Non-competitor Conditions in the Scientific Realism Debate

A general insight of 20th-century philosophy of science is that the acceptance of a scientific theory is grounded, not merely on a theory's relation to data, but on its status as having no, or being superior to its, competitors. I explore the ways in which scientific realists might be thought to utilise this insight, have in fact utilised it, and can legitimately utilise it. In more detail, I point out that, barring a natural but mistaken characterisation of scientific realism, traditional realism has not utilised that insight regarding scientific theories, i.e., has not explicitly factored that insight into, and invoked it as justification for, what realists believe. Nonetheless, a new form of realism has. In response to a key historical threat, two of the most thoroughly developed contemporary versions of realism—one put forward by Jarrett Leplin, another by Stathis Psillos—are anchored on the sensible tactic of requiring that the theories to which realists commit themselves have no competitors. I argue, however, that the particular kind of non-competitor condition they invoke is illegitimate in the context of the realism debate. I contend further that invoking a non-competitor condition that is legitimate, sensible, and even, as it turns out, required in the context of the debate threatens to eliminate the possibility of scientific realism altogether
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DOI 10.1080/02698590902843393
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Timothy D. Lyons (2011). The Problem of Deep Competitors and the Pursuit of Epistemically Utopian Truths. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 42 (2):317-338.

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