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It is often claimed that a scientific theory can be proven false, but can never be proven true.

In abstract terms, for a particular experiment, let T represent a theoretical prediction, and let E be the results from the experiment.

Roughly speaking it is said that we can say a theory is false if T is inconsistent with E. If however these are consistent, then we still cannot say for certain that the theory is correct.

Now on pondering this, I began to question if we can in fact even say that a theory is false if T contradicts E. Instead rather, all we can say is that T is inconsistent with E, but we cannot be sure which is incorrect (e.g. faulty experimental design or faulty theory).

Generalising this further, my thoughts are that we can never evaluate the truth of any claim, but rather the best we can do is evaluate the consistency of a claim with other claims.

Now as to the question, I'm wondering if there are any specific philosophical schools of thought that address truth in this regard, as being nothing but a collection of internally consistent claims? Are there schools of thought in agreement/opposition to this idea?

  • This sounds a lot like formal logic – yuggib Aug 12 '18 at 8:48
  • Well, in reality this is same: if you think there is falsity somewhere, it means something is contradictive in your mind. However, in reality it's more complex and contradiction does not necessarily mean inconsistency - you could miss an explanation solving it. I think, it's impossible to prove inconsistency as well. – rus9384 Aug 12 '18 at 9:10
  • Just to add some thoughts: 1. A theory might of course also be internally contradictory. 2. Often experimental evidence consists of a set of samples. Thus, a theory may not fit the data in the sense that the data would be extremely unlikely under that theory; but of course there is always a chance that the theory is in fact correct and we got the data we did due to a statistical fluke. – present Aug 12 '18 at 11:49
  • I've tried writing this as an answer three times, and given up. Perhaps someone else can. But it's important to distinguish between "Scientific Theories" and "Laws of Physics". Theories are by definition understandings of science that can't be proven true, but they aren't the only truth claims in science. Laws are those by definition that ARE proven true. – Ryno Aug 12 '18 at 19:12
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    Truth as internal consistency is known as the coherence theory of truth. That it is, strictly speaking, impossible to falsify theories, because empirical tests depend on indefinite number of background assumptions any of which can be challenged, is known as the Quine-Duhem thesis. "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system"", as Quine put it. – Conifold Aug 12 '18 at 19:46
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Generalising this further, my thoughts are that we can never evaluate the truth of any claim, but rather the best we can do is evaluate the consistency of a claim with other claims.

Now as to the question, I'm wondering if there are any specific philosophical schools of thought that address truth in this regard, as being nothing but a collection of internally consistent claims? Are there schools of thought in agreement/opposition to this idea?

It sounds to me like you might want to read up on The Coherence Theory of Truth, if you haven't heard of it before?

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