Scientific realism and the case of weak interactions

Advocates of scientic realism typically respond to the challenge of the pessimistic meta-induction by turning to the history of science. The episode most frequently discussed is the shift from Fresnel's wave theory of light to Maxwell's electromagnetism. This particular history is taken to represent one of the hardest problems for the realist, for while it exhibits continuity on the empirical level, it simultaneously represents a dramatic shift in ontology. Thus, various authors have proposed methods for defeating the pessimistic meta-induction based solely on consideration of the Fresnel-Maxwell case. In this paper, I present another case study from physics--Fermi's 1934 theory of beta-decay and the ensuing search for a universal description of weak interactions. I argue that the degree of success of two recent proposals for scientic realism--that of John Worrall (1989, 1994, 2007) and Juha Saatsi (2005)--changes importantly in light of this new case study.
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