Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
Theories, counter-examples and the symmetry thesis
In his book, The Anatomy of Inquiry, Israel Scheffler rejects what is known as "The Symmetry Thesis of Explanation and Prediction.” The Symmetry Thesis asserts that explanation and prediction have the same logical form. Scheffler's reason for rejecting the Symmetry Thesis is that he believes there are examples of predictions that do not take the same form that explanations do. I argue that this approach to the Symmetry Thesis is misguided. I show this theoretical through an analysis of "theorizing”. My argument is that terms (e.g. "mass" and "force") are defined with specific goals in mind. Since definitions cannot be refuted by counter example, I argue that theoretical terms can only be criticized in connection with some goal. I then show that "explanation” and "prediction" are such theoretical terms, and hence that the Symmetry Thesis cannot be refuted by counter-example. I then offer some goals that could possibly have led someone to assert the Symmetry Thesis. It is in connection with these goals that we can criticize the Symmetry Thesis. My defense of the Symmetry Thesis is supported by the view that Thomas S. Kuhn takes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn's position is that scientists supply "articulations" of theories when confronted with unexpected findings and that these findings are not regarded as counter-examples.