Journal Article

The Crux of Crucial Experiments: Duhem's Problems and Inference to the Best Explanation

Marcel Weber

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 60, issue 1, pages 19-49
Published in print March 2009 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online November 2008 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axn040
The Crux of Crucial Experiments: Duhem's Problems and Inference to the Best Explanation

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Going back at least to Duhem, there is a tradition of thinking that crucial experiments are impossible in science. I analyse Duhem's arguments and show that they are based on the excessively strong assumption that only deductive reasoning is permissible in experimental science. This opens the possibility that some principle of inductive inference could provide a sufficient reason for preferring one among a group of hypotheses on the basis of an appropriately controlled experiment. To be sure, there are analogues to Duhem's problems that pertain to inductive inference. Using a famous experiment from the history of molecular biology as an example, I show that an experimentalist version of inference to the best explanation (IBE) does a better job in handling these problems than other accounts of scientific inference. Furthermore, I introduce a concept of experimental mechanism and show that it can guide inferences from data within an IBE-based framework for induction.

Introduction

Duhem on the Logic of Crucial Experiments

‘The Most Beautiful Experiment in Biology’

Why Not Simple Elimination?

Severe Testing

An Experimentalist Version of IBE 6.1

Physiological and experimental mechanisms

6.2

Explaining the data

6.3

IBE and the problem of untested auxiliaries

6.4

IBE-turtles all the way down

Van Fraassen's ‘Bad Lot’ Argument

IBE and Bayesianism

Conclusions

Journal Article.  12542 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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