The contemporary debate between scientific realism and anti-realism is conditioned by a polarity between two opposing arguments: the realist’s success argument and the anti-realist’s pessimistic induction. This polarity has skewed the debate away from the problem that lies at the source of the debate. From a realist point of view, the historical approach to the philosophy of science which came to the fore in the 1960s gave rise to an unsatisfactory conception of scientific progress. One of the main motivations for the scientific realist appeal to the success of science was the need to provide a substantive account of the progress of science as an increase of knowledge about the same entities as those referred to by earlier theories in the history of science. But the idea that a substantive conception of progress requires continuity of reference has faded from the contemporary debate. In this paper, I revisit the historical movement in the philosophy of science in an attempt to resuscitate the original agenda of the debate about scientific realism. I also briefly outline the way in which the realist should employ the theory of reference as the basis for a robust account of scientific progress which will satisfy realist requirements.