The Duhem Thesis And The Quine Thesis

When many philosophers talk about experimental sciences, they think only of sciences still close to their origins, e.g., physiology or certain branches of chemistry where the experimenter reasons directly on the facts by a method which is only common sense brought to greater attentiveness but where mathematical theory has not yet introduced its symbolic representations.Immature sciences can benefit from simple experiments and observations which do not rely on other theories.Physics might seem less mature in the early twenty-first century than it did in the early twentieth, but it nonetheless has seen more development than other natural sciences and has more maturity in some sense.The nature of this maturity need not be ambiguous, for Duhem himself describes the sense in which maturity is relevant to his thesis at the beginning of his paper.Duhem acknowledges that experiments in other sciences depend on instruments, but argues that “the [auxiliary] theories used, as well as the instruments employed, belong to the domain of physics.” Other scientists such as chemists and physiologists rely upon the theories of another science, physics, when they use their instruments, while physicists rely upon the theories of their own field.

The Duhem Thesis And The Quine Thesis-86The Duhem Thesis And The Quine Thesis-70

Since then, physics has become less unique in both of these respects, though it still displays these traits more prominently than does, for example, biology.As other sciences have developed these traits, they have entered the domain of the Duhem thesis.Duhem’s most important reason for delineating physics from other sciences was that it was a mature science.In his paper “Physical Theory and Experiment,” Duhem argues that physicists must rely on additional theories besides the one they intend to test in a given experiment.The necessity of auxiliary theories arises from the use of scientific apparatus, both physical and conceptual.As a result, if a physicist uses a hypothesis to make a prediction about the result of an experiment and the prediction is incorrect, the physicist should not automatically conclude that the hypothesis is incorrect as well; the prediction could also be false if one of the auxiliary theories is false.“What he learns,” wrote Duhem, “is that at least one of the hypotheses constituting this group is unacceptable and ought to be modified; but the experiment does not designate which one should be changed.” One of the many controversies surrounding the Duhem thesis is that of its domain: should it in fact apply only to physics, as Duhem stated?In the quotation above, Duhem implies that mathematization is a process which sciences generally undergo eventually, and indeed other sciences such as biology now depend much more on mathematical expressions of generalized theories than they did in Duhem’s time.As a result, new biological hypotheses are much more likely to depend on auxiliary theories than they did one hundred years ago, and thus to fall within the domain in which the Duhem thesis is valid. Wiley Online Library requires cookies for authentication and use of other site features; therefore, cookies must be enabled to browse the site.Detailed information on how Wiley uses cookies can be found in our Privacy Policy.

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