On the viability of the No Alternatives Argument

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Menon, Tushar
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preprint description
If we cannot directly empirically test the claims of particular scientific theory, then it would be nice to have some other criteria with which to assess its viability. In his 2013 book, String Theory and the Scientific Method, Richard Dawid aims to develop such criteria, with an eye to vindicating research programs in disciplines where direct empirical data is scant or non-existent. In an accompanying paper, Dawid, Hartmann and Sprenger formalise Dawid’s so-called ‘No Alternatives Argument’ (NAA) using a generalised Bayesian framework, as a first step towards formalising Dawid’s entire re- search programme (which itself relies on two further arguments). In this paper, I argue that the formalisation of the NAA cannot play the central role in Dawid’s programme as intended. This is based on the observation that not all confirmation is non-negligible confirmation. For Dawid’s programme to be useful, it must demonstrate the viability not just of non-empirical theory confirmation, but of non-negligible non-empirical theory confirmation. I argue that Dawid et al.’s appeal to Bayesian confirmation theory to formalise his NAA cannot guarantee non-negligible confirmation. As a result, I conclude that if Dawid’s overall project is to succeed, it must do so without the NAA formalised in this way.