Abstract
I have argued elsewhere that scientific realism is most significantly challenged neither by traditional arguments from underdetermination of theories by the evidence, nor by the traditional pessimistic induction, but by a rather different historical pattern: our repeated failure to conceive of alternatives to extant scientific theories, even when those alternatives were both (1) well-confirmed by the evidence available at the time and (2) sufficiently scientifically serious as to be later embraced by actual scientific communities. Here I use August Weismann's defense of his influential germ-plasm theory of inheritance to support my claim that this pattern characterizes the history of theoretical scientific investigation generally. Weismann believed that the germ-plasm must become disintegrated into its constituent elements over the course of development, I argue, only because he failed to conceive of any possible alternative mechanism of ontogenetic differentiation. This and other features of the germ-plasm theory, I suggest, reflect a still more fundamental failure to imagine that the germ-plasm might be a productive rather than expendable resource for the cell. Weismann's case provides impressive support for the problem of unconceived alternatives while rendering its challenge to scientific realism deeper and sharper in a number of important ways
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