Confirmation for a modest realism

Philosophy of Science 72 (5):839-849 (2005)
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In the nineteenth century, William Whewell claimed that his confirmation criterion of consilience was a truth-guarantor: we could, he believed, be certain that a consilient theory was true. Since that time Whewell has been much ridiculed for this claim by critics such as J. S. Mill and Bas van Fraassen. I have argued elsewhere that, while Whewell's claim that consilience can guarantee the truth of a theory is clearly wrong, consilience is indeed quite useful as a confirmation criterion (Snyder 2005). Here I will show that, even when consilience gives evidence for a theory that turns out to be false, there is an important sense in which consilience shows that the theory has captured something correct about the natural-kind structure of the physical world. Whewell was therefore correct to claim that consilience provides a "criterion of reality" (Whewell [1847] 1967, vol. 2, 68). Consilience provides this by giving justification for the claim that we have really `cut nature at its causal joints', to adapt Plato's famous phrase. Because of this, consilience can play a role in an argument for scientific realism.



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Author's Profile

Laura J. Snyder
Johns Hopkins University (PhD)

Citations of this work

Reality in Perspectives.Mahdi Khalili - 2022 - Dissertation, Vu University Amsterdam
William Whewell.Laura J. Snyder - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The More Evidence Heuristic.Benjamin T. Rancourt - 2016 - Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5 (6):27-41.

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References found in this work

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.John Locke - 1979 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 169 (2):221-222.
The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon their History.William Whewell - 2016 - Epistemology and Philosophy of Science 47 (1):205-225.
Novum Organon Renovatum.William Whewell - 2018 - Epistemology and Philosophy of Science 55 (2):186-211.
The inference that makes science.Ernan McMullin - 1992 - Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
William Whewell Philosopher of Sciences.Menachem Fisch & Robert C. Richardson - 1994 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 16 (1):155.

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