Structural realism: Invariance through theory change

Structural realism has various diverse manifestations. One of the things that structural realists of all stripes have in common is their endorsement of what I call 'the structural continuity claim'. Roughly, this is the idea that the structure of successful scientific theories survives theory change because it has latched on to the structure of the world. In this talk I elaborate, elucidate and modify the structural continuity claim and its associated argument. I do so without presupposing a particular conception of structure that favours this or that kind of structural realism but instead by concentrating on neutrally formulated historical facts. The result, I hope, throws light on what a structural realist must do to evidentially benefit from the historical record of science. The implicit argument underwriting the structural continuity claim can be reconstructed as follows: Premise (1) Only structural elements of predictively and explanatorily successful scientific theories have been (and will be) preserved through theory change. Premise (2): Preservation of an element implies or at least is good evidence for its (approximate) truth. Premise (3): Non-preservation of an element implies or at least is good evidence for its falsity. Conclusion: It is probably the case that only structural elements are (approximately) true. In this summary I restrict my comments to the first premise. Several points can be raised with respect to it. First, not all structures are created equal. Some play no active role in the predictive and explanatory success of a theory because they do not correspond to any structure in the world. Their non-preservation would therefore not encumber the structural realist. Traditional scientific realists have long employed a distinction between essential and idle posits to weed out those elements of theories that played no substantial role in their predictive and explanatory success..
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