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The question as to whether scientific theories can be shown to be true or false is a complex one The answer depends on ones interpretation of the meaning of theory To what does it refer Is its role to reveal the nature of reality or is it merely a human construct In which case what do we mean by truth Is it an accurate description of reality or does it simply refer to a successful theory that produces accurate predictions Duhem attacks this problem from a very strict non-metaphysical standpoint As a result he shows that we can know nothing about material reality and indeed very little about the validity of our own theories In the end it appears that the theoretical framework within which scientists work is more a matter of convention than anything else In order to determine whether the claim that scientific theory cannot be proven true or otherwise we must first understand what Duhem means by scientific theory He introduces two possibilities as to the nature of a physical which we can equate to scientific theory The first being that it is an explanation of the reality lying behind a group of experimental laws those that are empirically determined The second is that a physical theory is simply an abstract system to classify and summarize a group of laws Taking the first possibility a belief still held by many today this seeks to look beneath the sensible appearances and find the reality beneath which is causing the sensations we experience However this presents us with a problem We only have access to perceptions so how can we hope to find a physical theory that provides a certain explanation of the reality causing these sensations A theory can only suggest a reality that would produce all those perceptions on which our experimental laws are based In that sense it becomes just a hypothetical explanation A perfect physical theory
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