Preservative realism and its discontents: Revisiting caloric

Philosophy of Science 70 (5):902-912 (2003)
A popular and plausible response against Laudan's “pessimistic induction” has been what I call “preservative realism,” which argues that there have actually been enough elements of scientific knowledge preserved through major theory‐change processes, and that those elements can be accepted realistically. This paper argues against preservative realism, in particular through a critical review of Psillos's argument concerning the case of the caloric theory of heat. Contrary to his argument, the historical record of the caloric theory reveals that beliefs about the properties of material caloric, rejected by subsequent theories, were indeed central to the successes of the caloric theory. Therefore caloric remains a favorable case for Laudan. Further, I argue that even confirmed cases of preservation do not warrant an inference to truth.
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DOI 10.1086/377376
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