A new PhD slated to teach a beginning undergraduate course on scientific reasoning recently asked me to recommend topics. I launched into a description of my “baby-Popper-plus-statistics” class – give them enough deductive logic to understand the Duhemian problem, do the Galileo case study, use the notion of severe test to introduce a bit of probability theory, then segue to the problem of testing statistical hypotheses…. My interlocutor was looking impatient. “But I’m a strong adherent of the Semantic Conception of theories,” he said. “I can’t teach all that stuff about trying to falsify bold conjectures.” This was not a moment for proselytizing, so I loaned him a copy of Giere’s textbook, which is based on the Semantic Conception, and sent him happily on his way. However, this episode raises an interesting question, one that takes on some urgency as the Semantic Conception of scientific theories (SC) seems well on its way to becoming the new received view: What accounts of scientific method, confirmation and explanation does the SC support?
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