Talk:Confirmation holism

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ontological relativism[edit]

I am not convinced that “ontological relativism” is the same as the Quine-Duhem thesis – although they are related: the former says that empirical data is not sufficient to make a judgment between theories; the later says that any theory can be made compatible with any empirical observation by the addition of suitable ad hoc hypothesis. These are not the same thing, yes?

I am a bit suspicious of the second paragraph. Occam’s razor is a statement of an aesthetic preference, not a logical principle. It cannot therefore be used as a logical justification for the falsification of a theory, but only to state an aesthetic preference for simplicity.

It is also not possible to say definitively when an addition to a theory is ad hoc (isn’t Special Relativity just an ad hoc addition to Newtonian physics to save it from falsification by the Michelson-Morley experiment?). “Ad hoc” is in this context a pejorative, and as such also expresses an aesthetic preference.

The last sentence is especially contentious. It supposes that there is some measurable quantity, the “degree of susceptibility to ad hoc modification”, that can be used to rationally choose between theories. But the point of the Quine-Duhem thesis is precisely that all theories are equally susceptible.

Otherwise, this is an excellent addition to the encyclopedia. Banno 21:03, 12 Dec 2003 (UTC) Not sure what to do about this, though, since to separate the two would be to break the principle that “one should not multiply stubs unnecessarily” (is this Wiki’s razor?)Banno 21:15, 12 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Agreed on all of your points above, Banno. "Confirmation holism" is the proper term when referring to the "Quine-Duhem thesis" (or "Duhem-Quine thesis" as some prefer). Ontological relativity goes hand in hand with confirmation holism, but is sort of the other side of the confirmation holism coin and is the basis of Quine's "indeterminacy of translation". As to your point about Occam's razor, I agree; it is merely a preference and does not avoid the ontological-relativity/confirmation-holism problem of uncertainty. It is relevant but needs to be fleshed out more in line with your comments. As to your comment about separating the two: we should separate the two even if they are sort of stubs at this point. We'll just have to work on making them unstubbly. B 18:14, Dec 17, 2003 (UTC)
Quine-Duhem Thesis (which is roughly the same thing as confirmation holism and has its roots in verificationist holism) is *not* the statement of the underdetermination of theories. This is, interestingly enough, called the Underdetermination Thesis. Most philosophers accept the Underdetermination Thesis, even if they maintain the analytic-synthetic distinction. Ontological relavitiy is something different altogether. Ontological relavitiy is a view about the nature of our reference to objects (namely whether we do so unambiguously). Most of this can be found in Word & Object, though Ontological Relavitiy came after that (1969) and can be found in the essay of that name. Roger Gibson's, "The Philosophy of Quine" explains all of this.

The most parsimonious theory[edit]

"...the simplest theory--in this case, the one that is least dependent on continual ad hoc modification--is to be preferred." The criterion that a theory is the 'least dependant on ad hoc modifications' and that a theory 'requires ad hoc modifications the least' is considerably different. So I guess the sentence quoted above shold be removed from the article because it implies that the "best" theory is the one that has so many underlying assumptions in its "protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses" that it can reflect the most criticism to the assumptions without being modified.

Quine-Duhem thesis page[edit]

When I came across this page, my reaction was that it will not be helpful to people who do not already know what confirmation holism or the Quine-Duhem thesis is. Hence, I wrote a more introductory piece and installed it on the Quine-Duhem thesis page. There is a still a link on that page to this one. Ivar Y 15:12, 17 August 2005 (UTC)

I don't have a problem with merging the Quine-Duhem thesis and the Confirmation holism pages. I might have attempted it except that I didn't want to spend the time now to fully understand all the issues discussed on the latter page. The current Confirmation holism page is too short. It may alert the reader to some issues in the philosophy of science but it does little to clarify them. Underdetermination has a separate page in the Wikipedia. A section of the page on Quine discusses his rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction more fully than is done here. Also, defining confirmation holism as "the claim that scientific theories are confirmed or disconfirmed as a whole" is confusing. Is an alternative confirming half a scientific theory?Ivar Y 15:38, 18 August 2005 (UTC)

The claim that confirmation is holistic has a prima facie overlap with the claim that falsification is underdetermined by evidence alone, which is the central claim of the Quine-Duhem thesis. However, confirmational holism appears to make a stronger claim, and for that reason should be treated separately. Consider:

CH1: It is only jointly as a theory that scientific statements imply their observable consequences. CH2: The evidential consequences of an observation should be understood as relating to the theory as a whole. The former seems like it might be sufficient to generate the Q/D claim that evidence always underdetermines falsification. The latter clearly outstrips the Q/D thesis. Moreover, the former makes it clear that talk of falsification of individual statements isn't entirely acceptable, so if the Q/D thesis is to be expressed in terms of the underdetermination of falsification, then it's not clear that its consistent with CH1, which would yield something altogether different from (and seemingly stronger than) 'underdetermination', for example, that it doesn't make sense to talk about the falsification of individual statements. On some of the other points raised above, I think it's fine to mention how Confirmational holism is used as a premise in arguments for the underdetermination of theories by data, ontological relativity, and sematic holism (to mention but three), but it's important that it isn't identified with them (particularly in the case of UTD, as there is a convincing account as to why considerations of confirmational holism suggest that UTD is false). Moreover, confirmational holism is an epistemological thesis, and as such it shouldn't be identified with the thesis of ontological relativity, nor the thesis of semantic holism. JEBM

-- A whole section on Quine's holism would be nice, but it's not the same thing as the Quine-Duhem thesis. The latter stems from the former. Holism (in this context) includes Quine's notions of the web of belief and the potential for assailability of anything, including the laws of logic.

Someone has got it correct, but has refused to ideniy themelves so I cannot give them credit. As I like to put it, the Duhem part of Quine-Duhem is confirmation holim, the rest is Quine's verificationist semantic holism, including in the term semantics (following Dummett) the laws of logic and so on. But this is "pan per focaccia", the real problem with this article is that it contains no criticism of confirmation holism. Oh, I's almost universally accepted. Not universally though and this is philosophy, not science. How about expanding on the question of the existence of conceptual schemes at least?? --Lacatosias 10:05, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
Let me go make the case a little more clearly for my very strong oppoistion to including "Duhem-Quine thesis" in an artilce on confirmation holism, much less identifying the two as is somewhat carelessly done in the first sentnce of this article.
First off, it's important to note that, while Duhem was indeed the first to publish a version of methological holism, the idea was very common at about the time he was writing. Poincaré wrote, in "La Science et l'hypothése":

On the other hand, it nust be underscored that it is important not to multiple hyptheses beyond measure and formulate them one after the other. If we construct a theory based on mutiple hypotheses and experince condemns it, which of our premises must ne changed? It will be impossible to decide. (Poincaré, 1902, p. 167)

Duhem beat him out by about 8 years though: in Les théories de l'optique, he wrote, in reference to an experiement conduceted by O. Weiner in 1890 to decied between two theories of the nature of light (that of Fresnel and that of Nuemann), That which the expriement of Weiner condemns is not a particular hypthesis according to which the vibration is parallel to the plane of polarization; what it condemns is the set of hypotheses which constitue the theory of MacCullagh and Neumann; it makes us know that this set is in disaccord withthe facts; it obliges us to abandon something, but doesnìt tell us what must be changed...This is not something peculiar to the expriment of MO Wiener, it is general characteristic of the expriemental method; it is never possible to control a hypothesis in isolation, but only the set of the hypotheses - generally innumerable - which constitute the theory. (Duhem 1894, p.112) Now, this is obviosly the defifntion of confirmation holism. Quine, on the other hand, deals with something else as well: the meanings of isolated linguistic terms. He wants to know if it possible to decide if a single sentence has meaning in the basis of experience (he

is verificationist and does believe that the meaning of larger entities is based on experience, of course) and writes:

our propositions about the etxrenal world face the tribunal of experience not individually, but only as a set. (Quine, 1951, p.36) This implies, on the one hand, confrimation holism (one does not test a single sentence bit a set of sentences) AND, on the other, semantic holism (meaning does not aplly to single sentences, but invests the entire language). Another passage demonstaring Quine's semnatic holism: The component sentences of a theory simply have no empirical meaning according to the standard of Pierce, but a sufficeienly inclusive portion of it does have them. (Quinem 1969, p.102) Also, as Lakatos, Quinn and Luadan have all pointed out, the confirmational holism of Quine is much more extreme than that of Duhem. The strong these of confirmation holism: no hypothesis is ever falsifiable by experience becasue it is always possible to find an auxiliary hypothesis which can be added to it and alloows the negative result to be coopted. Weak thesis--- a set of empirical data does not refute an isolates hypothesis but a set of hypotheses.

Conclusion: confirmation holism has two forms; a weak and a strong form; Quine subcribes to the latter. More imprortantly, Quine-Duhem thesis is a bizarre mixture of semantic holism and confirmational holism. It should have it own sperate article and I will change the first sentence of this article accordingly.--Lacatosias 16:58, 19 February 2006 (UTC)

It would be useful to also summarize some of the other historical thinking on the subject, if someone is particularly familiar with it. For example, Quine is sometimes taken as responding to the logical positivists' view of verificationism, but some verificationists themselves promoted views that sound rather close to confirmation holism; for example, in his 1934 The Unity of Science, Rudolf Carnap wrote that verification was not of single statements, but of entire systems of statements. --Delirium (talk) 08:01, 29 October 2008 (UTC)

Theories of truth[edit]

I'm not sure why there is such an abundance of links to theories of truth at the end of this article since Confirmation Holism is not a theory of truth.

I make a similar point on the Coherentism page where I also ask that there is a discussion of the difference between the Coherence Theory of Justification and Confirmation Holsim - perhaps a similar discussion should feature in this article since it links to Coherentism (despite having never referred to it in the body of the article).

Paucolpitts2 16:16, 28 October 2006 (UTC)

Quine-Duhem thesis[edit]

Quine-Duhem thesis redirects here, and not to the Duhem–Quine thesis page. Is there any reason for that? I'm changing it, but change it back if there's some reason for it redirecting here. Blue bear sd (talk) 01:30, 18 May 2008 (UTC)


This is hogwash:

"However, it was eventually accepted that an unknown planet was affecting the path of Uranus, and that the hypothesis that there are seven planets in our solar system was false. Le Verrier calculated the approximate position of the interfering planet and its existence was confirmed in 1846."

I can't believe that the existence of Neptune was not only suspected, but actually "accepted" long before its discovery. Unfree (talk) 19:25, 16 November 2009 (UTC)