Evidential Holism

Joe Morrison

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Evidential holism begins with something like the claim that “it is only jointly as a theory that scientific statements imply their observable consequences.” This is the holistic claim that Elliott Sober tells us is an “unexceptional observation” (1993: 35). But variations on this “unexceptional” claim feature as a premise in a series of controversial arguments for radical conclusions, such as that there is no analytic or synthetic distinction that the meaning of a sentence cannot be understood without understanding the whole language of which it is a part and that all knowledge is empirical knowledge (there is no a priori knowledge). This paper is a survey of what evidential holism is, how plausible it is, and what consequences it has. Section 1 will distinguish a range of different holistic claims, Sections 2 and 3 explore how well motivated they are and how they relate to one another, and Section 4 returns to the arguments listed above and uses the distinctions from the previous sections to identify holism's role in each case.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophy Compass
Early online date08 Jun 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Joe Morrison works on epistemological issues associated with W.V. Quine, particularly Quine's holism and naturalism. Joe was awarded a PhD in Philosophy by the University of Sheffield in 2008. He has worked at the University of Aberdeen UK, the University of Birmingham UK, and is now working at the Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland, UK. Joe is currently the Director of the British Philosophical Association, and serves on the Committee of the Analysis Trust.


  • holism
  • evidence
  • Quine, Willard
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Epistemology
  • empiricism
  • naturalism
  • confirmation
  • falsification
  • Quine-Duhem thesis
  • apriori knowledge
  • indispensability arguments
  • values in science
  • underdetermination


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