The Plausibility and Significance of Underdetermination Arguments

  • Abhishek KashyapEmail author
  • Vikram S. Sirola


Underdetermination of theory choice claims that empirical evidence fails to provide sufficient grounds for choosing a theory over its rivals. We explore the epistemological and methodological significance of this thesis by utilising a classificatory scheme to situate three arguments that purport to establish its plausibility. Proponents of these three arguments, W.V.O Quine, John Earman, and Kyle Stanford, use different premises to arrive at the conclusion that theory choice is empirically underdetermined and their classification along the proposed schema brings out the variety in underdetermination arguments and the historical trajectory of the thesis. Although the epistemological significance of underdetermination—it is seen as undermining the doctrine of scientific realism—is widely discussed in the literature, Quine understood the acceptance of the thesis as interrogating the attitude one is justified in adopting towards rival theories. We argue that sticking with one’s own theory in the face of underdetermination leads to a distinct type of disagreement, which we present as the methodological significance of underdetermination. The examination of the methodological significance of underdetermination allows us to propose weak underdetermination as a philosophically interesting variant of underdetermination.


Underdetermination Empirical equivalence Reliability-induced scepticism Problem of unconceived alternatives Scientific realism Disagreement 


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© Indian Council of Philosophical Research 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities and Social SciencesIndian Institute of Technology BombayMumbaiIndia

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