter of the expression is paired with the number 1. a class of actual inscriptions. it is easily shown that theories as I have defined them are deductively closed.

to which I now turn. and of the reconstrual of predicates therein. We had one attempt at an example. The two formulations are formulations.322 w. If in the light of verbal behavior we translate two foreign words as 'molecule' and 'electron'. G o o d translation strikes some optimum combina- tion of values. and another formulation that represents space as finite but depicts all objects as shrinking in proportion as they move away from center. An observation sentence and its translation should command assent under similar stimu- lations. Let us return now to the thesis of under-determination of natural science. of a single theory. We saw that what we need for illustration of this thesis are theory formulations that are empirically equivalent. Having disqualified these permutations as cases of under-determination. what behavioral evidence could have obstructed the opposite choices? None. under-determination says that for any one theory formulation there is another that is empirically equivalent to it but logically incompatible with it. and irreconcilable by reconstrual of predicates. except as we invoke what Neil Wilson called the principle of charity: maximize the agreement between the native and ourselves on questions of truth and falsity. For this purpose it is clearer to treat directly of the empirical equivalence of theory formulations. insofar as they can be compared. here is one value. again. because again we can bring the two formulations into coincidence by reconstruing the predicates. logically incompa- tible. In these terms. The reconstrual called for here is less simple than the mere switch of 'electron' with 'molecule'. are empirically equivalent. Here we have one formulation of cosmology that represents space as infinite. But again the example is disappointing as an example of under-determination. is due to Poincar6. other things being equal. surely.V. Wide concomitance of assent to standing sen- tences is also a value. again. a meaning. A less trivial case. and not to pause over the individua- tion of theories as such. but only a balancing of various values. QUINE thesis of under-determination. and cannot be rendered logically equivalent to it by any reconstrual of predicates. we might in passing consider how they stand as cases of indeterminacy of translation. but it presents no serious challenge. Translation is not the recapturing of some determinate entity. and it failed: the trivial example of two theories that differed only in the switch of'electron' and 'molecule'. The two formulations. F o r substantiation of the thesis of under-determination we need more: we need to show not .

in our imaginary example. since the adequate original theory was itself logically compatible with each one of these gratuitous extensions. Thus suppose we had an adequate theory of nature. By ringing changes on these excrescences we might get alternative theories. Such a theory formulation. logically incompatible. So we see that the thesis of under-determination must fail where only finitely many observation conditionals are implied. What the thesis of under- determination calls for is unavoidable branching. They. would itself have had to be one of several equivalent and logically incompatible theories if it was to illustrate the thesis of under-determination. affords a tight fit. theory could be dispensed with. they were incompatible only with one another. 5 The adequate original theory. If the implied observation condi- tionals (redundancies aside) are finite in number. but that they are inevitable. and so not empirically equivalent. And I think we may reject to-inconsistent theories. and then we were to add to it some gratuitous further sentences that had no effect on its empirical content. or by finitely many. again. unless indeed it is to-inconsistent. a single sentence. But we . If we could check the truth values of all the pegged observa- tion sentences. as our theory formulation. This gratuitous branching of theories would be of no interest to the thesis of under-determination. in conjunction. we can simply take the conjunction of them. In its full generality. But much the same thing can happen even where a theory irreducibly implies infinitely many observation con- ditionals. we could evaluate any observation conditional without consulting the theory formulation. The empirical content of a theory formulation is summed up in the observation conditionals that the formulation implies. yet always empirically equivalent. and can conflict with none of them. are their own theory formulation. for it may happen that these can all be encompassed by a single universally quantified conditional. each is a truth function of pegged observation sentences. they are all it is. the thesis of under-determination thus interpreted is surely untenable. EMPIRICALLY EQUIVALENT S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 323 only that such branching alternatives exist. It is implied by every empirically equivalent theory. It must fail for weak theories. theories that imply no rich store of observation conditionals. These are material conditionals. Any that it conflicted with would have to be internally in- consistent. No theory formulation that implies just those same observation conditionals can conflict with it. It contains its observation conditionals without remainder.

and where no formula- tion affords a tighter fit. that for any such loose formulation there will be others. and they are infinitely many. we cannot produce a finite formulation that would be equivalent merely to their infinite conjunction. for we must now notice a startling result due to William Craig. that is. and such is the under-determination. for one thing. that the observation conditionals that are in fact true in the world are thus ill-assorted. It needs to be read as saying. QUINE cannot. Because of the complexity of the assortment. tightly encompassed. empirically equivalent but logically incompatible with it and incapable of being rendered logically equivalent to it by any recon- strual of predicates. One may ask: why insist on a finite formulation? Why not just settle for the desired observation conditionals as they stand. in the form of another question: how else are you going to specify this desired class of observation conditionals ? But this response does not conclude the matter. whose only service is to round out the formulation. evidently. v . There is some freedom of choice of stuffing. without theoretical foreign matter. For our purposes these conse- . further.~ Consider any formulation. Any finite formulation that will imply them is going to have to imply also some trumped-up matter. It specifies them by implying them. that we can encompass more of these true observation conditionals in a loose formulation than in any tight one. is the nature of under-determination. and any desired class of consequences of it. The theory formulation serves to specify en masse the observation conditionals that we are rightly or wrongly taking to be true. The theory formulation is thus a device for remote control and for mass coverage. And it needs to be read as saying. Under-determination lurks where there are two irreconcilable formulations each of which implies exactly the desired set of observation conditionals plus extraneous theoretical matter.324 w . evidently. is in ap- plication to theories that imply observation conditionals infinite in number and too ill-assorted to be exactly encompassed by any finite formulation. or stuffing. The only hope for a thesis of under-determination. Here. in all their infinite variety? The answer is immediate. finally. Most of the pegged observation sentences are pegged to inacces- sible place-times. And it needs to be read as saying. There is some infinite lot of observation conditionals that we want to capture in a finite formulation. The thesis needs to be read as a thesis about the world.

by suggesting that the finite formulation is dispensable. But it does challenge the interest of under-determination. being a class of visible equivalents of the desired class. but for Craig they can be any sentences. Just counting the repetitions and then decoding the p r o o f from the G6del number would require astronomical time. as Craig was the first to emphasize. This result does not belie under-determination. Why. And. Craig's point is of course strictly theoretical. and see whether it is a p r o o f of the repeated part of the given sentence. when the desired class itself is undecidable. and each sentence in the Craig class would require astronomical space if it were to be written. 'ppp. the second or Craig class evidently makes the original finite formulation dispensable. by affording a different way of recognizing membership in the desired first class. Let the number be n. if any. since the Craig class is not a finite formulation. E M P I R I C A L L Y E Q U I V A L E N T S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 325 quences would be observation conditionals. and the remarkable thing about this second class is that membership in it admits of a mechanical decision procedure. Having said this much. one by one. I would do well to finish the Craig story. and as such it is important. that this number encodes. count its internal repetitions. Obviously there is no place for any of this in practice. p'. Each sentence in the Craig class is simply a repetitive self-conjunc- tion. to the Craig class. of a sentence of the desired class. G6del fashion. Each o f the desired sentences (each of the desired observation conditionals. for all its infinitude. is an exact fit. . the old original finite formulation still has to be consulted in checking the proof. Its proof can be coded numerically. should this Craig class of its repetitive self-conjunctions be decidable? The trick is as follows. Instead of showing that a sentence belongs to it by deducing it from the finite formulation.. Then Craig shows how to specify a second or Craig class of sentences which are visibly equivalent. In the cases that matter. we show it by citing a visibly equivalent sentence that belongs. The resulting Craig class is decidable. Then the corre- sponding sentence in the Craig class is the desired sentence repeated in self-conjunction n times. To decide whether a given sentence belongs to it. and indeed the Craig class. but an infinite class of sentences.. after all that. in our case) is deducible from the original finite formulation. In fact I might say just how excessively visible these equivalences are. decode the proof. testably. to the sentences of the desired first class. these classes are infinite. Even so.

326 w . as before. Craig's result does not refute the thesis of under- determination. and we might conclude that they are empirically equivalent. we might . are capable of encompassing more true observation conditionals in a loose theory for- mulation than in any tight system that we might discover and formulate independently of any such loose formulation. for all its tightness of fit. the less we seem to be able to claim for it as a theoretical thesis. Even in this form the thesis is moot. However. This much is illustrated by the very trivial example where the words 'electron' and 'molecule' were switched. and by the half-trivial example from Poincar6. at best. QUINE As I said before. that any theory formulation we may hope to devise as an adequate system of the world will be a loose one. A tempered version. v . that for each such formulation there will be others. one could reasonably extend the notion of theory formulations to apply not just to an expression but to a recursive set of expressions. but these incompatibilities were reconciled by reconstrual of predicates that preserved empirical equivalence. this technicality is rather a frail reed at which to grasp. The easy way to recognize empirical equivalence of two theory formu- lations is by seeing a reconstrual of predicates that will carry the one into the other. that there will be others empirically equivalent to it and logically incompatible with it. What is moot is whether there are also bound to be cases not thus reconcilable. It does still stand to reason. However. It no longer stands to reason. of a thesis affirming a certain contrast between expressions and recursive sets of expressions. trying in vain to imagine an observation that could decide between them. is not a finite formulation. So the thesis of under-determination would seem to be demoted to the status. empirically equivalent but logically incompatible with it and incapable of being rendered logically equivalent to it by any reconstrual of predicates. as it seemed at first to do. but it retains significance in terms of what is practically feasible. since the Craig class. overwhelmingly. We might study two incompatible theory formulations. So it was with the examples just mentioned. the most favorable available. humanly. The question now is whether we are underesti- mating the power of reconstrual of predicates. And then the thesis would go on to say. I see the importance of the thesis of under-determination as lying elsewhere. We. After all. might run as follows. The more closely we examine the thesis. But surely this is not the only way.

Perhaps there are two best theo- ries that imply all the true observation conditionals and no false ones. This we might. in Kronecker's words. But if it were. I think it vitally important to one's attitude toward science. says the cultural relativist. Perhaps it is not true.taking a more positivistic line. Failing that. let us suppose. should we say that truth reaches only to the observation conditionals at most. for me. if we were to discover them. EMPIRICALLY E Q U I V A L E N T S Y S T E M S OF T H E W O R L D 327 conclude this without seeing a reconciling reconstrual of predicates. W h a t it says in effect is just that there are undiscovered systematic alter- natives much deeper and less transparent than. The two are equally simple. we affirm as a statement within our aggregate theory of nature as we now see it. lies para- dox. The thesis of under- determination. even in my latest tempered version. for instance. Suppose further. but there still could be a reconciling reconstrual of predicates. This has the ring o f cultural relativism. a last-ditch version of the thesis of under-determination would assert merely that our system of the world is bound to have empirically equivalent alternatives whicb. after all. This vague and modest thesis I do believe. is true. Can we say that one. the Poincar6 example. is culture-bound. that they are not re- concilable by reconstrual of predicates. then he. no higher truth than the truth we are claiming or aspiring to as we continue to tinker with our system of the world from within. It sets one to wondering about truth. moreover. perhaps. however. This. asserts that our system of the world is bound to have empirically equivalent alternatives that are not reconcilable by reconstrual of predicates however devious. and. F o r all its modesty and vagueness. and the other therefore false. that alles ~brige ist Menschenwerk? I incline to neither line. but in any event there is no extra-theoretic truth. and logically incompatible. Whatever we affirm. but that it is im- possible in principle to know which? Or. That way. ought to see his own culture-bound . it would be our place to insist on the truth of our laws and the falsity of the other theory where it conflicts. however devious. subtle and complex and forever undiscovered. Truth. and to call a statement true is just to reaffirm it. within his own culture. we would see no way of reconciling by reconstrual of predicates. and per- haps we shall find that out. I f ours were one of those two rival best theories that we imagined a m o m e n t ago. contrary to our last conjecture. is an open question.

109-127.) 5 This requirement evidently disqualifies. for our purposes. 38-55. 'Replacement of Auxiliary Expressions'. v . a n d irre- concilable by reconstrual of predicates. Suppose a g a i n two rival systems o f the world. sharing. M. Philosophical Review 65 (1956). Routledge and Kegan Pad. W h e r e there is forever n o basis for choosing. pp. ed. pp. This content can be organized indifferently in a theory of dense order and a theory of discrete order. we m a y simply rest with b o t h systems a n d discourse freely i n both. an example of empirically equivalent and logically irreconcilable theories that is offered by Clark Glymour in his important paper 'Theoretical Realism and Theoretical Equivalence'. by R. a n d I t h i n k we c a n do better. Boston Studies in the Philosophy o f Science. and these two theories are irreconcilable. pp. I must stress that a pegged observation sentence is not an observation sentence. equally sustained by all experience. B. He c a n n o t p r o c l a i m cultural relativism w i t h o u t rising above it. 8 There is substantially this idea in B. London. But this is a case of avoidable branching. P. In his example the empirical evidence is covered by the statement that there are infinitely many objects. no com- mon model. IIIV (1971). M u s t we still embrace one theory a n d oppose the other. in a n irreducible existentialist act o f irrational com- m i t m e n t ? It seems a n odd place for irrational c o m m i t m e n t . For valuable criticism of the paper in general I am indebted to Burton Dreben. NOTES x I am indebted to Joseph Cowan here. equally simple. This use o f distinctive signs leaves us with two irreducible a n d unconflicting theories. 1931. Humphries. . using distinctive signs to indicate which game we are playing. Mass. chapter ix(A). particularly pp. 6 William Craig. Braithwaite. 275-288. 167-178. Harvard University Cambridge. It is the extreme situation where we w o u l d do well to settle for a f r a n k dualism. as he says. Suppose further that we can appreciate their empirical equivalence. QUINE t r u t h as absolute. 4 Avishai Margalit has suggested to me that this amounts to equating theories that can be formulated by the same Ramsey sentence. (F.328 w . The Foundations of Mathematics. pp. 'Theories'. Vol. 'Indeterminacy of Translation and Theory'. a n d he c a n n o t rise above it w i t h o u t giving it up. To dispel a misunderstanding in Harold Morick. for it is thus that one explores a n d assesses alternative hypotheses. 'Observation and Subjectivity in Quine'. Canadian Journal o f Philosophy 1 (1974). Ramsey. Oscillation between rival theories is s t a n d a r d scientific procedure anyway. There is a final fantasy to contemplate. then. It is a non-observational sentence obtained by pegging an observation sentence. 169f. Journal of Philosophy 67 (1970).