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No Refuge for Realism: Selective Confirmation and the History of Science

P. Kyle Stanford
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 70, No. 5, Proceedings of the 2002 Biennial Meeting of The Philosophy of Science AssociationPart I: Contributed PapersEdited by Sandra D. Mitchell (December 2003), pp. 913-925
DOI: 10.1086/377377
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/377377
Page Count: 13
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No Refuge for Realism: Selective Confirmation and the History of Science
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Abstract

Realists have responded to challenges from the historical record of successful but ultimately rejected theories with what I call the selective confirmation strategy: arguing that only idle parts of past theories have been rejected, while truly success‐generating features have been confirmed by further inquiry. I argue first, that this strategy is unconvincing without some prospectively applicable criterion of idleness for theoretical posits, and second, that existing efforts to provide one either convict all theoretical posits of idleness (Kitcher) or stand refuted by detailed consideration of the very examples (optical/electromagnetic ether, caloric fluid) to which they appeal (Psillos). I also argue that available avenues for improving on these proposals are unpromising.

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