International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Series | Book | Chapter


The aim and structure of methodological theory

Martin Carrier

pp. 273-290


One of the challenges Kuhn's work poses to philosophy of science concerns the insight that theory-choice and, accordingly, theory-change is governed by a more complex and subtle procedure than anticipated. In particular, this procedure is claimed to inevitably and justifiedly leave room for individual preferences so that theory-choice fails to be determined unambiguously by criteria with epistemic bearing. This methodological uncertainty can be labeled as Kuhn-underdetermination. Unlike Duhem-Quine underdetermination, it does not require empirical equivalence but rather refers to a situation in which alternative theories have their strengths and faults in different areas and in different respects so that no clear overall picture emerges. Overarching methodological theories can be construed as attempts to overcome the limits set by Kuhn underdetermination. In this perspective, theories like Lakatosianism and Bayesianism provide rules for epistemic judgments that are intended to make a clear evaluation of the credentials of rivaling scientific theories possible. The two methodological theories are supposed to serve as guidelines for methodological judgment or at least to explain with hindsight why a particular theory was picked. However, on closer scrutiny the two methodological theories founder in this task of accounting for theory choice decisions. The criteria of excellence they specify are liable to uncertainties of the same sort as the more traditional virtues they are intended to replace. The paper proposes an alternative picture: methodological theories suggest general maxims and rules that guide the confirmation process rather than provide criteria for specific theory-choice decisions. Methodological theories serve to connect and unify such maxims and rules. Traditionally, lists of methodological virtues are drawn up ad hoc. One could easily add further criteria or delete others. By contrast, methodological theories provide a coherent approach to appreciating scientific theories and comparing their explanatory achievements. And they give a rationale for why these rules rather than others deserve to be preferred.

Publication details

Published in:

Soler Léna, Sankey Howard, Hoyningen-Huene Paul (2008) Rethinking scientific change and theory comparison: stabilities, ruptures, incommensurabilities?. Dordrecht, Springer.

Pages: 273-290

DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-6279-7_20

Full citation:

Carrier Martin (2008) „The aim and structure of methodological theory“, In: L. Soler, H. Sankey & P. Hoyningen-Huene (eds.), Rethinking scientific change and theory comparison, Dordrecht, Springer, 273–290.