Underdetermination and the problem of identical rivals

Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1256-1264 (2003)
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Abstract

If two theory formulations are merely different expressions of the same theory, then any problem of choosing between them cannot be due to the underdetermination of theories by data. So one might suspect that we need to be able to tell distinct theories from mere alternate formulations before we can say anything substantive about underdetermination, that we need to solve the problem of identical rivals before addressing the problem of underdetermination. Here I consider two possible solutions: Quine proposes that we call two theories identical if they are equivalent under a reconstrual of predicates, but this would mishandle important cases. Another proposal is to defer to the particular judgements of actual scientists. Consideration of an historical episodethe alleged equivalence of wave and matrix mechanicsshows that this second proposal also fails. Nevertheless, I suggest, the original suspicion is wrong; there are ways to enquire into underdetermination without having solved the problem of identical rivals.

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P. D. Magnus
State University of New York, Albany

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