Historical Science, Over- and Underdetermined: A Study of Darwin’s Inference of Origins

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (4):805-829 (2011)
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Abstract

The epistemology of the historical sciences has been debated recently. Cleland argued that the effects of the past overdetermine it. Turner argued that the past is underdetermined by its effects because of the decay of information from the past. I argue that the extent of over- and underdetermination cannot be approximated by philosophical inquiry. It is an empirical question that each historical science attempts to answer. Philosophers should examine how paradigmatic cases of historical science handled underdetermination or utilized overdetermination. I analyze such a paradigmatic case, Darwin’s phylogenetic inferences. Darwin proceeded in three consecutive stages. The initial inference that there was some common cause of homologies was usually overdetermined. The final inference of the character traits of ancestor species was usually underdetermined. The second stage inference of the causal net that connected the species that share some common cause was inbetween. A comparison with Comparative Historical Linguistics demonstrates similar three stages of inference that move from the over- to the underdetermined

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Aviezer Tucker
Harvard University

Citations of this work

The Ontic Account of Scientific Explanation.Carl F. Craver - 2014 - In Marie I. Kaiser, Oliver R. Scholz, Daniel Plenge & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Explanation in the Special Sciences: The Case of Biology and History. Springer Verlag. pp. 27-52.
Model Organisms are Not (Theoretical) Models.Arnon Levy & Adrian Currie - 2015 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66 (2):327-348.
Hot-Blooded Gluttons: Dependency, Coherence, and Method in the Historical Sciences.Adrian Currie - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (4):929-952.
A second look at the colors of the dinosaurs.Derek D. Turner - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 55:60-68.

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Knowledge and the Flow of Information.Fred I. Dretske - 1981 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 175 (1):69-70.

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