Philosophy Lexicon of Arguments

Quine Duhem Thesis: A. The thesis that a theory can be adapted to new observational results by ad hoc formed hypotheses. In connection with this is, B. the thesis that observations in themselves cannot verify or falsify a theory. The QDT leads among other things to different kinds of holism. See also indeterminacy, holism, falsification.

Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

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Quine-Duhem thesis/DuhemVsExperimentum crucis: (for example, by Quine, 1951) as the main attack against the logical empiricism: Holistic conception of science. No experiment can show where the fault is located in the system. The examination of a particular hypothesis is only possible by using a whole group of further laws, ultimately the whole theory.
Since Bacon, hope was linked to an experimentum crucis: a decision-making experiment between competing theories.
E.g. Foucault's attempt to decide between Newton's theory of emission of light and Huygens' undulation theory sees Duhem as an attempt of the experimentum crucis. Foucault was able to show that light actually spreads slower in water, which makes Newton's thesis refuted. Duhem shows that this conclusion is not valid. The error could be in a secondary hypothesis.
In the concrete everyday scientific situation the pragmatist will be inclined to reject the one or the other hypothesis by his "experience" or "healthy common sense". "True" or "false" has thus become a pragmatic question.
Quine: any proposition can be defended as true if one puts drastic revisions elsewhere in the system.
Quine has directed the Duhem thesis against the distinction between analytic/synthetic, thus undermining a basic pillar of logical empiricism.
Though Popper was a devotee of the experimentum crucis, his school came closest to Duhem: Agassi and Lakatos. The holistic approach by Feyerabend, Kuhn, and Sneed is rather strengthened than withdrawn.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.

Duh I
P. Duhem
Ziel und Struktur der physikalischen Theorien Hamburg 1998

> Counter arguments against Duhem

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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2017-09-20