Structural realism versus deployment realism: A comparative evaluation

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 59:95-105 (2016)
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In this paper I challenge and adjudicate between the two positions that have come to prominence in the scientific realism debate: deployment realism and structural realism. I discuss a set of cases from the history of celestial mechanics, including some of the most important successes in the history of science. To the surprise of the deployment realist, these are novel predictive successes toward which theoretical constituents that are now seen to be patently false were genuinely deployed. Exploring the implications for structural realism, I show that the need to accommodate these cases forces our notion of “structure” toward a dramatic depletion of logical content, threatening to render it explanatorily vacuous: the better structuralism fares against these historical examples, in terms of retention, the worse it fares in content and explanatory strength. I conclude by considering recent restrictions that serve to make “structure” more specific. I show however that these refinements will not suffice: the better structuralism fares in specificity and explanatory strength, the worse it fares against history. In light of these case studies, both deployment realism and structural realism are significantly threatened by the very historical challenge they were introduced to answer.

Author's Profile

Timothy D. Lyons
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis


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