Another look at empirical equivalence and underdetermination of theory choice
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In 1991 Larry Laudan and Jarret Leplin proposed a solution for the problem of empirical equivalence and the empirical underdetermination that is often thought to result from it. In this paper we argue that, even though Laudan and Leplin’s reasoning is essentially correct, their solution should be accurately assessed in order to appreciate its nature and scope. Indeed, Laudan and Leplin’s analysis does not succeed in completely removing the problem or, as they put it, in refuting the thesis of underdetermination as a consequence of empirical equivalence. Instead, what they show is merely that science possesses tools that may eventually lead out of an underdetermination impasse. We apply their argument to a real case of two empirically equivalent theories: Lorentz’s ether theory and Einstein’s special relativity. This example illustrates the validity of Laudan and Leplin’s reasoning, but also shows the importance of the reassessment we argue for.
KeywordsEmpirical equivalence Underdetermination Theory choice Non-empirical virtues Empirical evidence Confirmation Special relativity Hendrik Lorentz
We thank two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this paper.
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