, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 279–293 | Cite as

Underdetermination and Meaning Indeterminacy: What is the Difference?

Original Article


The first part of this paper discusses Quine’s views on underdetermination of theory by evidence, and the indeterminacy of translation, or meaning, in relation to certain physical theories. The underdetermination thesis says different theories can be supported by the same evidence, and the indeterminacy thesis says the same component of a theory that is underdetermined by evidence is also meaning indeterminate. A few examples of underdetermination and meaning indeterminacy are given in the text. In the second part of the paper, Quine’s scientific realism is discussed briefly, along with some of the difficulties encountered when considering the ‘truth’ of different empirically equivalent theories. It is concluded that the difference between underdetermination and indeterminacy, while significant, is not as great as Quine claims. It just means that after we have chosen a framework theory, from a number of empirically equivalent ones, we still have further choices along two different dimensions.


Physical Theory Equivalent Theory Correspondence Theory Acceptable Theory Creative Imagination 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Researcher EmeritusNational Research Council of CanadaOttawaCanada

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