Should a historically motivated anti-realist be a Stanfordite?

Synthese 196:535-551 (2019)
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Suppose one believes that the historical record of discarded scientific theories provides good evidence against scientific realism. Should one adopt Kyle Stanford’s specific version of this view, based on the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives? I present reasons for answering this question in the negative. In particular, Stanford’s challenge cannot use many of the prima facie strongest pieces of historical evidence against realism, namely: superseded theories whose successors were explicitly conceived, and superseded theories that were not the result of elimination-of-alternatives inferences. Attempts to accommodate and within Stanford’s framework are incompatible with other commitments Stanford holds, such as anti-realism being piecemeal instead of global. As separate lines of criticism, I argue that there are problems with Stanford’s claim that the PUA is the most important challenge to realism, and with his view of instrumentalist theory endorsement.

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Greg Frost-Arnold
Hobart and William Smith Colleges


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