Reflections on refutation

23rd May 2014

Daniel Tangri


It is an episode of some consequence that a discussion on epistemology has erupted in the pages of Australian Archaeology. The debate has covered many of the thornier issues of philosophy in archaeology, ranging from the sociology of the discipline to the vagaries of methodology. This was quite an unintended consequence of an article which was originally aimed at elucidating only a small aspect of this spectrum. The larger picture has since been shifted into focus in the debate with Murray, most recently with greater clarity in AA31. It is clear that both of us previously had little understanding of each other’s views. For example, I attacked Murray’s argument on plausibility when he was talking about tradition, and Murray has chosen to discuss tradition when the focus of the original essay was on which of two advertised testing systems might be most appropriate; tradition and plausibility are relevant to this discussion, but all topics can be discussed independently. Murray is correct in noting that I focused overmuch on the context of justification without including the role of tradition in the context of discovery. After all that, however, it is fascinating to see that Murray (AA31:99) now agrees that ‘confirmation, because it tends to be conservative of existing approaches, is less useful than refutation’. As this was actually the point of my original essay, it is unfortunate that we have had to discuss other issues in such a foolhardy manner when simple correspondence might have saved a lot of trees.

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Tangri, D.
Reflections on refutation
June 1991
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