, Volume 190, Issue 12, pp 2243–2265 | Cite as

On choosing between deterministic and indeterministic models: underdetermination and indirect evidence

  • Charlotte WerndlEmail author


There are results which show that measure-theoretic deterministic models and stochastic models are observationally equivalent. Thus there is a choice between a deterministic and an indeterministic model and the question arises: Which model is preferable relative to evidence? If the evidence equally supports both models, there is underdetermination. This paper first distinguishes between different kinds of choice and clarifies the possible resulting types of underdetermination. Then a new answer is presented: the focus is on the choice between a Newtonian deterministic model supported by indirect evidence from other Newtonian models which invoke similar additional assumptions about the physical systems and a stochastic model that is not supported by indirect evidence. It is argued that the deterministic model is preferable. The argument against underdetermination is then generalised to a broader class of cases. Finally, the paper criticises the extant philosophical answers in relation to the preferable model. Winnie’s (1998) argument for the deterministic model is shown to deliver the correct conclusion relative to observations which are possible in principle and where there are no limits, in principle, on observational accuracy (the type of choice Winnie was concerned with). However, in practice the argument fails. A further point made is that Hoefer’s (2008) argument for the deterministic model is untenable.


Determinism Indeterminism Underdetermination Indirect evidence Choice Observational equivalence Newtonian physics Stochastic processes 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific MethodLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK

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