The Problem of Deep Competitors and the Pursuit of Epistemically Utopian Truths

Abstract
According to standard scientific realism, science seeks truth and we can justifiably believe that our successful theories achieve, or at least approximate, that goal. In this paper, I discuss the implications of the following competitor thesis: Any theory we may favor has competitors such that we cannot justifiably deny that they are approximately true. After defending that thesis, I articulate three specific threats it poses for standard scientific realism; one is epistemic, the other two are axiological (that is, pertaining to the claim that science seeks truth). I also flag an additional axiological “challenge,” that of how one might justify the pursuit of a primary aim, such as truth. Bracketing epistemic realism, I argue that the axiological threats can be addressed by embracing a refined realist axiological hypothesis, one that specifies a specific subclass of true claims sought in science. And after identifying three potential responses to the axiological “challenge,” I contend that, while standard axiological realism appears to lack the resources required to utilize any of the responses, the refined realist axiology I embrace is well suited to each
Keywords Aims of science  Axiological realism  Scientific realism  Underdetermination of theories by data
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