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Confirmation for a Modest Realism

Laura J. Snyder
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 72, No. 5, Proceedings of the 2004 Biennial Meeting of The Philosophy of Science AssociationPart I: Contributed PapersEdited by Miriam Solomon (December 2005), pp. 839-849
DOI: 10.1086/508114
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/508114
Page Count: 11
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Confirmation for a Modest Realism
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Abstract

In the nineteenth century, William Whewell claimed that his confirmation criterion of consilience was a truth‐guarantor: we could, he believed, be certain that a consilient theory was true. Since that time Whewell has been much ridiculed for this claim by critics such as J. S. Mill and Bas van Fraassen. I have argued elsewhere that, while Whewell’s claim that consilience can guarantee the truth of a theory is clearly wrong, consilience is indeed quite useful as a confirmation criterion (Snyder 2005). Here I will show that, even when consilience gives evidence for a theory that turns out to be false, there is an important sense in which consilience shows that the theory has captured something correct about the natural‐kind structure of the physical world. Whewell was therefore correct to claim that consilience provides a “criterion of reality” (Whewell [1847] 1967, vol. 2, 68). Consilience provides this by giving justification for the claim that we have really ‘cut nature at its causal joints’, to adapt Plato’s famous phrase. Because of this, consilience can play a role in an argument for scientific realism.

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