Results, Conclusions, and Underdetermination

August 2, 2007 at 1:24 am 2 comments

I was reading Longino’s “The Fate of Knowledge” today, and I finally think that I have a good grasp on how to use the term “underdetermination”. It was being used in a comparison between sociologists and philosophers of science. The idea that many people in the SSK field have is that the conclusions scientists draw are underdetermined by the results, meaning that the results alone do not lead towards the conclusions drawn. This is a deceptively controversial statement, I guess, because it opens the door for the number of social factors which sociologists declare affect the conclusions of scientists. If there is any underdetermination at all, then other factors must enter into the equation which produces a conclusion.

This doesn’t seem like a very good term. The problem with “underdetermination” is that it introduces a normative element to its subject. If conclusions are underdetermined by results, it is implied that results should be the only factor involved in the drawing of a conclusion. That doesn’t seem right to me; the results of a given study need a context in order for any conclusion to be drawn. Otherwise, the average scientific paper could skip the “conclusion” or “discussion” or whatever and leave off at the “results” section. The idea behind the word “underdetermination” is sound, but I wish the word had a better frame.


Entry filed under: Longino, SSK, underdetermination.

Pascal, Transcendentalist? Pascal, Transcendentalist? pt.2

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. katrooland  |  August 29, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Underdetermination. Is this what mythology is? Transcendentalism trying to answer what empiricism cannot?

  • 2. donescience  |  September 1, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Underdetermination, despite what it might seem from the context of my blog (with other posts regarding transcendentalism side by side), is the idea that social factors influence the conclusions scientists draw from their experiments. These factors can be hidden or apparent to the scientist, but the important idea is that the results ALONE are not the only thing that influences a scientist’s conclusion.


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Everything on this blog should be taken as a draft, the spilling over of mental activity flung far and wide. The author is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, MA who enjoys many things but devotes most of this space to matters academic.
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