Underdetermination, Realism, and Theory Appraisal: An Epistemological Reflection on Quantum Mechanics

Darrin W.S. Belousek, Ohio Northern University


This paper examines the epistemological significance of the present situation of underdetermination in quantum mechanics. After analyzing this underdetermination at three levels—formal, ontological, and methodological—the paper considers implications for a number of variants of the thesis of scientific realism in fundamental physics and reassesses Lakatos‘ characterization of progress in physical theory in light of the present situation. Next, this paper considers the implications of underdetermination for Weinberg’s “dream of a final theory.” Finally, the paper concludes by suggesting how one might still think of realism and progress in fundamental physics despite the possibility of persistent underdetermination in quantum mechanics.