realism and the limits of scientific explanation
Long time, no blog. I finally got back a few days ago from the last of my visits to schools for final job interviews. It was very interesting and instructive to observe non-Pittsburgh philosophers in their native habitats. I should know by the end of this week where I'll be next year.
In lieu of an actual post, I am putting up the handout I used at a couple of my job talks. As a result, it looks programmatic/ bullet-pointy; but I tried condensing this into a normal post, and it was just far too long. If you can make out what's going on, I would really appreciate any feedback/ comments/ eviscerations from readers.
REALISM AND THE LIMITS OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION
(P1) Scientists do not accept explanations that explain only one (type of) already accepted fact.
(P2) Scientific realism, as it appears in the no-miracles argument, explains only one type of already accepted fact (namely, the empirical adequacy or instrumental success of mature scientific theories).
(P3) Naturalistic philosophers of science “should employ no methods other than those used by the scientists themselves” (Psillos 1999, 78).
Therefore, naturalistic philosophers of science should not accept scientific realism as it appears in the no-miracles argument.
Explanation and defense of (P1)
Explanations that explain only one type of already accepted fact
(i) generate no new predictive content, even when conjoined with all relevant available background information [‘already accepted fact’], and
(ii) do not unify facts previously considered unrelated [‘only one type’].
Evidence for (P1): Scientists reject
- Virtus dormativa-style explanations
- ‘Vital forces’/ entelechies as explanations of developmental regularities
- Kepler’s explanation of the number of planets, and the ratios of distances between them, via the five perfect geometrical solids
- ‘Just-so stories’ in evolutionary biology
The no-miracles argument for scientific realism
Abductive inference schema
(2) q is the best explanation of p
No-miracles argument for scientific realism
(1) Mature scientific theories are predictively successful.
(2) The (approximate) truth of mature scientific theories best explains their predictive success.
Therefore, Mature scientific theories are (approximately) true.
Proponents of the no-miracles argument (Putnam, Boyd, Psillos) accept (P3), appealing to naturalism to justify their abductive inference to scientific realism. Putnam claims that scientific realism is “the only scientific explanation of the success of science” (1975, 73).
The argument for (P2): Scientific realism (i.e., the claim that mature scientific theories are approximately true)
(i) generates no new predictions,
(ii) unifies no apparently disparate facts, and
(iii) explains only one previously accepted fact, viz., science’s predictive success.