About this topic

Truth is the aim of inquiry, but what kind of truth is “scientific truth” is matter of debate. First of all: does scientific inquiry really aim at truth? Instrumentalists and anti-realists of various stripes would deny this. Even admitting that truth is the goal of scientific inquiry, are scientific theories and hypotheses “true” or “false” in the same way ordinary propositions are? What are the relations between “ordinary” truth and “scientific” truth, or between the “manifest image” and the “scientific image”? Other questions concern the nature of scientific truth: should we construe it as correspondence to facts, as realists do? Or is it better understood in a pragmatic and/or epistemic way, for instance as the ideal limit of inquiry or as ideal rational acceptability? Or, maybe, a deflationary approach to truth would be more appropriate? Moreover, it seems clear that, even if truth is one cognitive goal of inquiry, there are others as well: to mention but a few, accuracy, approximate truth, empirical adequacy, high probability, confirmation, truthlikeness or verisimilitude, knowledge, understanding, and so on. What are the relations between truth and these other “cognitive values” or “theoretical virtues”? Is there a unique set of values guiding all kinds of scientific activity, at all different levels (experimental, observational, theoretical, and so on)? Or different goals characterize different levels?

Key works

The ones above are some of the central issues at the core of the modern debate on scientific realism/antirealism. Popper 1962, 1972, 1983 defends a realist view of scientific progress and inquiry and a Tarskian view of truth as correspondence (Tarski 1943). In the same years, Sellars 1963 defends a strong form of realism influenced by the Perceian view of ideal science (Peirce 1931). Peirce’s thought is an inspiration for both critical and fallibilist realists like Niiniluoto 1999 and Musgrave 1993 and for anti-realists like Putnam 1981 and Rescher 1973, who defend epistemic or pragmatic views of scientific truth. Other anti-realists, like Van Fraassen Bas 1980, Laudan 1984 or Fine 1984, deny that truth has a relevant role to play in scientific methodology. Levi 1967 proposes a decision-theoretic view of inquiry where truth is one of the central cognitive ‘utilities’ at play; this ‘cognitive decision theory’ has been developed in different directions (Niiniluoto 1987). 


Niiniluoto 1999 provides an illuminating survey and discussion of the main positions in the realism/antirealism debate and of the corresponding conceptions of scientific truth. Another useful survey is in the first chapter of Kuipers 2000

Related categories

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  1. La Nature de la Vérité Scientifique.Agustín Arrieta - 1987 - Theoria 2 (2):609-612.
  2. The Role of Truth in Psychological Science.Jamin Asay - forthcoming - Theory and Psychology.
    In a recent paper, Haig and Borsboom explore the relevance of the theory of truth for psychological science. Although they conclude that correspondence theories of truth are best suited to offer the resources for making sense of scientific practice, they leave open the possibility that other theories might accomplish those same ends. I argue that deflationary theories of truth, which deny that there is any substantive property that unifies the class of truths, makes equally good sense of scientific practice as (...)
  3. Beyond Truthlikeness: Toward a Linguistically Invariant Theory of Scientific Progress.Eric Christian Barnes - 1990 - Dissertation, Indiana University
    In the 1970's a problem arose for the viability of Popper's truthlikeness project. The problem, in short, was that all plausible measures of the truthlikeness of scientific theories were language dependent. This dissertation is primarily concerned to provide a substitute notion that can do the work 'verisimilitude' was intended to do without suffering from linguistic relativity. It is argued that the notion of 'knowledge', or 'knowledgelikeness', can suffice in this regard. ;Chapter One seeks to convince the reader that the notion (...)
  4. Scientific Truth and Statistical Method.Marcello Boldrini - 1972 - London: Griffin.
  5. Truthlikeness with a Human Face: On Some Connections Between the Theory of Verisimilitude and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge.Jesús Zamora Bonilla - 2005 - Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 83:361-369.
    Verisimilitude theorists assume that science attempts to provide hypotheses with an increasing degree of closeness to the full truth; on the other hand, radical sociologists of science assert that flesh and bone scientists struggle to attain much more mundane goals . This paper argues that both points of view can be made compatible, for rational individuals only would be interested in engaging in a strong competition if they knew in advance the rules under which their outcomes are to be assessed, (...)
  6. The Abundant World: Paul Feyerabend's Metaphysics of Science.Matthew J. Brown - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 57:142-154.
    The goal of this paper is to provide an interpretation of Feyerabend's metaphysics of science as found in late works like Conquest of Abundance and Tyranny of Science. Feyerabend's late metaphysics consists of an attempt to criticize and provide a systematic alternative to traditional scientific realism, a package of views he sometimes referred to as “scientific materialism.” Scientific materialism is objectionable not only on metaphysical grounds, nor because it provides a poor ground for understanding science, but because it implies problematic (...)
  7. Scientific Truth and Perceived Truth About Sexual Human Nature: Implications for Therapists.Joseph A. Buckhalt & Erica J. Gannon - 2000 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23 (4):595-596.
    Therapists and their patients must deal with the negative sequelae of short term mating strategies. Implications for therapy of Gangestad & Simpson's strategic pluralism theory are compared with those of Buss's sexual strategies theory and Eagly's social role theory. Naive theories held by therapists and patients, as well as prevailing societal views, are posited as influential in determining the course and outcome of therapy.
  8. Extrapolation and Scientific Truth.Louis Caruana - unknown
  9. Knowledge, Truth and Plausibility.Carlo Cellucci - 2014 - Axiomathes 24 (4):517-532.
    From antiquity several philosophers have claimed that the goal of natural science is truth. In particular, this is a basic tenet of contemporary scientific realism. However, all concepts of truth that have been put forward are inadequate to modern science because they do not provide a criterion of truth. This means that we will generally be unable to recognize a scientific truth when we reach it. As an alternative, this paper argues that the goal of natural science is plausibility and (...)
  10. Exploding a Myth: "Conventional Wisdom" or Scientific Truth?J. Dunning-Davies - 2007 - Horwood.
    In this book Jeremy Dunning-Davies deals with the influence that "conventional wisdom" has on science, scientific research and development. He sets out to explode' the mythical conception that all scientific topics are open for free discussion and argues that no-one can openly raise questions about relativity, dispute the 'Big Bang' theory, or the existence of black holes, which all seem to be accepted facts of science rather than science fiction. In today's modern climate with "Britain's radioactive refuse heap already big (...)
  11. Science and Partial Truth.Joseph E. Earley - 2005 - Review of Metaphysics 59 (2):413-415.
  12. The Natural Ontological Attitude.Arthur I. Fine - 1984 - In J. Leplin (ed.), Scientific Realism. University of California Press. pp. 261--77.
  13. How Nancy Cartwright Tells the Truth.Allan Franklin - 1988 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 39 (4):527-529.
  14. Realism and Truth Approximation in Economic Theory.J. C. Garcia-Bermejo Ochoa - 1997 - Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 61:167-204.
  15. Scientific Truth and the Scientific Method.J. H. Goldstein - 1962 - In Thomas J. J. Altizer (ed.), Truth, Myth, and Symbol. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.Prentice-Hall.
  16. Realism.Susan Haack - 1987 - Synthese 73 (2):275 - 299.
    Realism is multiply ambiguous. The central concern of Part 1 of this paper is to distinguish several of its many senses — four (Theoretical Realism, Cumulative Realism, Progressive Realism and Optimistic Realism) in which it refers to theses about the status of scientific theories, and five (Minimal Realism, Ambitious Absolutism, Transcendentalism, Nidealism, Scholastic Realism) in which it refers to theses about the nature of truth or truth-bearers. Because Realism has these several, largely independent, senses, the conventional wisdom that Tarski's theory (...)
  17. Flexibility of Scientific Truth.Charles Hartshorne - 1935 - Philosophy of Science 2 (2):255-256.
  18. The Significance of the Concept of Truth for the Critical Appraisal of Scientific Theories.G. Hempel - 1990 - Nuova Civiltà Delle Macchine 8 (4):109-113.
  19. Theory Status, Inductive Realism, and Approximate Truth: No Miracles, No Charades.Shelby D. Hunt - 2011 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25 (2):159 - 178.
    The concept of approximate truth plays a prominent role in most versions of scientific realism. However, adequately conceptualizing ?approximate truth? has proved challenging. This article argues that the goal of articulating the concept of approximate truth can be advanced by first investigating the processes by which science accords theories the status of accepted or rejected. Accordingly, this article uses a path diagram model as a visual heuristic for the purpose of showing the processes in science that are involved in determining (...)
  20. Aesthetic Values in Science.Milena Ivanova - 2017 - Philosophy Compass 12 (10):e12433.
    Scientists often use aesthetic values in the evaluation and choice of theories. Aesthetic values are not only regarded as leading to practically more useful theories but are often taken to stand in a special epistemic relation to the truth of a theory such that the aesthetic merit of a theory is evidence of its truth. This paper explores what aesthetic considerations influence scientists' reasoning, how such aesthetic values relate to the utility of a scientific theory, and how one can justify (...)
  21. In Defense of the Notion of Truthlikeness.Ingvar Johansson - 2017 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 48 (1):59-69.
    The notion of truthlikeness, coined by Karl Popper, has very much fallen into oblivion, but the paper defends it. It can be regarded in two different ways. Either as a notion that is meaningful only if some formal measure of degree of truthlikeness can be constructed; or as a merely non-formal comparative notion that nonetheless has important functions to fulfill. It is the latter notion that is defended; it is claimed that such a notion is needed for both a reasonable (...)
  22. Convergence to the Truth and Nothing but the Truth.Kevin T. Kelly & Clark Glymour - 1989 - Philosophy of Science 56 (2):185-220.
    One construal of convergent realism is that for each clear question, scientific inquiry eventually answers it. In this paper we adapt the techniques of formal learning theory to determine in a precise manner the circumstances under which this ideal is achievable. In particular, we define two criteria of convergence to the truth on the basis of evidence. The first, which we call EA convergence, demands that the theorist converge to the complete truth "all at once". The second, which we call (...)
  23. Approximative Truth of Fact-Statements, Laws, and Theories.Władysław Krajewski - 1978 - Synthese 38 (2):275 - 279.
    The paper is a sketch of a conception of approximative truth (or verisimilitude). The concepts of relative error, and degree of inadequacy are introduced. By means of them the concept of truth-content of quantitative facts-statements, laws and theories is defined. Laws and theories accepted in science have a high truth-content, i.e. they are approximately true.
  24. Empirical Progress and Nomic Truth Approximation Revisited.Theo Kuipers - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 46:64-72.
    In my From Instrumentalism to Constructive Realism I have shown how an instrumentalist account of empirical progress can be related to nomic truth approximation. However, it was assumed that a strong notion of nomic theories was needed for that analysis. In this paper it is shown, in terms of truth and falsity content, that the analysis already applies when, in line with scientific common sense, nomic theories are merely assumed to exclude certain conceptual possibilities as nomic possibilities.
  25. Models, Postulates, and Generalized Nomic Truth Approximation.Theo A. F. Kuipers - 2016 - Synthese 193 (10).
    The qualitative theory of nomic truth approximation, presented in Kuipers in his, in which ‘the truth’ concerns the distinction between nomic, e.g. physical, possibilities and impossibilities, rests on a very restrictive assumption, viz. that theories always claim to characterize the boundary between nomic possibilities and impossibilities. Fully recognizing two different functions of theories, viz. excluding and representing, this paper drops this assumption by conceiving theories in development as tuples of postulates and models, where the postulates claim to exclude nomic impossibilities (...)
  26. Empirical Progress and Nomic Truth Approximation Revisited.Theo A. F. Kuipers - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 46:64-72.
  27. Truth Approximation by Empirical and Aesthetic Criteria: Reply to David Miller.Theo A. F. Kuipers - 2005 - Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 83 (1):356-360.
    Polish version, see Kuipers (2002) "O dwóch rodzajach idealizcji I konkretyzacki. Przypadek aproksymacji prawdy".
  28. From Instrumentalism to Constructive Realism: On Some Relations Between Confirmation, Empirical Progress, and Truth Approximation.Theo A. F. Kuipers - 2000 - Springer.
  29. Science and Values: The Aims of Science and Their Role in Scientific Debate.Larry Laudan - 1984 - University of California Press.
    Laudan constructs a fresh approach to a longtime problem for the philosopher of science: how to explain the simultaneous and widespread presence of both agreement and disagreement in science. Laudan critiques the logical empiricists and the post-positivists as he stresses the need for centrality and values and the interdependence of values, methods, and facts as prerequisites to solving the problems of consensus and dissent in science.
  30. Inductive Inference in the Limit of Empirically Adequate Theories.Bernhard Lauth - 1995 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 24 (5):525 - 548.
    Most standard results on structure identification in first order theories depend upon the correctness and completeness (in the limit) of the data, which are provided to the learner. These assumption are essential for the reliability of inductive methods and for their limiting success (convergence to the truth). The paper investigates inductive inference from (possibly) incorrect and incomplete data. It is shown that such methods can be reliable not in the sense of truth approximation, but in the sense that the methods (...)
  31. Using Scott Domains to Explicate the Notions of Approximate and Idealized Data.Ronald Laymon - 1987 - Philosophy of Science 54 (2):194-221.
    This paper utilizes Scott domains (continuous lattices) to provide a mathematical model for the use of idealized and approximately true data in the testing of scientific theories. Key episodes from the history of science can be understood in terms of this model as attempts to demonstrate that theories are monotonic, that is, yield better predictions when fed better or more realistic data. However, as we show, monotonicity and truth of theories are independent notions. A formal description is given of the (...)
  32. Correspondence Truth and Scientific Realism.Stephen Leeds - 2007 - Synthese 159 (1):1 - 21.
    I argue that one good reason for Scientific Realists to be interested in correspondence theories is the hope they offer us of being able to state and defend realistic theses in the face of well-known difficulties about modern physics: such theses as, that our theories are approximately true, or that they will tend to approach the truth. I go on to claim that this hope is unlikely to be fulfilled. I suggest that Realism can still survive in the face of (...)
  33. Partial Convergence and Approximate Truth.Duncan Macintosh - 1994 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (1):153-170.
    Scientific Realists argue that it would be a miracle if scientific theories were getting more predictive without getting closer to the truth; so they must be getting closer to the truth. Van Fraassen, Laudan et al. argue that owing to the underdetermination of theory by data (UDT) for all we know, it is a miracle, a fluke. So we should not believe in even the approximate truth of theories. I argue that there is a test for who is right: suppose (...)
  34. Models and the Locus of Their Truth.Uskali Mäki - 2011 - Synthese 180 (1):47 - 63.
    If models can be true, where is their truth located? Giere (Explaining science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998) has suggested an account of theoretical models on which models themselves are not truth-valued. The paper suggests modifying Giere’s account without going all the way to purely pragmatic conceptions of truth—while giving pragmatics a prominent role in modeling and truth-acquisition. The strategy of the paper is to ask: if I want to relocate truth inside models, how do I get it, what (...)
  35. Flexibility of Scientific Truth.Henry Margenau - 1934 - Philosophy of Science 1 (4):486-487.
  36. Pragmatic Truth and Approximation to Truth.Irene Mikenberg, Newton C. A. Costa & Rolando Chuaqui - 1986 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 51 (1):201-221.
  37. Common Sense, Science, and Scepticism: A Historical Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge.Alan Musgrave - 1993 - Cambridge University Press.
    Can we know anything for certain? There are those who think we can (traditionally labeled the "dogmatists") and those who think we cannot (traditionally labeled the "skeptics"). The theory of knowledge, or epistemology, is the great debate between the two. This book is an introductory and historically-based survey of the debate. It sides for the most part with the skeptics. It also develops out of skepticism a third view, fallibilism or critical rationalism, which incorporates an uncompromising realism about perception, science, (...)
  38. Representation and Truthlikeness.Ilkka Niiniluoto - 2014 - Foundations of Science 19 (4):375-379.
    Woosuk Park’s paper “Misrepresentation in Context” is a useful plea for a theory of representation with promising interaction between cognitive science, philosophy of science, and aesthetics. In this paper, I argue that such a unified account is provided by Charles S. Peirce’s semiotics. This theory puts Park’s criticism of Nelson Goodman and Jerry Fodor in context. Some of Park’s pertinent remarks on the problem of misrepresentation can be illuminated by the account of truthlikeness and idealization developed by philosophers of science.
  39. Critical Scientific Realism.Ilkka Niiniluoto - 1999 - Oxford University Press.
    This book comes to the rescue of scientific realism, showing that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Philosophical realism holds that the aim of a particular discourse is to make true statements about its subject matter. Ilkka Niiniluoto surveys different kinds of realism in various areas of philosophy and then sets out his own critical realist philosophy of science.
  40. Truthlikeness.Ilkka Niiniluoto - 1987 - Dordrecht: Reidel.
    The modern discussion on the concept of truthlikeness was started in 1960. In his influential Word and Object, W. V. O. Quine argued that Charles Peirce's definition of truth as the limit of inquiry is faulty for the reason that the notion 'nearer than' is only "defined for numbers and not for theories". In his contribution to the 1960 International Congress for Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science at Stan­ ford, Karl Popper defended the opposite view by defining a compara­tive (...)
  41. Verisimilitude: A Causal Approach.Robert Northcott - 2013 - Synthese 190 (9):1471-1488.
    I present a new definition of verisimilitude, framed in terms of causes. Roughly speaking, according to it a scientific model is approximately true if it captures accurately the strengths of the causes present in any given situation. Against much of the literature, I argue that any satisfactory account of verisimilitude must inevitably restrict its judgments to context-specific models rather than general theories. We may still endorse—and only need—a relativized notion of scientific progress, understood now not as global advance but rather (...)
  42. Truth and Truthlikeness.Graham Oddie - forthcoming - In Glanzberg M. (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Truth. Oxford University Press.
  43. Likeness to Truth.Graham Oddie - 1986 - Reidel.
    What does it take for one proposition to be closer to the truth than another. In this, the first published monograph on the topic, Oddie develops a comprehensive theory that takes the likeness in truthlikeness seriously.
  44. Philosophers Against “Truth”: The Cases of Harr and Laudan.A. Paya - 1995 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 9 (3):255 – 284.
    The criticisms levelled at the notion of truth by an anti‐realist (Larry Laudan) and an entity‐realist (Rom Harré) are critically examined. The upshot of the discussion will be that whilst neither of the two anti‐truth philosophers have succeeded in establishing their cases against truth, for entity‐realists to reject the notion of truth is to throw out the baby with the bath water: entity‐realism without the notion of correspondence truth will degenerate into anti‐realism.
  45. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce.Charles S. Peirce - 1931 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
    PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY" CHAPTER 1 LESSONS FROM THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY §1. NOMINALISM* 15. Very early in my studies of logic, before I had really been ...
  46. Reason, Truth, and History.Hilary Putnam - 1981 - Cambridge University Press.
    Hilary Putnam deals in this book with some of the most fundamental persistent problems in philosophy: the nature of truth, knowledge and rationality. His aim is to break down the fixed categories of thought which have always appeared to define and constrain the permissible solutions to these problems.
  47. Scientific Truth and the Arbitrament of Praxis.Nicholas Rescher - 1980 - Noûs 14 (1):59-74.
  48. Conceptual Idealism.Nicholas Rescher - 1973 - Blackwell.
  49. Value, Reality, and Desire – by Graham Oddie.Debbie Roberts - 2010 - Ratio 23 (1):118-122.
  50. Reality and Scientific Truth: Discussions with Einstein, Von Laue, and Planck.Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider - 1980 - Wayne State University Press.
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