Are Unconceived Alternatives a Problem for Scientific Realism?

Stanford, in Exceeding Our Grasp , presents a powerful version of the pessimistic meta-induction. He claims that theories typically have empirically inequivalent but nonetheless well-confirmed, serious alternatives which are unconceived. This claim should be uncontroversial. But it alone is no threat to scientific realism. The threat comes from Stanford’s further crucial claim, supported by historical examples, that a theory’s unconceived alternatives are “radically distinct” from it; there is no “continuity”. A standard realist reply to the meta-induction is that past failures do not imply present ones because present theories are more successful than past ones. I have preferred to emphasize that present methodology is better than past ones. Stanford’s response to the standard reply is surprisingly brief and inadequate. He defends the inference from the uncontroversial claim but not that from the crucial one. He does not show that past discontinuity implies present discontinuity. Realism survives.
Keywords Stanford  Scientific realism  Unconceived alternatives  Pessimistic meta-induction  Methodology
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DOI 10.1007/s10838-011-9166-9
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Citations of this work BETA
Moti Mizrahi (forthcoming). Historical Inductions, Unconceived Alternatives, and Unconceived Objections. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie:1-10.
Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem (2013). Re-Enchanting Realism in Debate with Kyle Stanford. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 44 (1):201-224.
Samuel Ruhmkorff (2014). Global and Local Pessimistic Meta-Inductions. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 27 (4):409-428.

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