Discovery, theory change and structural realism

Synthese 179 (3):361 - 376 (2011)
In this paper I consider two accounts of scientific discovery, Robert Hudson's and Peter Achinstein's. I assess their relative success and I show that while both approaches are similar in promising ways, and address experimental discoveries well, they could address the concerns of the discovery sceptic more explicitly than they do. I also explore the implications of their inability to address purely theoretical discoveries, such as those often made in mathematical physics. I do so by showing that extending Hudson's or Achinstein's account to such cases can sometimes provide a misleading analysis about who ought to be credited as a discoverer. In the final sections of the paper I work out some revisions to the Hudson/Achinstein account by drawing from a so-called structural realist view of theory change. Finally, I show how such a modified account of discovery can answer sceptical critics such as Musgrave or Woolgar without producing misleading analyses about who ought to receive credit as a discoverer in cases from the mathematical sciences. I illustrate the usefulness of this approach by providing an analysis of the case of the discovery of the Casimir effect
Keywords Discovery  Hudson  Achinstein  Casimir effect  Structural realism  Semirealism  Scientific realism
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References found in this work BETA
J. Ladyman (1998). What is Structural Realism? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 29 (3):409-424.

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