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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

4 - Theory Confirmation and Novel Evidence

Summary

In this chapter I address what seems to be a sharp difference of opinion between myself and Mayo concerning a fundamental problem in the theory of confirmation. Not surprisingly, I argue that I am right and she is (interestingly) wrong. But first I need to outline the background carefully – because seeing clearly what the problem is (and what it is not) takes us a good way towards its correct solution.

The Duhem Problem and the “UN” Charter

So far as the issue about confirmation that I want to raise here is concerned: in the beginning was the “Duhem problem.” But this problem has often been misrepresented. No sensible argument exists in Duhem (or elsewhere) to the effect that the “whole of our knowledge” is involved in any attempt to test any part of our knowledge. Indeed, I doubt that that claim makes any sense. No sensible argument exists in Duhem (or elsewhere) to the effect that we can never test any particular part of some overall theory or theoretical system, only the “whole” of it. If, for example, a theory falls “naturally” into five axioms, then there is – and can be – no reason why it should be impos-sible that some directly testable consequence follows from, say, four of those axioms – in which case only those four axioms and not the whole of the theory are what is tested.

References
Earman, J. (1992), Bayes or Bust? A Critical Examination of Bayesian Confirmation Theory, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
French, A. (1971), Newtonian Mechanics, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Hitchcock, C., and Sober, , , E. (2004), “Prediction Versus Accommodation and the Risk of Overfitting,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 55: 1–34.
Howson, C. (1990), “Fitting Theory to the Facts: Probably Not Such a Bad Idea After All,” in Savage, C. Wade (ed.), Scientific Theories, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Kuhn, T.S. (1957), The Copernican Revolution, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Kuhn, T.S. (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd enlarged ed., 1970), University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Kuhn, T.S., (1977), The Essential Tension, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Lakatos, I., and Zahar, E.G. (1976) “Why Did Copernicus's Programme Supersede Ptolemy's,” Chapter 4 in Lakatos, I. (ed.), The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, Cambridge University Press (reprinted 1978).
Mayo, D.G. (1996), Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Worrall, J. (2000), “The Scope, Limits and Distinctiveness of the Method of “Deduction from the Phenomena”: Some Lessons from Newton's “Demonstrations” in Optics,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 51: 45–80.
Worrall, J. (2002), “New Evidence for Old,” in Gardenførs, P. et al. (eds.), In the Scope of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. (2003), “Normal Science and Dogmatism, Paradigms and Progress: Kuhn “versus” Popper and Lakatos,” in Nickles, T. (ed.), Thomas Kuhn, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Worrall, J. (2006), “Theory Confirmation and History,” in Cheyne, C. and Worrall, J. (eds.), Rationality and Reality, Springer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. (n.d.) “Miracles, Pessimism and Scientific Realism,” forthcoming.
References
Giere, R.N. (1983), “Testing Theoretical Hypotheses,” pp. 269–98 in Earman, J. (ed.), Testing Scientific Theories, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 10, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Hitchcock, C., and Sober, , , E. (2004), “Prediction Versus Accommodation and the Risk of Overfitting,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 55: 1–34.
Mayo, D.G. (1991), “Novel Evidence and Severe Tests,” Philosophy of Science, 58: 523–52.
Mayo, D.G. (1996), Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge (Chapters 8, 9, 10), University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Mayo, D.G. (2008), “How to Discount Double Counting When It Counts,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 59: 857–79.
Musgrave, A. (1974), “Logical Versus Historical Theories of Confirmation,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 25: 1–23.
Musgrave, A. (1989), “Deductive Heuristics,” pp. 15–32 in Gavroglu, K., Goudaroulis, Y., and Nicolacopoulos, P. (eds.), Imre Lakatos and Theories of Scientific Change, Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. (1989), “Fresnel, Poisson, and the White Spot: The Role of Successful Prediction in the Acceptance of Scientific Theories,” pp. 135–57 in Gooding, D., Pinch, T. and Schaffer, S. (eds.), The Uses of Experiment: Studies in the Natural Sciences, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Related Exchanges
Musgrave, A.D. (2006), “Responses,” pp. 301–4 in Cheyne, C. and Worrall, J. (eds.), Rationality and Reality: Conversations with Alan Musgrave, Kluwer Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Worrall, J. (2002), “New Evidence for Old,” in Gardenførs, P., Wolenski, J., and Kijania-Placek, K. (eds.), In the Scope of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science (vol. 1 of the 11th International Congress of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, Cracow, August 1999), Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. (2006), “History and Theory-Confirmation,” pp. 31–61 in Worrall, J. and Cheyne, C. (eds.), Rationality and Reality: Conversations with Alan Musgrave, Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Earman, J. (1992), Bayes or Bust? A Critical Examination of Bayesian Confirmation Theory, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
French, A. (1971), Newtonian Mechanics, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Hitchcock, C., and Sober, , , E. (2004), “Prediction Versus Accommodation and the Risk of Overfitting,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 55: 1–34.
Howson, C. (1990), “Fitting Theory to the Facts: Probably Not Such a Bad Idea After All,” in Savage, C. Wade (ed.), Scientific Theories, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Kuhn, T.S. (1957), The Copernican Revolution, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Kuhn, T.S. (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd enlarged ed., 1970), University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Kuhn, T.S., (1977), The Essential Tension, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Lakatos, I., and Zahar, E.G. (1976) “Why Did Copernicus's Programme Supersede Ptolemy's,” Chapter 4 in Lakatos, I. (ed.), The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, Cambridge University Press (reprinted 1978).
Mayo, D.G. (1996), Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Worrall, J. (2000), “The Scope, Limits and Distinctiveness of the Method of “Deduction from the Phenomena”: Some Lessons from Newton's “Demonstrations” in Optics,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 51: 45–80.
Worrall, J. (2002), “New Evidence for Old,” in Gardenførs, P. et al. (eds.), In the Scope of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. (2003), “Normal Science and Dogmatism, Paradigms and Progress: Kuhn “versus” Popper and Lakatos,” in Nickles, T. (ed.), Thomas Kuhn, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Worrall, J. (2006), “Theory Confirmation and History,” in Cheyne, C. and Worrall, J. (eds.), Rationality and Reality, Springer, Dordrecht.
Worrall, J. (n.d.) “Miracles, Pessimism and Scientific Realism,” forthcoming.