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Eliminative Reasoning and its Limits

Friday, April 30, 2021
3:30 pm
man smiling

Chris Smeenk (Western University)

Eliminative Reasoning and its Limits

Eliminative reasoning is an appealing way to establish a theory: observations rule out all the competitors, leaving one theory standing.  This only works, however, if we have taken all the alternatives into account. There have been long-standing debates in philosophy regarding the upshot and limitations of eliminative arguments. In this talk, I will defend the virtues and clarify the limitations of eliminative reasoning, based on seeing how it has been used in gravitational physics.  I will consider one case study of eliminative reasoning in detail, namely efforts to show that general relativity (GR) provides the best theory of gravity in different regimes.  Physicists have constructed parametrized spaces meant to represent a wide range of possible theories, sharing some core set of common features that are similar to GR.  I draw three main points from this case study.  First, the construction of a broad space of parametrized alternatives partially counters the “problem of unconceived alternatives” (due to Duhem and Stanford).  Second, this response is only partially successful because the eliminative arguments have to be considered in the context of a specific regime.  Solar system tests of gravity, using the PPN framework, favour GR — or any competing theories that are equivalent to it within this regime.  But, third, eliminative arguments in different regimes may be complementary, if theories that are equivalent in one regime can be distinguished in other regimes. These three points support a qualified defense of the value of eliminative reasoning.

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Meeting ID: 995 3558 9000

Passcode: philosophy

Nicole Kirkpatrick
Nicole Kirkpatrick
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