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The other side of the dark side : underdetermination and unconceived alternatives in science

Date

2010-11

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Degree Level

Masters

Abstract

Arguments from underdetermination take two forms, those from global sceptical underdetermination, global scientific underdetermination and local underdetermination. Arguments from global sceptical underdetermination bring into question all knowledge, they develop sceptical scenarios that purport to show that we cannot trust any ‘knowledge’ that we obtain within the world. Arguments from local underdetermination aim to bring into question the nature of our knowledge and are geared against scientific realism. This thesis is an evaluation of the arguments that claim to do the latter, however it shows that these arguments are not arguments from local underdetermination but are from a type of global underdetermination that I call global scientific underdetermination. Based on this evaluation a new argument from local underdetermination is developed that attempts to show that nevertheless local underdetermination is indeed a problem for scientific realism. However, I argue that this argument also fails to undermine scientific realism. Recently Kyle Stanford has reintroduced an historical argument from underdetermination that he calls the argument from unconceived alternatives. Stanford’s argument from unconceived alternatives is an inductive historical argument. It maintains that scientific theories are chosen from a non-exhaustive set of theories; claiming there is always at least one unconceived alternative that would better explain the empirical evidence. Stanford’s new induction attempts to undermine scientific realism by arguing that our most successful theories will eventually be shown to be false. Various arguments against this induction will be considered. It will be shown that traditional scientific realism fails to address the argument from unconceived alternatives and the only form of scientific realism that can overcome this problem is structural realism.

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Keywords

Philosophy, Unconceived Alternatives, Underdetermination, Scientific Realism, Cosmology, Physics, Science, Philosophy of Science

Citation

Degree

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Department

Philosophy

Program

Philosophy

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