Skip to main content

Is There a Place for Epistemic Virtues in Theory Choice?

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI,volume 366)

Abstract

This paper challenges the appeal to theory virtues in theory choice as well as the appeal to the intellectual and moral virtues of an agent as determining unique choices between empirically equivalent theories. After arguing that theoretical virtues do not determine the choice of one theory at the expense of another theory, I argue that nor does the appeal to intellectual and moral virtues single out one agent, who defends a particular theory, and exclude another agent defending an alternative theory. I analyse Duhem’s concept of good sense and its recent interpretation in terms of virtue epistemology. I argue that the virtue epistemological interpretation does not show how good sense leads to conclusive choices and scientific progress.

Keywords

  • Quantum Mechanic
  • Theory Choice
  • Good Sense
  • Scientific Progress
  • Moral Quality

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-04672-3_13
  • Chapter length: 20 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   109.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-319-04672-3
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Notes

  1. 1.

    Whewell takes consilience to be a criterion of confirmation of a theory because “the evidence in favour of our induction is of a much higher and more forcible character when it enables us to explain and determine cases of a kind different from those which were contemplated in the formation of our hypothesis. The instances in which this have occurred, indeed, impress us with a conviction that the truth of our hypothesis is certain” (Whewell 1989, p. 87–8).

  2. 2.

    It must be stressed that scientific realists often employ inference to the best explanation and argue that in case of underdetermination, we should choose the best available explanation. In light of this argument, they can argue that there is only one theory virtue – explanatory power – thus they are immune to the argument for the inconclusiveness of theory virtues. However, the problem of inconclusiveness appears when one tries to account for which explanation is the best. Since theory virtues, such as simplicity, unity, fertility, are used to justify a particular theory as the best explanation, it is presupposed that they can conclusively do so.

  3. 3.

    Swinburne argues that “the simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation of phenomena is more likely to be the true one than is any other available hypothesis, that its predictions are more likely to be true than those of any other available hypothesis, and that it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth”. (Swinburne 1997, 1).

  4. 4.

    For Duhem, novel predictive power is the only test of theory being a ‘natural classification’. Psillos (1999) also takes the novel predictive power of a theory to be indicative of its truth.

  5. 5.

    One unpopular account of novelty is ‘temporal novelty’, which treats any prediction of a phenomenon, which was entailed by the theory prior to the observation of that phenomenon, as novel. Many oppose this definition because it gives too much role to the time in which observations are made and seem to make the fact whether a theory indeed was fertile arbitrary. For example, the phenomenon of perihelion of Mercury was observed before the formulation of the general theory of relativity but why should this historically contingent fact determine whether the prediction was novel? In trying to avoid this objection, accounts of ‘epistemic novelty’ suggest that we determine a novel prediction when the scientist constructing the theory is not aware of the phenomena prior to constructing the theory. Worrall (1994) suggests that knowledge of a phenomena is not indicative of novelty and what we should focus on is whether the phenomenon was considered when the theory was constructed. He argues that the perihelion of Mercury, predicted by general relativity, was known to Einstein, but he did not construct the theory in order to account for this phenomenon. It was simply entailed by the theory. Leplin (1997), however, argues that epistemic novelty relativises the novelty to the intentions of the scientist – whether Einstein really intended to save this phenomenon or it was simply entailed by the theory. He puts forward an account of ‘use novelty’ according to which a phenomena is novel if it was predicted by the theory but was not used in the derivations of the theory. Ladyman and Ross (2007) defend a ‘modal’ account of novelty according to which what should be taken in consideration is whether a theory could have predicted some unknown phenomenon despite the historically contingent facts.

  6. 6.

    The same point can be made by considering several cases of underdetermination from the history of science. For a discussion of the underdetermination between Lorentz’ ether theory and Einstein’s special theory of relativity, see Friedman (2001).

  7. 7.

    Note that this claim is not uncontroversial. Albert (1993) holds that ordinary quantum mechanics has no empirical content, since it is a solution to the measurement problem but what counts as measurement is something quantum mechanics does not answer. Also, Bohmian mechanics is empirically equivalent to the rivals formulations of quantum mechanics only given boundary conditions.

  8. 8.

    This objection applies to the ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics. Another understanding of the Everettian formulation of quantum mechanics is given by the ‘many minds’ interpretation, according to which mental states are discontinuous and probabilistic while physical states are deterministic and causal. This interpretation presupposes a strong mind-body dualism (Albert and Loewer 1988).

  9. 9.

    Note here the trade-off between ontology and ideology. Postulating a richer ontology can be preferred for the sake of a simpler theory, predictive accuracy or unification (i.e. postulating an extra planet – Neptune – contributed to Newtonian mechanics’ predictive accuracy).

  10. 10.

    According to Ockham’s razor, theoretical entities should not be employed beyond necessity.

  11. 11.

    Consideration of elegance and simplicity enter also in the derivation of the guiding equation as well. For example, in their derivation, Durr et al. (1993) choose to use only first and not higher order derivatives. Thanks to Bryan Roberts for pointing this example to me.

  12. 12.

    This objection is discussed in detail in Barrett (1999).

  13. 13.

    Ladyman and Ross (2007) argue that it is an open question whether collapse is a genuine physical process and this question is going to be answered by future physics.

  14. 14.

    Both GRW and Bohmian mechanics could be confirmed, in principle, by further evidence. Both dynamical collapse, introduced by GRW, and the additional equation of motion for the particles’ trajectories, introduced by Bohmian mechanics, could eventually produce new empirical consequences which could serve as a confirmation boost. However, this fact by no means resolves the issue of underdetermination, it simply shows that these theories are not strongly underdetermined.

  15. 15.

    For a systematic presentation of the properties of good sense see Ivanova and Paternotte (2013).

  16. 16.

    For Duhem ‘good sense’ is greatly captured by Pascal’s claim that ‘the heart has reasons which reasons does not know’.

  17. 17.

    As noted in Ivanova and Paternotte (2013), experimental science is not the only domain of application of good sense. In his (1991) Duhem argues that good sense also figures in mathematics and history. However, the properties of good sense as well as its role are different depending on the context in which it is employed. Good sense in mathematics is equated with common sense and is the ability to ‘feel’ self-evident mathematical truths and anticipate the results of mathematical deductions. (1991, 6–11) In history, good sense is necessary for the acquisition of truth and its main characteristic is that of impartiality, “detachment from all interests and all passions.” (1991, 42–44)

  18. 18.

    There are plenty of examples in the history of science where an individual scientist or a research group managed to choose the theory, which would eventually become a fruitful research programme and lead to scientific progress. For example, we would like to be able to claim that in the dispute between atomists and energeticists in the beginning of the twentieth century, atomists had good sense while defenders of energetics (amongst which was Duhem himself) lacked it. Moreover, in the debate between Lorentz’ ether theory and the special theory of relativity, we would like to be able to claim that Einstein had good sense to choose the latter, which let to the general theory of relativity. Last, in the debate over the completeness of quantum mechanics between Bohr and Einstein, we would like to claim that Einstein lacked good sense since he promoted the search of a hidden variables theory and claimed that quantum mechanics, which has been a highly successful research programme, was incomplete.

  19. 19.

    The importance of the acceleration property for Duhem’s notion of good sense is first discussed in Ivanova and Paternotte (2013).

  20. 20.

    Note that for Duhem good sense cannot lead to true theories, because a true theory would reveal not only the real relations between appearances, but also the nature of the unobservable reality. His skepticism of science discovering the nature of the unobservable reality results in his defence of structural realism, where knowledge only of the unobservable relations is allowed (Duhem’s structuralism is discussed in Worrall (1989)).

  21. 21.

    I develop the objection that good sense is judged post hoc in Ivanova (2010).

  22. 22.

    Stump appeals in particular to the work of Linda Zagzebski (2003).

  23. 23.

    In my Ivanova (2010) I raise two concerns with Stump’s interpretation of Duhem as virtue epistemologist. First, Duhem has a different epistemic aim from virtue epistemologists. Given his structural realist commitments and the pessimism expressed towards our ever being acquainted with the nature of the unobservable reality, the concept of ‘good sense’ is not employed in the same sense as within the virtue epistemologist account, according to which the virtues of the agents ultimately justify their true beliefs. Duhem does not believe a true theory is possible and good sense can at best lead to theories that are ‘natural classifications’. Second, while virtue epistemology is concerned with the virtues of the agent in order to explain knowledge, Duhem is not concerned with justifying scientific knowledge when employing ‘good sense’. He is simply describing a situation of theoretical underdetermination, where two scientists can disagree which theory should be employed and does not argue that good sense has any role to play in the construction of a scientific theory. (see Ivanova (2010, 2011))

  24. 24.

    This hybrid reading takes elements from both Stump’s and my accounts – that good sense can choose a unique theory (Stump) and that good sense is only judged post hoc and as a consequence cannot give epistemic significance to the theory it has chosen, only the availability of new evidence that confirms it can do so (Ivanova). According to Fairweather, good sense can confer uniqueness in situations of underdetermination but cannot provide epistemic standing, such standing is provided by new supporting evidence. The shortcomings of this reconstruction are discussed in Ivanova and Paternotte (2013).

  25. 25.

    For Duhem “the aim of physical theory is to become a natural classification, to establish among diverse experimental laws a logical coordination serving as a sort of image and reflection of the true order according to which the realities escaping us are organised” (Duhem 1954, 31). This ‘true order’ is not fully epistemically accessible. Duhem believes that we cannot know the nature of the unobservable entities our theories postulate, but our natural classifications capture increasingly better their structure.

  26. 26.

    One can suggest that epistemic success is not necessary for good sense. An internalist reading of good sense would focus on the internal coherence of the agent’s beliefs, their attitude towards new evidence, etc. so that the agent’s beliefs are rendered rational despite of whether the agent achieved epistemic success (in unfavourable conditions agents can be rational but fail to achieve epistemic success). However, I am sceptical that such an internalist reading captures Duhem’s understanding of good sense, since it is evaluated in terms of its performance and thus is an externalist notion.

  27. 27.

    See in particular Hull (1988), Kitcher (1993) and Strevens (2003).

  28. 28.

    As noted in Sect. 4, this support need not necessarily be provided by further confirmation in light of new evidence which is accommodated into one of the theories. We can have a broader notion of confirmational support that evaluates which theory was potentially a successful research project. This is in accordance with Duhem’s notion of ‘natural classification’ which unifies distant set of theories into the same mathematical framework.

  29. 29.

    Note also the problem of the temporal dimension of good sense. As noted in footnote 19, we could say that Einstein had good sense when he defended special relativity but lacked good sense when he defended the incompleteness of quantum mechanics.

References

  • Albert, D. 1993. Quantum mechanics and experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Albert, D., and B. Loewer. 1988. Interpreting the many worlds interpretation. Synthese 77: 195–213.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Barrett, J. 1999. The quantum mechanics of minds and worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ben-Menahem, Y. 2006. Conventionalism: From Poincaré to Quine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bohm, D. 1952. A suggested interpretation of the quantum theory in terms of “hidden” variables, I and II. Physical Review 85: 166–193.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cushing, J. 1994. Quantum mechanics: Historical contingency and the Copenhagen hegemony. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • DeWitt, B. 1971. The many-universes interpretation of quantum mechanics. In Foundations of quantum mechanics, ed. B. d’Espagnat. New York: Academic Press. Reprint in The many worlds of quantum mechanics, ed. B. DeWitt and N. Graham. Princeton University Press (1973).

    Google Scholar 

  • Duhem, P. 1954[1906]. The aim and structure of physical theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Duhem, P. 1991[1915]. German science: Some reflections on German science: German science and German virtues. Trans. John Lyon. La Salle: Open Court.

    Google Scholar 

  • Durr, D., S. Goldstein, and N. Zanghi. 1993. A global equilibrium as the foundation for quantum randomness. Foundations of Physics 23: 721–738.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Everett, H. 1957. Relative state formulation of quantum mechanics. Reviews of Modern Physics 29: 454–462.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Fairweather, A. 2011. The epistemic value of good sense. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science Part A 43(1): 139–146.

    Google Scholar 

  • Friedman, M. 2001. Dynamics of reason. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ghirardi, G.C., A. Rimini, and T. Weber. 1986. Unified dynamics for microscopic and macroscopic systems. Physical Review 34: 470–491.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hull, D.L. 1988. Science as a process: An evolutionary account of the social and conceptual development of science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ivanova, M. 2010. Pierre Duhem’s good sense as a guide to theory choice. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 41: 58–64.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ivanova, M. 2011. ‘Good Sense’ in context: A response to Kidd. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42: 610–612.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ivanova, M., and C. Paternotte. 2013. Theory choice, good sense and social consensus. Erkenntnis 78(5): 1109–1132.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kitcher, P. 1993. The advancement of science: Science without legend, objectivity without illusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kuhn, T. 1977. Objectivity, value judgment, and theory choice. In The essential tension, ed. T. Kuhn, 320–353. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ladyman, J., and D. Ross (with Spurrett, D., and J. Collier). 2007. Every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalised. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leplin, J. 1997. A novel defense of scientific realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis, D. 1973. Counterfactuals. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • McMullin, E. 2009. The virtue of a perfect theory. In The Routledge companion to philosophy of science, ed. Martin Curd and Stathis Psillos. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nolan, D. 1997. Quantitative parsimony. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 48: 329–343.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Psillos, S. 1999. Scientific realism – How science tracks truth. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, H. 2005. A philosopher looks at quantum mechanics (again). British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56: 615–634.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Strevens, M. 2003. The role of the priority rule in science. The Journal of Philosophy 100(2): 55–79.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Struyve, W., and H. Westman. 2006. A new Pilot-Wave model for quantum field theory. In Quantum mechanics: Are there quantum jumps? And on the present status of quantum mechanics, AIP conference proceedings, 844, eds. A. Bassi, D. Dürr, T. Weber, and N. Zanghì, 321–339. New York: American Institute of Physics.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stump, D. 2007. Pierre Duhem’s virtue epistemology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 38: 149–159.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Stump, D. 2011. The scientist as impartial judge: Moral values in Duhem’s philosophy of science. New perspectives on Pierre Duhem’s The aim and structure of physical theory (book symposium), Metascience, vol. 20, 1–25. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Swinburne, R. 1997. Simplicity as evidence of truth. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tumulka, R. 2006. A relativistic version of the Ghirardi–Rimini–Weber model. Journal of Statistical Physics 125: 821–840.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Van Fraassen, B.C. 1980. The scientific image. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Whewell, W. 1989. Theory of scientific method. Indianapolis: Hackett.

    Google Scholar 

  • Worrall, J. 1989. Structural realism: The best of both worlds? Dialectica 43(1–2): 99–124.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Worrall, J. 1994. How to remain (reasonably) optimistic: Scientific realism and the “Luminiferous Ether”. In PSA 1994, vol. 1, ed. M. Forbes and D. Hull. East Lansing: Philosophy of Science Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zagzebski, L. 2003. The search for the source of epistemic good. In Moral and epistemic virtues, ed. M. Brady and D. Pritchard, 13–27. Malden: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Abrol Fairweather for inviting me to be part of this volume. I am grateful to Matt Farr, James Ladyman, David Stump and Bryan Roberts for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. This work was funded by the British Society for Philosophy of Science and The Royal Institute of Philosophy while the author was at the University of Bristol.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Milena Ivanova .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2014 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Ivanova, M. (2014). Is There a Place for Epistemic Virtues in Theory Choice?. In: Fairweather, A. (eds) Virtue Epistemology Naturalized. Synthese Library, vol 366. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-04672-3_13

Download citation