Emily Valerio’s Notes on “Confirmation, Semantics, and the Interpretation of Scientific Theories” by Richard Boyd


Philosophy of Science:

Applied Philosophy of Science:

Scientific knowledge

Scientific Concepts and Categories

Scientific Language

Findings, Concepts, Methods



·        Set of premises and a conclusion that can be drawn from them

·        Ex. Observe a bird with sharp talons and sharp beak and infer that it is carnivorous

·        Some inferences are more correct than others based on the accuracy of the observations and the conclusion that is drawn


Deductively Valid Inference –

·        An inference such that there is no possible way in which the premises could be true and the conclusion false. MUST BE TRUE

·        I.e. Geometric Theorems

·        Uses Auxiliary Hypotheses/statements which are independently confirmed to confirm the truth of a statement


Inductive Inference –

·        Observations or experimental results used to justify a general conclusion about natural phenomena

·        Again, example about the bird with sharp talons and beak must be carnivorous

·        Never deductively valid!!!! (Hume)

·        We only know what we have proven or observed thus far; no way to know if there will be a case in the future (or current case that is unknowable) where the same premises lead to a different conclusion

·        I.e. bird with sharp talons and beak that is NOT carnivorous

·        Always a risk of error because cannot know ALL possible situations

·        Logically possible that a prediction will be false in the future


Empirically Equivalent:

·        Two different theories are empirically equivalent if the same observations lead to each deducted conclusion.  (Same observation, two equally possible conclusions)


Analytic Statement:

·        If a statement is true in virtue of the meanings of its constituent words

·        I.e. “All bachelors are unmarried”

·        The definition of a bachelor is a male who is not married


Synthetic Statement

·        If the statement (or opposite) is not analytic

·        Depends upon observations, not on the words themselves

·        All bachelors are happy

·        This would only be a synthetic statement if every bachelor one observes is happy – does not correlate with the definition and is proven false once one observes a bachelor who is unhappy


Logical Empiricism (a.k.a. Logical Positivism)

·        Address the problem of demarcation

o       Problem of distinguishing between science and non-science

o       Distinguish between scientific and metaphysical theories

·        Logical empiricist verification has two parts

o       Verifiability theory of meaning

o       Knowledge Empiricism

·        Verifiability theory of meaning

o       Understand a statement by understanding context in which it is true

o       Procedures for testing and verifying or disconfirming a statement or theory

o       If there is no way to test the validity of a statement – statement is meaningless

·        Knowledge empiricism

o       All synthetic knowledge (by observation and NOT definition) is empirical knowledge (based on grounded evidence of the senses)

o       Evidence for truth or falsity based on observations

·        Example: Two empirically equivalent theories.  No way to empirically test to see which is empirically better. Knowledge empiricism says no way to distinguish or reject either statement. Both theories, however, are meaningless by verificationism

·        GOAL:  Elimination of METAPHYSICS (doctrines, theology, etc.)


Unobservable Phenomena (Metaphysical or Scientific)

·        Science routinely refers to phenomena that is intangible

·        Metaphysics is also unobservable

·        Unobservable phenomena appear to be neither analytic or synthetic (observable)

·        Any theory with unobservable phenomena can have infinite alternative theories that contradict first conception but are empirically equivalent to it.

·        Some would argue that theism does have testable predictions

o       i.e. God created life, so living things exist

·        Rebuttle: could make up an empirically equivalent argument for atheism, thereby both statements are empirically equivalent – no way to verify which is more correct.

·        Instrumentalist position: Synthetic content (observable) of a theory is exhausted by the set of observable predictions deducible from it.

·        According to knowledge empiricism, no knowledge of unobservable phenomena is possible because cannot make observations

·        Verificationism states that unobservable phenomena are meaningless because they cannot be tested empirically


Rational Reconstruction

·        Application of verificationism

·        Results in elimination of metaphysical features

·        Observational consequences of a doctrine are determined holistically

o       Which auxillary hypotheses are to be included

o       Observational terms – observable phenomena or properties of it

o       Theoretical terms – unobservable phenomena

·        Operationalism – classification – relate to procedures for measuring properties – a method of reconstruction – FAILED – because scientists routinely modify or revise procedure and cannot merely reword



·        constant conjuntion – An event is the cause of a subsequent event if and only if events like the first are always followed by events like the second.  – FAILS – no determinant relationship between events

·        One event causes another event just in case the second event is deductively predictable from the first, given laws of nature and suitable antecedent conditions



·        Karl Popper, 1934, attempt to solve demarcation problem

·        Popper rejected verificationist conception that possibility of confirmation/disconfirmation determined if something was scientific

·        Observations never confirm any general theories, but can only refute them

·        A theory is potentially a scientific theory if and only if there are possible observations that would falsify (refute) it


Scientific realism

·        theories interpreted at “face value”

·        If a theory appears to describe unobservable events, it should be thought of as really reffering to real unobservable features, which exist independently of our theorizing about them

·        There is a reality apart from “us” – it would exist even if we were not here


Social Constructivism

·        i.e. Thomas Kuhn

·        Two theories each with supporters but no rational method acceptable to both sides to determine which is betterà two theories/traditions are Incommensurable  à occurs during scientific revolutions

·        We construct our own reality by deeming a tradition or theory to be normal

·        Normal science – long periods where prevailing theory and methods (paradigm) are articulated

·        Revolutionary science – arise after anomalies surface – anamolies are radically incommensurable. When new paradigm recruits adherents becomes basis for new paradigm

·        New science à socially constructed by the adoption of a new paradigm