Volume 10, 2001
Philosophy of Science
Physics and the Underdetermination Thesis
Some Lessons from Quantum Theory
Although exceptionally successful in the laboratory, the standard version of quantum theory is marred as a realist-objectivist proposition because of its internal conceptual difficulties and its tension with important parts of physics—most conspicuously, relativity theory. So, to meet these challenges, in recent years at least three distinct major objectivist programs have been advanced to further quantum theory into a proper general account of material systems. Unfortunately, the resulting proposals turn out to be, for all practical purposes, empirically equivalent both among themselves and against the standard version. This paper analyzes the basic issues involved in the case. It is argued that (a) the global anti-realist conclusion derived from it are fallacious, and (b) the encountered underdetermination shows how contingent upon the state of empirical knowledge talk about the “limits of science” actually is.