Colloquium: October 24th

Title: Duhem Contra Quine: Cassirer, Duhem, Holism, and the Epistemology of the Exact Sciences.

Speaker: Alan Richardson (UBC)

Friday October 24, 2014 2:30 p.m., Clearihue A203


The Duhem-Quine Thesis is a famous in analytic philosophy, most importantly in its role in Quine's arguments against the analytic-synthetic distinction. This raises several historical questions about the work of Duhem: after all, his work was published well before the work of Carnap and Carnap knew Duhem's work fairly well. In this talk I'll argue for several points: First, the Duhem-Quine thesis is not a thesis that Duhem enunciates or deploys; rather the crucial notion of holism in Duhem himself was a very different affair. Second, Duhem's holism was crucially relied upon in the most sophisticated neo-Kantian account of exact science in the generation before Carnap--Ernst Cassirer's Substance and Function (1910). Third, Cassirer understands Duhem's holism not to concern theory testing but "the unity of scientific experience." Fourth, this theme in Cassirer can help us understand the systemic import of late neo-Kantian philosophy of science somewhat differently from Michael Friedman's recent work on the relativized a priori does.