String Theory and the Question of Theory Assessment
Richard Dawid, University of Vienna and Center for Philosophy of Science
Abstract: The current status of string theory is assessed quite differently by most of the theory’s exponents than by the majority of physicists in other fields. While the former tend to have a high degree of trust in string theory’s viability, the latter largely share a substantially more sceptical point of view. The present talk will offer a sketch of the conflicting positions and will suggest that the controversy can be understood in terms of a paradigmatic rift that has opened up between the two sides with regard to their respective conceptions of theory assessment. The philosophical substance of this shift may be best characterized in terms of the notion of limitations to scientific underdetermination. The choice between the string theorists’ perspective and the more traditional one adhered to by string theory’s critics is not easily decidable on neutral grounds. Still, it will be of crucial importance for the future evolution of fundamental physics.