Scientific Realism and Primordial Cosmology


We discuss scientific realism from the perspective of modern cosmology, especially primordial cosmology: i.e. the cosmological investigation of the very early universe. We first state our allegiance to scientific realism, and discuss what insights about it cosmology might yield, as against "just" supplying scientific claims that philosophers can then evaluate. In particular, we discuss: the idea of laws of cosmology, and limitations on ascertaining the global structure of spacetime. Then we review some of what is now known about the early universe : meaning, roughly, from a thousandth of a second after the Big Bang onwards. The rest of the paper takes up two issues about primordial cosmology, i.e. the very early universe, where "very early" means, roughly, much earlier than one second after the Big Bang: say, less than 10^{-11} seconds. Both issues illustrate that familiar philosophical threat to scientific realism, the under-determination of theory by data---on a cosmic scale. The first issue concerns the difficulty of observationally probing the very early universe. More specifically, the difficulty is to ascertain details of the putative inflationary epoch. The second issue concerns difficulties about confirming a cosmological theory that postulates a multiverse, i.e. a set of domains each of whose inhabitants cannot directly observe, or otherwise causally interact with, other domains. This again concerns inflation, since many inflationary models postulate a multiverse. For all these issues, it will be clear that much remains unsettled, as regards both physics and philosophy. But we will maintain that these remaining controversies do not threaten scientific realism.

Download options


    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,722

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

  • Only published works are available at libraries.


Added to PP

46 (#250,277)

6 months
2 (#259,476)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Jeremy Butterfield
Cambridge University

References found in this work

Two Dogmas of Empiricism.W. Quine - 1951 - [Longmans, Green].
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.
The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.John D. Barrow - 1986 - Oxford University Press.
The Scientific Image.Michael Friedman - 1982 - Journal of Philosophy 79 (5):274-283.

View all 46 references / Add more references

Citations of this work

Epistemic Justification and Methodological Luck in Inflationary Cosmology.C. D. McCoy - 2019 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 70 (4):1003-1028.
Finely Tuned Models Sacrifice Explanatory Depth.Feraz Azhar & Abraham Loeb - 2021 - Foundations of Physics 51 (5):1-36.
Inflationary Cosmology and the Scale-Invariant Spectrum.Gordon McCabe - 2018 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 63:39-49.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Theism and Physical Cosmology.Hans Halvorson - 2010 - In Charles Taliaferro, Victoria Harrison & Stewart Goetz (eds.), Routledge Companion to Theism.
A Critical Look at Inflationary Cosmology.John Earman & Jesus Mosterin - 1999 - Philosophy of Science 66 (1):1-49.
Philosophical Problems of Modern Cosmology.Lz Fang - 1988 - Chinese Studies in Philosophy 19 (4):55-64.
Sociology of Modern Cosmology.Martín López Corredoira - 2009 - In J. A. Rubiño-Martín, J. A. Belmonte, F. Prada & A. Alberdi (eds.), Cosmology across Cultures. Astronomical Society of Pacific. pp. 66-73.
Indian Cosmology: A Scientific Analysis.Krishna Prakash Tripathi - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 44:73-78.
The Peculiar Status of Cosmology As a Science.Jan Such - 2007 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 5:73-80.
Cosmic Agnosticism.Timothy E. Eastman - 2007 - Process Studies 36 (2):181-197.
On the Alleged Equivalence Between Newtonian and Relativistic Cosmology.Pierre Kerszberg - 1987 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 38 (3):347-380.
Scientific Realism.Eftichios Bitsakis - 1993 - Science and Society 57 (2):160 - 193.