Enhanced indispensability arguments claim that Scientific Realists are committed to the existence of mathematical entities due to their reliance on Inference to the best explanation. Our central question concerns this purported parity of reasoning: do people who defend the EIA make an appropriate use of the resources of Scientific Realism to achieve platonism? We argue that just because a variety of different inferential strategies can be employed by Scientific Realists does not mean that ontological conclusions concerning which things we should (...) be Scientific Realists about are arrived at by any inferential route which eschews causes, and nor is there any direct pressure for Scientific Realists to change their inferential methods. We suggest that in order to maintain inferential parity with Scientific Realism, proponents of EIA need to give details about how and in what way the presence of mathematical entities directly contribute to explanations. (shrink)
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 (...) argument should be rejected, but for a different reason —in order that an indispensability argument relying on holism can work, it must invoke an unmotivated version of evidential holism. Such an argument will be unsound. Correcting the argument with a proper construal of evidential holism means that it can no longer deliver mathematical Platonism as a conclusion: such an argument for Platonism will be invalid. I then show how the reasons for rejecting the holistic indispensability argument importantly constrain what kind of account of explanation will be permissible in explanatory versions. (shrink)
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 (...) have drawn controversial and important conclusions from these assumptions. In this paper I distinguish three types of evidential holism and argue that the most oft-cited and controversial thesis is entirely unmotivated. The other two theses are much overlooked, but are well-motivated and free from controversial implications. (shrink)
Indispensability arguments are used as a way of working out what there is: our best science tells us what things there are. Some philosophers think that indispensability arguments can be used to show that we should be committed to the existence of mathematical objects (numbers, functions, sets). Do indispensability arguments also deliver conclusions about the modal properties of these mathematical entities? Colyvan (in Leng, Paseau, Potter (eds) Mathematical knowledge, OUP, Oxford, 109-122, 2007) and Hartry Field (Realism, mathematics and modality, Blackwell, (...) Oxford, 1989) each suggest that a consequence of the empirical methodology of indispensability arguments is that the resulting mathematical objects can only be said to exist (or not exist) contingently. Kristie Miller has argued that this line of thought doesn’t work (Miller in Erkenntnis, 77 (3), 335-359, 2012). Miller argues that indispensability arguments are in direct tension with contingentism about mathematical objects, and that they cannot tell us about the modal status of mathematical objects. I argue that Miller’s argument is crucially imprecise, and that the best way of making it clearer no longer shows that the indispensability strategy collapses or is unstable if it delivers contingentist conclusions about what there is. (shrink)
Evidential holism begins with something like the claim that “it is only jointly as a theory that scientific statements imply their observable consequences.” This is the holistic claim that Elliott Sober tells us is an “unexceptional observation”. But variations on this “unexceptional” claim feature as a premise in a series of controversial arguments for radical conclusions, such as that there is no analytic or synthetic distinction that the meaning of a sentence cannot be understood without understanding the whole language of (...) which it is a part and that all knowledge is empirical knowledge. This paper is a survey of what evidential holism is, how plausible it is, and what consequences it has. Section 1 will distinguish a range of different holistic claims, Sections 2 and 3 explore how well motivated they are and how they relate to one another, and Section 4 returns to the arguments listed above and uses the distinctions from the previous sections to identify holism's role in each case. (shrink)
A survey of arguments and positions concerning the possibility of inductive knowledge, this piece covers: Hume's problem of induction; the underdetermination of theories by evidence; the method of hypothesis; the relationship between underdetermination and evidential holism; attempts to specify how some statements can be said to be evidentially (or justificatorily) relevant to other claims.