Philosophy Lexicon of Arguments

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I XXVI
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.
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I XXVII
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 The holistic approach by Feyerabend, Kuhn, and Sneed is rather strengthened than withdrawn.

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


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2017-05-23