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

Potochnik, Angela (2021) Truth and reality: How to be a scientific realist without believing scientific theories should be true. [Preprint]

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Abstract

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. Yet views that are popular in contemporary philosophy of science create several challenges for this traditional form of scientific realism. The widespread importance of idealization casts doubt on the idea that the best scientific theories are true, approximately true, or increasing in degree of truth over time. The embrace of model-based science introduces questions about whether theories are even the main epistemic currency in science. And the common occurrence of tradeoffs among modeling priorities calls into question whether the same accounts can even deliver explanations, predictions, and policy-guidance. Yet the basic idea behind scientific realism that science has been and will continue to be epistemically successful is deeply appealing. In this chapter, I use the challenges of idealization, modeling, and tradeoffs 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 also offers an interpretation of scientific progress that resists the antirealist’s pessimism.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Potochnik, Angela
Keywords: scientific realism; idealization; scientific modeling; non-factivism; causal patterns
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Depositing User: Angela Potochnik
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2021 15:03
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2021 15:03
Item ID: 19299
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Date: 9 July 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19299

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