Posted: October 17th, 2013

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Humanities in Technology

The Duhem-Quine thesis that is also called the Duhem-Quine problems is a theory explaining that it is not possible to test a single scientific theory on its own because it requires one or more background assumptions to have an empirical test (Fairweather, 2). The background assumptions are called auxiliary hypotheses. The theory was named after Pierre Duhem and Willard Van Orman Quine, who made similar suggestions on the role played by experiments in science. The theory has been interpreted by many philosophers and scholars as well as scientists, but its meaning still triggers a lot of criticism(Fairweather, 2). Many find it hard to explain while others refute it completely suggesting it tends to underdetermine the results of a scientific experiment. In addition, the theory has had many diversified interpretations from different scholars. Generally, the theory suggests that in science, there is the need of the auxiliary theses for experiments in order to come up with empirical results that can provide a prediction since testing of a hypothesis will rely on other theories and assumptions (Fairweather, 2).

The theory states that one hypothesis or assumption is not enough provide enough information after testing to enable prediction. It suggests that the hypothesis under testing is not capable of providing reliable results if it is tested in isolation from other background hypotheses that might arise(Fairweather, 2). The theory suggests that in order to test a certain theory or a hypothesis, such as the roundness of the earth or its rotations, several theories have to be there, including theories used on the machines and apparatus used. Each instrument or machine used in the experiment will have a theory behind it, which should be considered since it has the capability of manipulating the results and their interpretation (Econ 114).

For instance, testing a substance for acidity or alkalinity using a blue litmus paper requires the theory that it will turn to one color if it is acidic and to different color if the substance is alkaline(Econ 114).. In addition, we cannot assume that the substance is acidic since it could be alkaline. Therefore, to prove a thesis that a certain substance is acidic, we have to consider both hypotheses that, substance X is acidic and substance x is alkaline. This requires that both tests be conducted since conducting one could not be 100% guarantee that the truth will be found if only one is tested(Econ 114)..

In another example, if somebody had $10 and went to buy sweets and chocolate where the chocolate costs $4 while sweets cost $2 each, if we say the person bought two chocolate and one sweet, it would be true. However, there could be another assumption the person bought one chocolate and three sweets. We could not assume that the person bought five sweets since there would be no money left for chocolate. In addition, we cannot assume the person bought three chocolates since the money would not be enough. Therefore, testing the main assumption that the person bought two chocolates and one sweet would not be substantial on its own since there are other assumptions possible. Therefore, testing an assumption or a hypothesis in isolation means that some assumptions that could be possible will be left out, and we could miss to know the truth. To find out whether the main thesis is the true one, we have to ascertain that the others were not. Without testing for all the assumptions, the main thesis on itself would leave not allow the truth to be proven.

The theory also suggests that any theory can be true until proven by a group of assumptions or theses. Without testing several theses, a thesis cannot be proven true or wrong, thus, any thesis would be right until it is proven. However, this does not mean that anything goes, or any assumption can be assumed to ‘hold water’. However, the theory suggests that any assumption can be made, and to refute it requires more than one thesis or other background theses to show that it would not be true. For instance, one could say that while in a moving vehicle, everything in it is moving at the same speed. This could not be proven without other theories or previously tested theories on motion. For instance, it could be considered that a fly in the vehicle will be able to fly to the front of the vehicle and to the back without hitting any corners from the inertia force. This could not be proven without the theory of inertia.

Many scholars feel that the theory destroys the decisive logical character of crucial experiments. The outcome of an experiment is supposed to prove that main hypothesis is true by proving the other that rivals it to be false. According to the theory, in order to falsify the rival hypothesis, there is need for other hypothesis since the problem or defect is conceivably found in the complexity of the theory. Thus, it leaves the question of whether any theory or hypothesis can be refuted, since auxiliary theses have to be present to provide an empirical result in an experiment (Soberg 4).

However, despite not refuting any theory or thesis, the thesis has its restrictions within which it acts, so that even things that could not be logical are not considered for testing. The theory has four operations that have to be carried out to come up or develop a thesis in science. The first one is measuring and defining the scientific magnitude usually simple processes and ways of measuring them. Thus, if there are no ways that can be used to measure, a claim cannot be proven. The second is building a hypothesis that has a relation to the defined measure. Thus, there is a restriction on the thesis formulated, since it has to relate to the defined measure under testing. Therefore, this restricts the thesis since those that cannot relate to the measure under testing are not considered. This prevents anything from being believed. Under the formulation of the thesis, other theories are created from the auxiliary thesis that arises in relation to the measure under testing. There is also a mathematical development of the theory concerned with logical algebra restricting theories without any logic mathematically. The theory must also relate with the experiment in order to draw any conclusion. With these in the theory, not just anything can be said despite that it does not refute any theory (Econ 116). However, they must have the above characteristics in order to be tested.

Accepting the Duhem – Quine thesis implies that one has to recognize the fact that conducting empirical tests of a certain hypothesis entails that it has to be tested with other thesis where the main thesis is derived from. This means that any scientific experiment conducted has to be testing a number of hypotheses with an aim of proving that the main theme either exists or does not. Another implication is that anybody can have their own theory, which they can go ahead to prove using other hypotheses that it is derived from. The theory does not refute any hypothesis, leading to a problem with falsifying the rival hypothesis since the same theory is used to test the main thesis. The theory further implies that if something cannot answer a question, or the hypothesis, then it does not qualify as science (Soberg 4).

Conclusively, the Duhem-Quine theory is one surrounded my many complications as well as diversified interpretations by different people. The main idea behind the theory is that to get an answer to a hypothesis, whether to falsify it or prove it right, one cannot test it alone without the other auxiliary theses. This requires testing several theses in order to prove the main thesis. However, the theory does not refute any theory, since none of the theories can be proven independently without the other auxiliary theses. This has an implication of making it hard to falsify any of the theories because even rival theories are used to test the main theory. Thus, according to the theory, an empirical result form an experiment can only be gotten though testing the main thesis in conjunction with the auxiliary theses.

Work cited

Econ, J. Camb. Dealing with the Duhem–Quine thesis in financial economics: can causal holism help? *Cambridge** Journal of Economics* 30.1: (2006): 105- 122.

Fairweather, Abrol. Duhem-Quine Virtual Epistemology. web.me.com, 2007. Web. June 21, 2012.

Soberg Morten. The Duhem-Quine Thesis and Experimental Economics: A Reinterpretation. ssb.no, 2002. Web. June 21, 2012.

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