Conclusive Theory Assessment

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Are there any actual historical instances of conclusive theory assessment or does every case of theory assessment involve some degree of inconclusiveness?

The second law specifies that, in order to become accepted, a theory is assessed by the method employed at the time.1pp. 129-132 Barseghyan envisioned three possible distinct outcomes for theory assessment: accept, not accept, and inconclusive.1p. 199 Are there really cases where the assessment of a theory is conclusive, or is there always some degree of inconclusiveness involved? If there are necessary cases, is it possible for us as historians to show decisively that a theory assessment had a conclusive outcome, e.g. to show that it was accepted after having conclusively satisfied the requirements of the employed method rather than accepted after an assessment that involved some degree of inconclusiveness? We can ask the same question with regard to mosaic splits: are necessary splits actually possible, or are all mosaic splits the result of inconclusive assessment? And if they are possible, can we ever as historians detect them?

In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Paul Patton in 2016. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. At the moment, the question has no accepted answer in Scientonomy.

Broader History

The question of "conclusive" theory assessment is historically closely related to the the question of scientific underdetermination. In brief, scientific theories are underdetermined when several competing theories are able to adequately explain the same empirical phenomenon.

Historically, the accepted view concerning theory acceptance was scientific determinism. This is the belief that theory assessment is entirely determined by the empirical evidence that confronts science. Larry Laudan claims to be able to trace the concept of scientific determinism back to Gottfreid Leibniz but it is likely that Plato and Aristotle both held this belief. 2pp. 26-39, 43-45, 62 The logical positivists of the early twentieth century also believed in scientific determinism. In modern philosophy of science, Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos believed in scientific determinism. In the present day, noted physicist Stephen Weinberg]] believes in scientific determinism.3

Thomas Kuhn pointed out that theory assessment does not always produce a conclusive outcome.4 The later Larry Laudan agreed with this assessment.2 In his reticulated model of science, theory choice is underdetermined because scientific theories and methods underdetermine each other. According to Laudan, because the results of theory choice is determined by the methods employed at the time, and because the methods employed at the time are influenced by the accepted theories, the evolution of science could vary greatly depending on what order theories and methods are accepted. James Robert Brown agrees.5

While the question of scientific underdeterminism is not identical to the question of conclusive theory assessment, the questions are related. If theory selection were a deterministic process, then there would be no possibility that any theory selection process could result in an inconclusive assessment. Only if theory selection were underdetermined by the empirical evidence, would an inconclusive theory assessment even be possible.

Scientonomic History

Patton, Overgaard, and Barseghyan have proposed a modified Second Law of Scientific Change that they feel better accommodates the possibility of an inconclusive theory assessment and better explains how mosaic splits occur.6

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this question (it includes all the instances when the question was accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by a community):
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 April 2016It was acknowledged as an open question by the Scientonomy Seminar 2016.Yes

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Accepted Theories

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Suggested Modifications

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Related Topics

This question is a subquestion of Theory Assessment Outcomes.


  1. a b  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  2. a b  Laudan, Larry. (1984) Science and Values. University of California Press.
  3. ^  Weinberg, Steven. (2003) Facing up: Science and its cultural adversaries. Harvard University Press.
  4. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1977) The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. University of Chicago Press.
  5. ^  Brown, James Robert. (2001) Who Rules in Science? Harvard University Press.
  6. ^  Patton, Paul; Overgaard, Nicholas and Barseghyan, Hakob. (2017) Reformulating the Second Law. Scientonomy 1, 29-39. Retrieved from