Is the Best Good Enough?

Is it ever rational to believe that a scientific theory is even approximately true? The evidence, however extensive, will not entail the theory it supports: the grounds for belief always remain inductive. Consequently, the realist who holds that there can be rational grounds for belief remains hostage to wholesale Humean scepticism about induction. The Humean argument has yet to be conclusively turned, but that project is not my present concern. Instead, I propose to consider intermediate forms of scepticism which attempt to show that, even if we grant scientists considerable inductive powers, rational belief in theory remains impossible. I will argue that some of these intermediate forms of scepticism are unstable, leading either back to radical Humean doubt or towards a moderate realism. I will focus especially on the argument from `underconsideration'. This argument has two premises. The ranking premise states that the testing of theories yields only a comparative warrant. Scientists can rank the competing theories they have generated with respect to likelihood of truth. The premise grants that this process is known to be highly reliable, so that the more probable theory is always ranked ahead of a less probable competitor and the truth, if it is among the theories generated, is likely to be ranked first, but the warrant remains comparative. In short, testing enables scientists to say which of the competing theories they have generated is likeliest to be correct, but does not itself reveal how likely the likeliest theory is. The second premise of the argument, the no-privilege premise, states that scientists have no reason to suppose that the process by which they generate theories for testing makes it likely that a true theory will be among those generated. It always remains possible that the truth lies rather among those theories nobody has considered, and there is no way of judging how likely this is. The conclusion of the argument is that, while the best of the....
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S. Okasha (2000). Van Fraassen's Critique of Inference to the Best Explanation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 31 (4):691-710.

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