Epistemic Stances

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What are the epistemic stances that can be taken by epistemic agents towards epistemic elements of all types?

Epistemic agents (e.g. individual scientists, scientific communities) can take different epistemic stances (e.g. acceptance, use, pursuit, employment) towards different epistemic elements (e.g. theories, methods). Thus, it must be clarified which types of stances can be taken towards epistemic elements of any given type.

Importantly, an answer to this general question should list only those stances that can be taken towards epistemic elements of all types; the stances that can be taken toward specific types of epistemic elements (e.g. towards theories, questions, Methods, etc.) should be listed in the answers to the respective sub-questions of this question.

In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. Epistemic Stances - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018) is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available theory on the subject. Epistemic Stances - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018) states "The only stance that can be taken towards epistemic elements of all kinds is compatibility."


In the early twentieth century, many logical positivists supported a confirmationist view of theory assessment, in which theories are assessed on the basis of the balance of confirming and disconfirming evidence. In 1945, Carl Hempel, a logical empiricist and confirmationist, argued that, on such grounds, an agent might take one of three stances towards a theory, accepting it, rejecting it, or withholding judgment.1p. 167-1682

In his Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), 3 Karl Popper argued for a falsificationist scientific methodology, but a relatively similar set of possible stances towards theories. Scientific ideas gained acceptance when they had survived strong tests in which their unexpected novel predictions were verified, and where rejected when they failed to survive such tests.45p. 57-74

Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1963) used a number of equally vague terms to refer to stances a community might take towards a theory, including universally received, embraced, acknowledged, and committed to.6pp. 10-13

In Imre Lakatos's theory of scientific change individual theories were encompassed in larger assemblages called research programs. A research program consists of a family of scientific theories containing 'hard core' assumptions, which are stubbornly defended, surrounded by a protective belt of associated auxiliary assumptions, which may be modified if needed to protect the hard core. Lakatos identified two epistemic stances that epistemic agents might take toward research programs. They could be deemed either progressive or degenerating. A research program was progressive if its theories successfully predicted hitherto unexpected facts. It was degenerating if it failed to make successful bold predictions, and if its theories were intentionally fashioned so as to accommodate already known facts.7

Larry Laudan's reticulated model of scientific change involved scientific theories, scientific methods, and scientific values, all interdependent. Methods could change along with theories, and thus epistemic agents could take stances with respect to them both. For Laudan, a theory would be regarded as accepted by an agent if that agent accepted its truth, or rejected if deemed by the agent to be false. He also proposed a new stance, that of pursuit. To pursue a theory is to work with it or explore it without committing to a belief that it is true.58pp. 108-114


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 January 2016While, in this general form, the question wasn't clearly stated in The Laws of Scientific Change, it was implicit in a more specific question of Epistemic Stances Towards Theories.Yes

All Theories

The following theories have attempted to answer this question:
TheoryFormulationFormulated In
Epistemic Stances - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018)The only stance that can be taken towards epistemic elements of all kinds is compatibility.2018
If a theory on this descriptive question is missing, please click here to add it.

Accepted Theories

The following theories have been accepted as answers to this question:
CommunityTheoryAccepted FromAccepted Until
ScientonomyEpistemic Stances - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018)1 October 2021

Suggested Modifications

Here is a list of modifications concerning this topic:
ModificationCommunityDate SuggestedSummaryVerdictVerdict RationaleDate Assessed
Sciento-2018-0016Scientonomy28 January 2018Accept compatibility as a distinct epistemic stance that can be taken towards epistemic elements of all types. Also accept that compatibility is binary, reflexive, and symmetric. Transitivity of compatibility holds only within mosaics, not in general.AcceptedThe community agreed that the compatibility is "a distinct epistemic stance, separable, in principle, from that of theory acceptance",c1 as it is "a stance that may be taken in addition to/combination with other stances".c2 The reviewers agreed that "Fraser and Sarwar argue convincingly that elements outside the mosaic can be assessed for compatibility with other elements inside or outside the mosaic",c3 since it "can be used to compare elements that are all part of a mosaic, all not part of a mosaic, or some combination of the two".c4 It was also argued that "since we accept the existence of compatibility criteria... we should also accept that there is such a stance as compatibility".c5 Finally, it was also suggested that the idea of compatibility as a binary relation is to be further explored.c61 October 2021

Current View

In Scientonomy community, the accepted theory on the subject is Epistemic Stances - Compatibility (Fraser-Sarwar-2018). It states: "The only stance that can be taken towards epistemic elements of all kinds is compatibility." According to Fraser and Sarwar, "compatibility is a distinct epistemic stance that agents can take towards elements".p.70 They show this by arguing that it is possible to take the stance of compatibility towards a pair of elements without taking any of the other stances towards these elements. Read More

Related Topics

This topic is a sub-topic of Ontology of Scientific Change. It has the following sub-topic(s):

This topic is also related to the following topic(s):


  1. ^  Losee, John. (2001) A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^  Hempel, Carl. (1945) Studies in the Logic of Confirmation. Mind 54 (213), 1-26.
  3. ^  Popper, Karl. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Hutchinson & Co.
  4. ^  Thornton, Stephen. (2016) Karl Popper. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/popper/.
  5. a b  Godfrey-Smith, Peter. (2003) Theory and Reality. University of Chicago Press.
  6. ^  Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^  Lakatos, Imre. (1978) Philosophical Papers: Volume 1. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes. Cambridge University Press.
  8. ^  Laudan, Larry. (1977) Progress and Its Problems. University of California Press.