Systematicity theory meets Socratic scientific realism: the systematic quest for truth

Synthese 196 (3):833-861 (2019)
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Systematicity theory—developed and articulated by Paul Hoyningen-Huene—and scientific realism constitute separate encompassing and empirical accounts of the nature of science. Standard scientific realism asserts the axiological thesis that science seeks truth and the epistemological thesis that we can justifiably believe our successful theories at least approximate that aim. By contrast, questions pertaining to truth are left “outside” systematicity theory’s “intended scope” ; the scientific realism debate is “simply not” its “focus”. However, given the continued centrality of that debate in the general philosophy of science literature, and given that scientific realists also endeavor to provide an encompassing empirical account of science, I suggest that these two contemporary accounts have much to offer one another. Overlap for launching a discussion of their relations can be found in Nicholas Rescher’s work. Following through on a hint from Rescher, I embrace a non-epistemic, purely axiological scientific realism—what I have called, Socratic scientific realism. And, bracketing the realist’s epistemological thesis, I put forward the axiological tenet of scientific realism as a needed supplement to systematicity theory. There are two broad components to doing this. First, I seek to make clear that axiological realism and systematicity theory accord with one another. Toward that end, after addressing Hoyningen-Huene’s concerns about axiological analysis, I articulate a refined axiological realist meta-hypothesis: it is, in short, that the end toward which scientific inquiry is directed is an increase in a specific subclass of true claims. I then identify a key feature of scientific inquiry, not generally flagged explicitly, that I take to stand as shared terrain for the two empirical meta-hypotheses. And I argue that this feature can be informatively accounted for by my axiological meta-hypothesis. The second broad component goes beyond mere compatibility between the two positions: I argue that, in want of a systematic account of science, we are prompted to find an end toward which scientific inquiry is directed that is deeper than what systematicity theory offers. Specifically, I argue that my refined axiological realist meta-hypothesis is required to both explain and justify key dimensions of systematicity in science. To the quick question, what is it that the scientific enterprise is systematically doing? My quick answer is that it is systematically seeking to increase a particular subclass of true claims.

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Timothy D. Lyons
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis


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