Truth and reality: How to be a scientific realist without believing scientific theories should be true

In Kareem Khalifa, Insa Lawler & Elay Shech (eds.), Scientific Understanding and Representation: Modeling in the Physical Sciences (forthcoming)
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Scientific realism is a thesis about the success of science. Most traditionally: science has been so successful at prediction and guiding action because its best theories are true (or approximately true or increasing in their degree of truth). If science is in the business of doing its best to generate true theories, then we should turn to those theories for explanatory knowledge, predictions, and guidance of our actions and decisions. Views that are popular in contemporary philosophy of science about scientific modeling and the centrality of idealization create several challenges for this traditional form of scientific realism. Yet the basic idea behind scientific realism that science has been and will continue to be epistemically successful is deeply appealing. This chapter explores the challenges posed by idealization and scientific modeling to motivate a scientific realism fully divorced from the idea that science is in the business of generating true theories. On the resulting view, the objects of scientific knowledge are causal patterns, so this knowledge only ever provides partial, simplified accounts of a complex reality. This variety of selective realism better accommodates the nature of our present-day scientific successes and offers an interpretation of scientific progress that resists the antirealist’s pessimism.
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