Scientific Realism and the Pessimistic Meta-Modus Tollens

In Steve Clarke & Timothy D. Lyons (eds.), Recent Themes in the Philosophy of Science: Scientific Realism and Commonsense. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 63-90 (2002)
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Broadly speaking, the contemporary scientific realist is concerned to justify belief in what we might call theoretical truth, which includes truth based on ampliative inference and truth about unobservables. Many, if not most, contemporary realists say scientific realism should be treated as ‘an overarching scientific hypothesis’ (Putnam 1978, p. 18). In its most basic form, the realist hypothesis states that theories enjoying general predictive success are true. This hypothesis becomes a hypothesis to be tested. To justify our belief in the realist hypothesis, realists commonly put forward an argument known as the ‘no-miracles argument’. With respect to the basic hypothesis this argument can be stated as follows: it would be a miracle were our theories as successful as they are, were they not true; the only possible explanation for the general predictive success of our scientific theories is that they are true.

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Timothy D. Lyons
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis


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