Another Look at Empirical Equivalence and Underdetermination of Theory Choice

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Pablo Acuña, Dennis Dieks
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In 1991 Larry Laudan and Jarret Leplin proposed a solution for the problem of predictive equivalence and empirical underdetermination. In this paper we claim that, even though Laudan and Leplin’s reasoning is essentially correct, their solution of the underdetermination problem must be accurately assessed in order to appreciate its nature and scope. We argue that Laudan and Leplin’s analysis does not refute the problem (as they claim). 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. We argue that this example shows that the core of Laudan and Leplin’s proposal works, but also that the reassessment we argue for is correct and necessary. We conclude that empirical equivalence and underdetermination are ordinary scientific problems rather than problems that should be solved by epistemology.

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