About this topic

According to convergent scientific realism, empirically successful scientific theories are approximately true, with our contemporary theories being closer to the truth than their predecessors in the same domain. Like most types of scientific realism, convergent realism holds that theoretical terms of successful theories refer, the theoretical claims of preceding theories are carried over to the new theories, at least as limiting cases, and the new theories can explain the empirical success of their predecessors. In order to explain how our theories are getting closer to the truth, some have developed the notion of ‘approximate truth’ as a quantifiable measure. Karl Popper’s notion of ‘verisimilitude’, for instance, was introduced to compare theories by their true and false consequences, although this account run into many technical difficulties, as shown by Miller (1974), Tichy (1974) and others. Another way realists have explicated the notion of approximate truth is by evoking the correspondence principle that shows how a superseded theory can be taken as a limiting case of its successor. According Post’s (1971) ‘general correspondence principle’, contemporary scientific theories can explain the success of their predecessors by ‘degenerating’ into them in the respective domain in which they were empirically successful. 

Key works

Convergent realism was developed by Putnam 1982, Hardin & Rosenberg 1982 and Doppelt 2007

Convergent realism was challenged by Larry Laudan’s pessimistic meta-induction in  Laudan 1981, an argument which forced most scientific realists to endorse a type of selective realism.

Related categories

45 found
  1. Scientific Realism and Primitive Ontology Or: The Pessimistic Induction and the Nature of the Wave Function.Valia Allori - 2017 - Lato Sensu.
    In this paper I wish to connect the recent debate in the philosophy of quantum mechanics concerning the nature of the wave function to the historical debate in the philosophy of science regarding the tenability of scientific realism. Being realist about quantum mechanics is particularly challenging when focusing on the wave function. According to the wave function ontology approach, the wave function is a concrete physical entity. In contrast, according to an alternative viewpoint, namely the primitive ontology approach, the wave (...)
  2. Scientific Realism and the Rationality of Science.Chiara Ambrosio - 2009 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 24 (3):368-370.
  3. Can a Historian of Science Be a Scientific Realist?Theodore Arabatzis - 2001 - Philosophy of Science 68 (S3):S531-S541.
    In this paper I address some of the problems that the historical development of science poses for a realist and discuss whether a realist construal of scientific activity is conducive to historiographical practice. First, I discuss, by means of historical examples, Ian Hacking's defense of entity realism. Second, I try to show, drawing on Kuhn's recent work on incommensurability, that the realism problem is relevant to historiography and that a realist position entails a particular historiographical strategy, which faces problems. Finally, (...)
  4. Discussion: Testing for Convergent Realism.Jerrold L. Aronson - 1989 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 40:255-9.
  5. Testing for Convergent Realism.Jerrold L. Aronson - 1989 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 40 (2):255-259.
    Larry Laudan has challenged the realist to come up with a program that submits realism to "those stringent empirical demands which the realist himself minimally insists on when appraising scientific theories." This paper shows how the realist can go about taking up Laudan on this challenge; and, in such a way that the realist hypothesis actually ends up being confirmed, by any empirical standards. In other words, it is shown that we can test for convergent realism, just as readily as (...)
  6. Putnam's Progress.Julian Baggini - 2001 - The Philosophers' Magazine 15:43-45.
  7. Are Our Best Physical Theories (Probably and/or Approximately) True?Jeffrey A. Barrett - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1206-1218.
    There is good reason to suppose that our best physical theories are false: In addition to its own internal problems, the standard formulation of quantum mechanics is logically incompatible with special relativity. I will also argue that we have no concrete idea what it means to claim that these theories are approximately true.
  8. Realismus in Duhems Naturgemässer Klassifikation.Alex Burri - 1996 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 27 (2):203 - 213.
    Realism in Duhem's Natural Classification. Pierre Duhem is an outstanding exponent of empiricism. According to the empiricist view scientific laws and theories merely describe formal relations between observable phenomena. Duhems' important notion of natural classification is intended to explain the predictive success of science. I shall argue that it can only be interpreted realistically. Besides the success of science, two further arguments are put forward in favor of realism: (i) the fact that laws of nature are necessary, and (ii) the (...)
  9. Scientific Realism.Anjan Chakravartty - 2013 - The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  10. Some Convergences and Divergences in the Realism of Charles Peirce and Ayn Rand.Marc Champagne - 2006 - Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 8 (1):19-39.
    Structured around Charles S. Peirce's three-fold categorical scheme, this article proposes a comparative study of Ayn Rand and Peirce's realist views in general metaphysics. Rand's stance is seen as diverging with Peirce's argument from asymptotic representation but converging with arguments from brute relation and neutral category. It is argued that, by dismissing traditional subject-object dualisms, Rand and Peirce both propose iconoclastic construals of what it means to be real, dismissals made all the more noteworthy by the fact each chose to (...)
  11. Preservative Realism and its Discontents: Revisiting Caloric.Hasok Chang - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):902-912.
    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 (...)
  12. Scientific Realism, Ramsey Sentences and the Reference of Theoretical Terms.Pierre Cruse - 2004 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 18 (2 & 3):133 – 149.
    It is often thought that questions of reference are crucial in assessing scientific realism, construed as the view that successful theories are at least approximately true descriptions of the unobservable; realism is justified only if terms in empirically successful theories generally refer to genuinely existing entities or properties. In this paper this view is questioned. First, it is argued that there are good reasons to think that questions of realism are largely decided by convention and carry no epistemic significance. An (...)
  13. The Convergence and Content of Scientific Opinion.James T. Cushing - 1984 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1984:211 - 223.
    Examples, mainly from research in current physics, are used to examine and illustrate the network of factors which produce in scientific debate a convergence of opinion to a generally accepted set of laws and theories. Also addressed is the question of the reliability of these general theories as a faithful representation of the complexity of physical reality.
  14. Why Does Laudan's Confutation of Convergent Realism Fail?Antonio Diéguez-Lucena - 2006 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 37 (2):393 - 403.
    In his paper "A Confutation of Convergent Realism", Larry Laudan offered one of the most powerful criticisms of scientific realism. I defend here that although Laudan's criticism is right, this does not refute the realist position. The thesis that Laudan confutes is a much stronger thesis than realist needs to maintain. As I will exemplify with Salmon's statistical-relevance model, a less strict notion of explanation would allow us to claim that (approximate) truth is the best explanation for such success, even (...)
  15. Why Does Laudan’s Confutation of Convergent Realism Fail?Antonio Diéguez-Lucena - 2006 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 37 (2):393-403.
    In his paper "A Confutation of Convergent Realism", Larry Laudan offered one of the most powerful criticisms of scientific realism. I defend here that although Laudan's criticism is right, this does not refute the realist position. The thesis that Laudan confutes is a much stronger thesis than realist needs to maintain. As I will exemplify with Salmon's statistical-relevance model, a less strict notion of explanation would allow us to claim that truth is the best explanation for such success, even if (...)
  16. Realism in the Sciences Proceedings of the Ernan Mcmullin Symposium, Leuven, 1995.Igor Douven, Leon Horsten & Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven ) - 1996
  17. Science and Partial Truth.Joseph E. Earley - 2005 - Review of Metaphysics 59 (2):413-415.
  18. Scientific Revolutions and the Explosion of Scientific Evidence.Ludwig Fahrbach - forthcoming - Synthese:1-34.
    Scientific realism, the position that successful theories are likely to be approximately true, is threatened by the pessimistic induction according to which the history of science is full of suc- cessful, but false theories. I aim to defend scientific realism against the pessimistic induction. My main thesis is that our current best theories each enjoy a very high degree of predictive success, far higher than was enjoyed by any of the refuted theories. I support this thesis by showing that both (...)
  19. In Defense of Convergent Realism.Clyde L. Hardin & Alexander Rosenberg - 1982 - Philosophy of Science 49 (4):604-615.
    Many realists have maintained that the success of scientific theories can be explained only if they may be regarded as approximately true. Laurens Laudan has in turn contended that a necessary condition for a theory's being approximately true is that its central terms refer, and since many successful theories of the past have employed central terms which we now understand to be non-referential, realism cannot explain their success. The present paper argues that a realist can adopt a view of reference (...)
  20. How to Split a Theory: Defending Selective Realism and Convergence Without Proximity.D. Harker - 2013 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (1):79-106.
    The most influential arguments for scientific realism remain centrally concerned with an inference from scientific success to the approximate truth of successful theories. Recently, however, and in response to antirealists' objections from radical discontinuity within the history of science, the arguments have been refined. Rather than target entire theories, realists narrow their commitments to only certain parts of theories. Despite an initial plausibility, the selective realist strategy faces significant challenges. In this article, I outline four prerequisites for a successful selective (...)
  21. Scientific Method: Realism, Reference and Theory.Rom Harré - 1988 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures 24:53-68.
  22. Introduction: Historiography and the Philosophy of the Sciences.Robin Findlay Hendry & Ian James Kidd - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 55:1-2.
    The history of science and the philosophy of science have a long and tangled relationship. On the one hand, philosophical reflection on science can be guided, shaped, and challenged by historical scholarship—a process begun by Thomas Kuhn and continued by successive generations of ‘post-positivist’ historians and philosophers of science. On the other hand, the activity of writing the history of science raises methodological questions concerning, for instance, progress in science, realism and antirealism, and the semantics of scientific theories, questions which (...)
  23. The Ultimate Argument Against Convergent Realism and Structural Realism: The Impasse Objection.Paul Hoyningen-Huene - unknown
  24. Ontology & Methodology.Benjamin C. Jantzen, Deborah G. Mayo & Lydia Patton - 2015 - Synthese 192 (11):3413-3423.
    Philosophers of science have long been concerned with the question of what a given scientific theory tells us about the contents of the world, but relatively little attention has been paid to how we set out to build theories and to the relevance of pre-theoretical methodology on a theory’s interpretation. In the traditional view, the form and content of a mature theory can be separated from any tentative ontological assumptions that went into its development. For this reason, the target of (...)
  25. Realizm zreformowany. Filozofia Iana Hackinga a spór o status poznawczy wiedzy naukowej.Mateusz Kotowski - 2016 - Wrocław: Oficyna Naukowa PFF.
  26. „A Confutation of Convergent Realism “in Yuri Balashov and Alex Rosenberg.Larry Laudan - 2002 - In Yuri Balashov & Alexander Rosenberg (eds.), Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Readings. Routledge. pp. 211--33.
  27. Scientific Realism: A Critical ReappraisalNicholas Rescher.Larry Laudan - 1989 - Isis 80 (4):745-746.
  28. A Confutation of Convergent Realism.Larry Laudan - 1981 - Philosophy of Science 48 (1):19-49.
    This essay contains a partial exploration of some key concepts associated with the epistemology of realist philosophies of science. It shows that neither reference nor approximate truth will do the explanatory jobs that realists expect of them. Equally, several widely-held realist theses about the nature of inter-theoretic relations and scientific progress are scrutinized and found wanting. Finally, it is argued that the history of science, far from confirming scientific realism, decisively confutes several extant versions of avowedly 'naturalistic' forms of scientific (...)
  29. Studies in Scientific Realism.J. Leplin - 2000 - Philosophical Review 109 (1):109-112.
    The recent debate around scienti{}c realism has taken an epistemic turn. The issue is no longer whether theoretical discourse is or is not assertoric (truth-valuable), nor whether theoretical discourse can be reduced to observational discourse. All sides of the present debate have left behind traditional instrumentalism and reductive empiricism. Instead, they endorse semantic realism which suggests that theoretical discourse (that is, statements about theoretical entities) should be understood literally and be taken to be assertoric and irreducible. In this setting, the (...)
  30. Success, Truth and the Galilean Strategy.P. D. Magnus - 2003 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (3):465-474.
    Philip Kitcher develops the Galilean Strategy to defend realism against its many opponents. I explore the structure of the Galilean Strategy and consider it specifically as an instrument against constructive empiricism. Kitcher claims that the Galilean Strategy underwrites an inference from success to truth. We should resist that conclusion, I argue, but the Galilean Strategy should lead us by other routes to believe in many things about which the empiricist would rather remain agnostic. 1 Target: empiricism 2 The Galilean Strategy (...)
  31. The Methodological Problems of Theory Unification (in the context of Maxwell's fusion of optics and electrodynamics).Rinat M. Nugayev - 2016 - Philosophy of Science and Technology (Moscow) 21 (2).
    It is discerned what light can bring the recent historical reconstructions of maxwellian optics and electromagnetism unification on the following philosophical/methodological questions. I. Why should one believe that Nature is ultimately simple and that unified theories are more likely to be true? II. What does it mean to say that a theory is unified? III. Why theory unification should be an epistemic virtue? To answer the questions posed genesis and development of Maxwellian electrodynamics are elucidated. It is enunciated that the (...)
  32. Convergent Realism and Its Rivals.Rinat M. Nugayev - 2012 - Credo New (3):1-27.
    CONVERGENT REALISM AND ITS RIVALS (joining the realism-antirealism debates in modern Western philosophy of science). Rinat M. Nugayev, Kazan branch of Russian University of Cooperation. Abstract. Arguments pro and contra convergent realism are considered. It is argued that to meet the antirealist challenges convergent realism meta-programme hard core should be modified significantly . However well-known rivals of structural realism – entity realism (N. Cartwright and I. Hacking) and structural realism (John Worrall) – are mere revisionist versions of convergent realism based (...)
  33. Dirac's Prediction of the Positron: A Case Study for the Current Realism Debate.Thomas Pashby - 2012 - Perspectives on Science 20 (4):440-475.
    Much debate has ensued regarding the challenge to scientific realism provided by consideration of certain problematic episodes of theory change in the history of science. This paper contends that there is an interesting case which has been overlooked in this debate, namely the prediction of the positron by Dirac from his ‘hole’ theory, and its subsequent replacement by a theory which failed to contain a central, and essential, theoretical posit: the ‘Dirac sea’ of negative energy electrons. Accounting for this case (...)
  34. Methodological Realism and Modal Resourcefulness: Out of the Web and Into the Mine.Lydia Patton - 2015 - Synthese 192 (11):3443-3462.
    Psillos, Kitcher, and Leplin have defended convergent scientific realism against the pessimistic meta-induction by arguing for the divide et impera strategy. I argue that DEI faces a problem more serious than the pessimistic meta-induction: the problem of accretion. When empirically successful theories and principles are combined, they may no longer make successful predictions or allow for accurate calculations, or the combination otherwise may be an empirical failure. The shift from classical mechanics to the new quantum theory does not reflect the (...)
  35. Realism and the Aim of Science: From the Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery.Karl Popper - 1992 - Routledge.
    Realism and the Aim of Science is one of the three volumes of Karl Popper’s Postscript to the Logic of scientific Discovery. The Postscript is the culmination of Popper’s work in the philosophy of physics and a new famous attack on subjectivist approaches to philosophy of science. Realism and the Aim of Science is the first volume of the Postcript . Popper here formulates and explains his non-justificationist theory of knowledge: science aims at true explanatory theories, yet it can never (...)
  36. Scientific Virtues: An Introduction to Diachronic Realism.Doren A. Recker - 1983 - Dissertation, The University of Oklahoma
    While there are many versions of scientific realism, most share the intuition that the remarkable success of some scientific theories is best explained by interpreting their theoretical claims as 'true' or 'approximately true'. Due to a variety of recent anti-realist objections, this intuition must be amended so that realist positions can remain conceptually and historically adequate. This dissertation defends a version of scientific realism, which I call diachronic realism, and includes these amendments. ;Chapter I describes diachronic realism and shows why (...)
  37. Quests of a Realist (Review of Stathis Psillos' Scientific Realism, Routledge 1999).Michael Redhead - 2001 - Aahpsss 10 (3):341-371.
  38. Comparing the Incommensurable: Another Look at Convergent Realism.Jay F. Rosenberg - 1988 - Philosophical Studies 54 (2):163 - 193.
  39. Historical Inductions, Old and New.Juha Saatsi - forthcoming - Synthese:1-15.
    I review prominent historical arguments against scientific realism to indicate how they display a systematic overshooting in the conclusions drawn from the historical evidence. The root of the overshooting can be located in some critical, undue presuppositions regarding realism. I will highlight these presuppositions in connection with both Laudan’s ‘Old induction’ and Stanford’s New induction, and then delineate a minimal realist view that does without the problematic presuppositions.
  40. What is Theoretical Progress of Science?Juha Saatsi - forthcoming - Synthese:1-21.
    The epistemic conception of scientific progress equates progress with accumulation of scientific knowledge. I argue that the epistemic conception fails to fully capture scientific progress: theoretical progress, in particular, can transcend scientific knowledge in important ways. Sometimes theoretical progress can be a matter of new theories ‘latching better onto unobservable reality’ in a way that need not be a matter of new knowledge. Recognising this further dimension of theoretical progress is particularly significant for understanding scientific realism, since realism is naturally (...)
  41. Scientific Realism and the Problem of Progress.Howard Sankey - 1997 - Cogito 11 (2):89-94.
  42. Genetic Epistemology and Piaget's Philosophy of Science: Piaget Vs. Kuhn on Scientific Progress.Jonathan Y. Tsou - 2006 - Theory and Psychology 16 (2):203-224.
    This paper concerns Jean Piaget's (1896–1980) philosophy of science and, in particular, the picture of scientific development suggested by his theory of genetic epistemology. The aims of the paper are threefold: (1) to examine genetic epistemology as a theory concerning the growth of knowledge both in the individual and in science; (2) to explicate Piaget's view of ‘scientific progress’, which is grounded in his theory of equilibration; and (3) to juxtapose Piaget's notion of progress with Thomas Kuhn's (1922–1996). Issues of (...)
  43. A Confrontation of Convergent Realism.Peter Vickers - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (2):189-211.
  44. Caloric: Centre or Offstage?Ioannis Votsis - unknown
    The pessimistic induction argument, most often associated with Larry Laudan, is now widely considered to be one of the main obstacles for realism. Put simply, the argument holds that since past predictively successful scientific theories have eventually been discarded, we have inductive evidence that our current theories will also be discarded one day. More precisely, Laudan undermines the inference from the explanatory and predictive success of a theory to its approximate truth and referential success. This paper criticises a particular kind (...)
  45. Approximate Truth and Scientific Realism.Thomas Weston - 1992 - Philosophy of Science 59 (1):53-74.
    This paper describes a theory of accuracy or approximate truth and applies it to problems in the realist interpretation of scientific theories. It argues not only that realism requires approximate truth, but that an adequate theory of approximation also presupposes some elements of a realist interpretation of theories. The paper distinguishes approximate truth from vagueness, probability and verisimilitude, and applies it to problems of confirmation and deduction from inaccurate premises. Basic results are cited, but details appear elsewhere. Objections are surveyed, (...)