The Social Epistemology of Experimental Economics
De sociale epistemologie van experimentele economie
This thesis analysed the experimental process of knowledge production. It investigated how scientists build their confidence in knowledge generated by a process in which both the means and the outcomes of knowledge production are re-constructed. The study of experimental practice in the natural and human sciences supports the view that scientists are convinced that they have produced the phenomenon of interest when they achieve a three-way coherence between the three components of the experimental system: the experimental procedure, the instrumental model and the phenomenal model. When the three-way coherence is achieved, experimenters believe that they have created an experimental system that succeeded in producing the phenomenon of interest. The relation of coherence among the three components of the experimental system justifies belief in the experimental results because the threeway alignment supports each one of them and thus the experimental result conveyed by the phenomenal model. This was the underlying principle of the argument from coherence that justifies the way by which experimenters form belief in experimental results. However, it was also noted that the three-way alignment is not sufficient to justify belief in experimentally generated knowledge. Two additional arguments were presented that reinforced the epistemic value of the three-way coherence. The argument from materiality asserts that the direct engagement of the subject matter in knowledge production (both in the natural and human domains) renders experimental results and the coherences supporting them non-trivial achievements. The coherent problem-solutions arrived at carry knowledge about the subject under scrutiny because scientists cannot fully control it to meet their prior expectations. However, the argument from materiality does not satisfactorily account for experimenters’ confidence in experimental results. The participation of the subject matter might still be severely constrained by the problem-situation at hand or by the plasticity of the experimental systems. The argument from sociality asserts that the social dimension of knowledge production encourages the generation of fruitful problem-situations and reliable problem-solutions by bringing to the production process a vast number of resources of practice. The three arguments in conjunction lead to a broader conclusion: the greater the number and the greater the heterogeneity of the resources (material, conceptual and social) involved in knowledge production, the higher the epistemic status of the relations of coherence established given that they are the result of practices that have explored relevant courses of action to the resolution of interesting problem-situations.