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confirmational holism

Confirmational holism is a view that is extremely important to the empiricist movement. Confirmational holism states that when a hypothesis is proven by empirical means, then all underlying theories that correspond to that hypothesis are also proven. This is extremely important in regards to furthering our understanding of the world. Philosophy can easily get hung up or hit a stopping block as a result of instances such as mathematical theory being based on previous mathematical theory. It would seem that an almost endless series of proofs must be confirmed in order to even get to the hypothesis that is based on empirical findings. However, confirmational holism allows hypotheses as a whole to be verified by finding them in nature (Bueno). Furthermore, confirmational holism takes naturalism one step further. Naturalism in short is a scientific process of observing nature. From this scientific process, a person can be more certain of asserting statements about the world. However, naturalism on its own does not truly confirm anything. This is where confirmational holism steps up and takes over. If naturalism can formulate a statement that is more probable then not, and there are mathematical hypotheses that coincide with this statement, then everything is confirmed (Colyvan).

An example that one may study in Physics II would be the hypothesis that light has wave properties as well as particle properties. During the nineteenth century diffraction patterns had already been observed in light. This would indicate that light has wave properties. However, scientists still adhered to Newton's view that light was simply particles and made the case that if light truly did have wave properties, then shining light on a sphere would create a bright spot in the middle of the shadow. (The diffraction patterns and the bright spot in the middle of the sphere's shadow would have to do with waves interfering with one another constructively and destructively.) An experiment was done, and sure enough it was found in nature that a bright spot existed in the middle of the sphere's shadow. This clinched the theory that light has wave properties as well as particle properties (Halliday 891-892).

--Will Sauer

Sources:
Bueno, Otavio. "Application of Mathematics and Underdetermination" in Claudio Delrieux and Javier Legris (eds.), Computer Modeling of Scientific Reasoning. (Bahia Blanca: Ediuns) 2003.

Colyvan, Mark, "Indispensability Arguments in the Philosophy of Mathematics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL=http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2003/entries/mathphil-indis

Halliday, David, Robert Resmick and Jearl Walker. Fundamentals of Physics. 6th edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2001.