July 4; rev. July 24, 2003 Must Evidence Underdetermine Theory?

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Artificial Pairs

These are instances of incredible scientific or quasi-scientific theories contrived by philosophers specifically for philosophical ends. In van Fraassen's constructive empiricism, we are enjoined to accept the observational consequences of a theory but not to assent to the truth of its theoretical claims. Kukla (1998, Ch. 5) employs a variant of this view to generate empirically equivalent but logically incompatible pairs of theories. We start with any theory T and construct T' as that theory which asserts the truth of the observational consequences of T but the falsity of all of its theoretical claims (where van Fraassen merely withheld judgment). Kukla's proposal is immediately identifiable as the latest in a venerable lineage of tortured narratives that portray a world in which we would be mistaken to believe that things are really just the way they seem. Descartes wrote of a deceiving demon purposefully planting false beliefs. More recently we hear of the world created a few thousand years ago, complete with its ancient fossil record; or of ourselves created five minutes ago with a lifetime of memories in place; or the nightmarish fable of the evil scientist who has placed our brains in vats of nutrients where they are fed perfectly realistic sensations of a world that is not there. All these deliver revisionist theories, logically distinct from the standard theories from which they stem, but with identical observational consequences.

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