Observational Equivalence of Deterministic and Indeterministic Descriptions and the Role of Different Observations

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Werndl, Charlotte
conference paper description
Recently some results have been presented which show that certain kinds of deterministic descriptions and indeterministic descriptions are observationally equivalent (Werndl 2009a, 2010). This paper focuses on some philosophical questions prompted by these results. More specifically, first, I will discuss the philosophical comments made by mathematicians about observational equivalence, in particular Ornstein and Weiss (1991). Their comments are vague, and I will argue that, according to a reasonable interpretation, they are misguided. Second, the results on observational equivalence raise the question of whether the deterministic or indeterministic description is preferable relative to all evidence. If none of them is preferable, there is underdetermination. I will criticize Winnie's (1998) argument that, by appealing to different observations, one finds that the deterministic description is preferable. In particular, I will clarify a confusion in this argument. Furthermore, I will argue that if the concern is a strong kind of underdetermination, the argument delivers the desired conclusion but this conclusion is trivial; and for other kinds of underdetermination of interest the argument fails.