Scientific Realism and Empirical Confirmation: a Puzzle

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 90:153-159 (2021)
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Abstract

Scientific realism driven by inference to the best explanation (IBE) takes empirically confirmed objects to exist, independent, pace empiricism, of whether those objects are observable or not. This kind of realism, it has been claimed, does not need probabilistic reasoning to justify the claim that these objects exist. But I show that there are scientific contexts in which a non-probabilistic IBE-driven realism leads to a puzzle. Since IBE can be applied in scientific contexts in which empirical confirmation has not yet been reached, realists will in these contexts be committed to the existence of empirically unconfirmed objects. As a consequence of such commitments, because they lack probabilistic features, the possible empirical confirmation of those objects is epistemically redundant with respect to realism.

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Simon Allzén
University of Amsterdam

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