Should Scientific Realists Embrace Theoretical Conservatism?

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A prominent type of scientific realism holds that some important parts of our best current scientific theories are at least approximately true. According to such realists, radically distinct alternatives to these theories or theory-parts are unlikely to be approximately true. Thus one might be tempted to argue, as the prominent anti-realist Kyle Stanford recently did, that realists of this kind have little or no reason to encourage scientists to attempt to identify and develop theoretical alternatives that are radically distinct from currently accepted theories in the relevant respects. In other words, it may seem that realists should recommend that scientists be relatively conservative in their theoretical endeavors. This paper aims to show that this argument is mistaken. While realists should indeed be less optimistic of finding radically distinct alternatives to replace current theories, realists also have greater reasons to value the outcomes of such searches. Interestingly, this holds both for successful and failed attempts to identify and develop such alternatives.
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First archival date: 2018-08-14
Latest version: 3 (2018-08-15)
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