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Summary The Quine-Duhem thesis is a form of the thesis of the underdetermination of theory by empirical evidence.  The basic problem is that individual theoretical claims are unable to be confirmed or falsified on their own, in isolation from surrounding hypotheses.  For this reason, the acceptance or rejection of a theoretical claim is underdetermined by observation.  The thesis can be interpreted in a more radical form that tends to be associated with the epistemic holism of Willard V. O. Quine or in a more restricted form associated with Pierre Duhem.  It is primarily an epistemic thesis about the relation between evidence and theory, though in Quine's case it also has semantic overtones connected with his rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction.
Key works The two main references are Quine 1951, reprinted as Quine 1953, and Duhem 1954.  Relevant extracts of both Quine and Duhem may be found in Curd & Cover 1998.
Introductions Ariew 1984; Ariew 2008; Gillies 1993; Hylton 2010; Krips 1982; Vuillemin 1979
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  1. Alexander Afriat, Duhem, Quine and the Other Dogma.
    With resources hinted at in different ways by both Duhem and Quine, it is argued that some of their misgivings about empirical confirmation, or crucial experiments, may be exaggerated or unfounded; and that such experiments, suitably conceived, can give good meaning to empirical sentences. With appropriate meanings one can then wonder about synonymy and analyticity.
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  2. Emrah Aktunc (2011). Experimental Knowledge in Cognitive Neuroscience. Dissertation, Virginia Tech
    This is a work in the epistemology of functional neuroimaging (fNI) and it applies the error-statistical (ES) philosophy to inferential problems in fNI to formulate and address these problems. This gives us a clear, accurate, and more complete understanding of what we can learn from fNI and how we can learn it. I review the works in the epistemology of fNI which I group into two categories; the first category consists of discussions of the theoretical significance of fNI findings and (...)
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  3. James A. Anderson (2006). The Ethics and Science of Placebo-Controlled Trials: Assay Sensitivity and the Duhem-Quine Thesis. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 31 (1):65 – 81.
    The principle of clinical equipoise requires that, aside from certain exceptional cases, second generation treatments ought to be tested against standard therapy. In violation of this principle, placebo-controlled trials (PCTs) continue to be used extensively in the development and licensure of second-generation treatments. This practice is typically justified by appeal to methodological arguments that purport to demonstrate that active-controlled trials (ACTs) are methodologically flawed. Foremost among these arguments is the so called assay sensitivity argument. In this paper, I take a (...)
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  4. Roger Ariew (1984). The Duhem Thesis. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35 (4):313-325.
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  5. Thomas Michael Avery (1995). The Duhem-Popper-Quine Thesis. Dissertation, City University of New York
    In this dissertation I examine critically the scientific holism of Pierre Duhem, Karl Popper and W. V. Quine. I contend that there is a central thesis, which I have dubbed the "Duhem-Popper-Quine thesis," that is common to the work of these three authors but that in each author's work it is reflected differently. ;Duhem's holism was rather sweeping--he contended that no isolated hypothesis can be refuted by the results of experiment--but also rather restricted, being limited to physical science. I argue (...)
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  6. N. Avgelis (1991). The Relevance of Duhem and Quine Thesis in the Light of Kant Cognitive Theory. Kant-Studien 82 (3):285-302.
  7. Yuri Balashov (1994). Duhem, Quine, and the Multiplicity of Scientific Tests. Philosophy of Science 61 (4):608-628.
    Duhem's and Quine's holistic theses, when properly understood, allow methodologically responsible ways of resolving a conflict between a theoretical system and experience; they only deny the possibility of doing it in an epistemically persuasive way. By developing a "string" model of scientific tests I argue that the pattern of interaction between the elements of a theoretical system arising in response to multiple adverse data can be helpful in locating a "weak spot" in it. Combining this model with anti-holistic arguments of (...)
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  8. Harry Beatty (1974). Behaviourism, Mentalism, and Quine's Indeterminacy Thesis. Philosophical Studies 26 (2):97 - 110.
  9. D. Belousek (1998). Falsification, the Duhem-Quine Thesis, and Scientific Realism: From a Phenomenological Point of View. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 29:145-161.
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  10. Lars Bergström (1993). Quine, Underdetermination, and Skepticism. Journal of Philosophy 60 (7):331-358.
  11. Lars Bergström (1984). Underdetermination and Realism. Erkenntnis 21 (3):349 - 365.
  12. Sebastian Boţic (2010). Is Popper's 'Criterion of Demarcation' Outmoded ? Cultura 7 (1):41-53.
    This paper is concerned with the ′criterion of demarcation′ that Karl Popper put forward, while trying to show that it can be safely said that it is still standing. In doing so, I turn to two main objections to it: a Lakatos-Kuhn vision on the growth of science, and the famous Quine-Duhem thesis. The point that I hopefully made here is that the basic message of this prescriptive method is as respectful as ever, and, although not the subject of this (...)
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  13. Luc Bovens & Stephan Hartmann (2002). Bayesian Networks and the Problem of Unreliable Instruments. Philosophy of Science 69 (1):29-72.
    We appeal to the theory of Bayesian Networks to model different strategies for obtaining confirmation for a hypothesis from experimental test results provided by less than fully reliable instruments. In particular, we consider (i) repeated measurements of a single test consequence of the hypothesis, (ii) measurements of multiple test consequences of the hypothesis, (iii) theoretical support for the reliability of the instrument, and (iv) calibration procedures. We evaluate these strategies on their relative merits under idealized conditions and show some surprising (...)
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  14. Thomas A. Boylan & Paschal F. O'Gorman (2003). Pragmatism in Economic Methodology: The Duhem-Quine Thesis Revisited. [REVIEW] Foundations of Science 8 (1):3-21.
    Contemporary developments in economicmethodology have produced a vibrant agenda ofcompeting positions. These include, amongothers, constructivism, critical realism andrhetoric, with each contributing to the Realistvs. Pragmatism debate in the philosophies of thesocial sciences. A major development in theneo-pragmatist contribution to economicmethodology has been Quine's pragmatic assaulton the dogmas of empiricism, which are nowclearly acknowledged within contemporaryeconomic methodology. This assault isencapsulated in the celebrated Duhem-Quinethesis, which according to a number ofcontemporary leading philosophers of economics,poses a particularly serious methodologicalproblem for economics. This problem, (...)
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  15. Anastasios A. Brenner (1990). Holism a Century Ago: The Elaboration of Duhem's Thesis. Synthese 83 (3):325 - 335.
    Duhem first expounds the holistic thesis, according to which an experimental test always involves several hypotheses, in articles dating from the 1890s. Poincaré's analysis of a recent experiment in optics provides the incentive, but Duhem generalizes this analysis and develops a highly original methodological position. He is led to reject inductivism. I will endeavor to show the crucial role history of science comes to play in the development of Duhem's holism.
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  16. Martin Carrier (2011). Underdetermination as an Epistemological Test Tube: Expounding Hidden Values of the Scientific Community. Synthese 180 (2):189 - 204.
    Duhem—Quine underdetermination plays a constructive role in epistemology by pinpointing the impact of non-empirical virtues or cognitive values on theory choice. Underdetermination thus contributes to illuminating the nature of scientific rationality. Scientists prefer and accept one account among empirical equivalent alternatives. The non-empirical virtues operating in science are laid open in such theory choice decisions. The latter act as an epistemological test tube in making explicit commitments to how scientific knowledge should be like.
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  17. O. Costa (1979). Duhem-Quine Thesis: Rationality, Progress and Scientific Methodology. Scientia 73 (14):517.
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  18. Karen Merikangas Darling (2002). The Complete Duhemian Underdetermination Argument: Scientific Language and Practice. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (3):511-533.
    Current discussion of scientific realism and antirealism often cites Pierre Duhem’s argument for the underdetermination of theory choice by evidence. Participants draw on an account of his underdetermination thesis that is familiar, but incomplete. The purpose of this article is to complete the familiar account. I argue that a closer look at Duhem’s The aim and structure of physical theory suggests that the rationale for his underdetermination thesis comes from his philosophy of scientific language. I explore how an understanding of (...)
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  19. David Dearmont & David A. Bessler (1997). A Bayesian Treatment of Duhem's Thesis: The Case of the 'Farm Problem' in Agricultural Economics. Economics and Philosophy 13 (2):149-158.
    In this paper we consider a Bayesian treatment of ‘Duhem's thesis’, the proposition that theories are never refuted on empirical grounds because they cannot be tested in isolation from auxiliary hypotheses about initial conditions or the operation of scientific instruments. Sawyer, Beed, and Sankey (1997) consider Duhem's thesis (and its restatement in stronger and weaker forms as the ‘Duhem-Quine thesis’) and its role in hypothesis testing, using four theories from economics and finance as examples. Here we consider Duhem's thesis in (...)
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  20. A. Derecin & S. Guccione (1985). Duhem-Thesis, Quine-Thesis and Duhem-Quine Thesis. Epistemologia 8 (1):77-102.
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  21. Michael Robert Dietrich (1991). Theory and Experiment in Molecular Population Genetics. Dissertation, University of California, San Diego
    This dissertation is concerned with historical and philosophical issues pertaining to the classical/balance controversy and the neutralist/selectionist controversy in population genetics. Historically, the nature of the connection between these controversies is critically examined with special attention to the claim that the neutralist position is actually the classical position brought up to date. This account of the origins of the neutral theory provides the context for examining the decision to pursue the neutral theory. The pursuit-worthiness of the neutral theory and of (...)
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  22. Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem (1954). The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
    This classic work in the philosophy of physical science is an incisive and readable account of the scientific method. Pierre Duhem was one of the great figures in French science, a devoted teacher, and a distinguished scholar of the history and philosophy of science. This book represents his most mature thought on a wide range of topics.
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  23. Michael Dummett (1974). The Significance of Quine's Indeterminacy Thesis. Synthese 27 (3-4):351 - 397.
  24. Branden Fitelson & Andrew Waterman (2007). Comparative Bayesian Confirmation and the Quine–Duhem Problem: A Rejoinder to Strevens. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58 (2):332 - 338.
    By and large, we think (Strevens's [2005]) is a useful reply to our original critique (Fitelson and Waterman [2005]) of his article on the Quine-Duhem (QD) problem (Strevens [2001]). But, we remain unsatisfied with several aspects of his reply (and his original article). Ultimately, we do not think he properly addresses our most important worries. In this brief rejoinder, we explain our remaining worries, and we issue a revised challenge for Strevens's approach to QD.
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  25. Forrai (1999). Are Quine’s Two Indeterminacy Theses Compatible? Acta Analytica 14 (23.):89-99..
    The paper seeks to show that Quine’s theses concerning the underdetermination of scientific theories by experience and the indeterminacy of reference cannot be reconciled if some of Quine’s central assumptions are accepted. The argument is this. Quine holds that the thesis about reference is not just a special case of the other thesis. In order to make sense of this comment we must distinguish between factual and epistemic indeterminacy. Something is factual indeterminate if it is not determined by the facts. (...)
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  26. Carlo Giannoni (1967). Quine, Grünbaum, and the Duhemian Thesis. Noûs 1 (3):283-297.
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  27. Donald Gillies (1998). The Duhem Thesis and the Quine Thesis. In Martin Curd & Jan Cover (eds.), Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Norton 302--319.
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  28. Donald Gillies (1993). Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century: Four Central Themes. Blackwell.
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  29. William K. Goosens (1975). Duhem's Thesis, Observationality, and Justification. Philosophy of Science 42 (3):286-298.
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  30. John D. Greenwood (1990). Two Dogmas of Neo-Empiricism: The "Theory-Informity" of Observation and the Quine-Duhem Thesis. Philosophy of Science 57 (4):553-574.
    It is argued that neither the "theory-informity" of observations nor the Quine-Duhem thesis pose any in principle threat to the objectivity of theory evaluation. The employment of exploratory theories does not generate incommensurability, but on the contrary is responsible for the mensurability and commensurability of explanatory theories, since exploratory theories enable scientists to make observations which are critical in the evaluation of explanatory theories. The employment of exploratory theories and other auxiliary hypotheses does not enable a theory to always accommodate (...)
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  31. Adolf Grünbaum (1962). The Falsifiability of Theories: Total or Partial? A Contemporary Evaluation of the Duhem-Quine Thesis. Synthese 14 (1):17 - 34.
  32. Sandra G. Harding (1976). Can Theories Be Refuted? Essays on the Duhem-Quine Thesis. Reidel.
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  33. Stephan Hartmann & Luc Bovens (2002). Bayesian Networks and the Problem of Unreliable Instruments. Philosophy of Science 69 (1):29-72.
    We appeal to the theory of Bayesian Networks to model different strategies for obtaining confirmation for a hypothesis from experimental test results provided by less than fully reliable instruments. In particular, we consider repeated measurements of a single test consequence of the hypothesis, measurements of multiple test consequences of the hypothesis, theoretical support for the reliability of the instrument, and calibration procedures. We evaluate these strategies on their relative merits under idealized conditions and show some surprising repercussions on the variety-of-evidence (...)
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  34. Walter Kaiser (1986). Das Problem der “entscheidenden Experimente”. Berichte Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 9 (2):109-125.
    In this historical essay an attempt is made to discuss the problem of decisive experiments both from the point of view of History of Science and of Philosophy of Science. The first part deals with Francis Bacon's idea of instantiae crucis and with the use of the term experimentum crucis mainly in optics. With respect to the experimental confirmation of Maxwell's electrodynamics the Duhem-Quine Thesis is discussed. Duhem had argued that not a single hypothesis but only a complete theory is (...)
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  35. R. Kirk (1969). Quine's Indeterminacy Thesis. Mind 78 (312):607-608.
  36. Robert Klee (1992). In Defense of the Quine-Duhem Thesis: A Reply to Greenwood. Philosophy of Science 59 (3):487-491.
    While discussing the work of Kuhn and Hanson, John Greenwood (1990) misidentifies the nature of the relationship between the incommensurability of theories and the theory-ladenness of observation. After pointing out this error, I move on to consider Greenwood's main argument that the Quine-Duhem thesis suffers from a form of epistemological self-defeat if it is interpreted to mean that any recalcitrant observation can always be accommodated to any theory. Greenwood finds this interpretation implausible because some adjustments to auxiliary hypotheses undermine too (...)
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  37. Karl Waterman Krause (1981). The Duhem/Quines Thesis and the Falsifiability of Theories. Dissertation, Northwestern University
    The Duhem/Quine thesis, as it is customarily understood, asserts that empirical evidence cannot falsify a scientific theory. This dissertation has three general objectives. First, I make the customary version of the thesis percise. Second, I argue that, as I have formulated it, it is true, but not for the reasons often cited. I further argue that once the genuine reasons for its truth are understood, the limits of the thesis are apparent. Third, I explore the relationship between my precise version (...)
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  38. H. Krips (1982). Epistemological Holism: Duhem or Quine? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 13 (3):251-264.
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  39. Charles Landesman (1970). Scepticism About Meaning: Quine's Thesis of Indeterminacy. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 48 (3):320 – 337.
  40. J. Largeault (1977). Can Theories Be Refuted? Essays on the Quine-Duhem Thesis. Edited by Sandra Harding. Dordrecht-Holland, Reidel, 1976, XXI, 318 Pages. [REVIEW] Dialogue 16 (4):748-754.
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  41. Jean Largeault (1979). Can Theories Be Refuted? Essays on the Quine-Duhem Thesis edited by Sandra Harding. [REVIEW] Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 169 (1):112-115.
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  42. David Larson (1988). Quine's Indeterminacy Thesis. Southwest Philosophy Review 4 (1):65-70.
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  43. Christian List (1999). Craig's Theorem and the Empirical Underdetermination Thesis Reassessed. Disputatio 7:28-39.
    This paper reassesses the question of whether Craig’s theorem poses a challenge to Quine's empirical underdetermination thesis. It will be demonstrated that Quine’s account of this issue in his paper “Empirically Equivalent Systems of the World” (1975) is flawed and that Quine makes too strong a concession to the Craigian challenge. It will further be pointed out that Craig’s theorem would threaten the empirical underdetermination thesis only if the set of all relevant observation conditionals could be shown to be recursively (...)
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  44. Chienkuo Mi (1998). Quine and Davidson on Meaning and Holism. Dissertation, The University of Iowa
    Many discussions of holism fail to see the scope ambiguity and the subject ambiguity involved in the doctrine. With the different scopes or sizes, there are both moderate and extreme versions of holism. With respect to the different subjects, meaning holism can be distinguished from holism about confirmation or disconfirmation, about belief-fixation or belief-content, or about interpretation or understanding. The principal aim of this study is to disentangle the distinct doctrines involved in holism and to characterize and assess meaning holism (...)
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  45. Arthur B. Millman (1990). Falsification and Grünbaum's Duhemian Theses. Synthese 82 (1):23 - 52.
    This paper is a detailed critical study of Adolf Grünbaum's work on the Duhemian thesis. I show that (a) Grünbaum's geometrical counterexample to the (D1) subthesis is unsuccessful, even with minimal claims made for what the counterexample is supposed to show, and (b) the (D2) subthesis is not a reasonable one (and cannot correctly be attributed to Duhem). The paper concludes with an argument about the relation between the Duhemian thesis, concerning component hypotheses of a scientific theory, and the view (...)
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  46. Joe Morrison (2012). Evidential Holism and Indispensability Arguments. Erkenntnis 76 (2):263-278.
    The indispensability argument is a method for showing that abstract mathematical objects exist. Various versions of this argument have been proposed. Lately, commentators seem to have agreed that a holistic indispensability argument will not work, and that an explanatory indispensability argument is the best candidate. In this paper I argue that the dominant reasons for rejecting the holistic indispensability argument are mistaken. This is largely due to an overestimation of the consequences that follow from evidential holism. Nevertheless, the holistic indispensability (...)
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  47. Joe Morrison (2010). Just How Controversial is Evidential Holism? Synthese 173 (3):335-352.
    This paper is an examination of evidential holism, a prominent position in epistemology and the philosophy of science which claims that experiments only ever confirm or refute entire theories. The position is historically associated with W.V. Quine, and it is at once both popular and notorious, as well as being largely under-described. But even though there’s no univocal statement of what holism is or what it does, philosophers have nevertheless made substantial assumptions about its content and its truth. Moreover they (...)
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  48. Olaf Mueller (1998). Does the Quine/Duhem Thesis Prevent Us From Defining Analyticity? On Fallacy in Quine. Erkenntnis 48 (1):81 - 99.
    Quine claims that holism (i.e., the Quine-Duhem thesis) prevents us from defining synonymy and analyticity (section 2). In "Word and Object," he dismisses a notion of synonymy which works well even if holism is true. The notion goes back to a proposal from Grice and Strawson and runs thus: R and S are synonymous iff for all sentences T we have that the logical conjunction of R and T is stimulus-synonymous to that of S and T. Whereas Grice and Strawson (...)
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  49. Olaf L. Müller (2002). From Within and From Without. Two Perspectives on Analytic Sentences. In Wolfram Hinzen & Hans Rott (eds.), Belief and meaning: Essays at the interface. Deutsche Bibliothek der Wissenschaften
    The analytic/synthetic distinction can be conceived from two points of view: from within or from without; from the perspective of one's own language or from the perspective of the language of others. From without, the central question is which sentences of a foreign language are to be classified as analytic. From within, by contrast, the question concerning the synthetic and the analytic acquires a normative dimension: which sentences am I not permitted to reject—if I want to avoid talking nonsense? Both (...)
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  50. Samir Okasha (2000). The Underdetermination of Theory by Data and the "Strong Programme" in the Sociology of Knowledge. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 14 (3):283 – 297.
    Advocates of the "strong programme" in the sociology of knowledge have argued that, because scientific theories are "underdetermined" by data, sociological factors must be invoked to explain why scientists believe the theories they do. I examine this argument, and the responses to it by J.R. Brown (1989) and L. Laudan (1996). I distinguish between a number of different versions of the underdetermination thesis, some trivial, some substantive. I show that Brown's and Laudan's attempts to refute the sociologists' argument fail. Nonetheless, (...)
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