Overdetermination of theories by empirical models: A realist interpretation of empirical choices

Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 84 (1):409-436 (2005)
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A model-theoretic realist account of science places linguistic systems and their corresponding non-linguistic structures at different stages or different levels of abstraction of the scientific process. Apart from the obvious problem of underdetermination of theories by data, philosophers of science are also faced with the inverse (and very real) problem of overdetermination of theories by their empirical models, which is what this article will focus on. I acknowledge the contingency of the factors determining the nature – and choice – of a certain model at a certain time, but in my terms, this is a matter about which we can talk and whose structure we can formalise. In this article a mechanism for tracing "empirical choices" and their particularized observational-theoretical entanglements will be offered in the form of Yoav Shoham's version of non-monotonic logic. Such an analysis of the structure of scientific theories may clarify the motivations underlying choices in favor of certain empirical models (and not others) in a way that shows that "disentangling" theoretical and observation terms is more deeply model-specific than theory-specific. This kind of analysis offers a method for getting an articulable grip on the overdetermination of theories by their models – implied by empirical equivalence – which Kuipers' structuralist analysis of the structure of theories does not offer.

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Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem
University of Pretoria


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