Multiple discoveries, inevitability, and scientific realism

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 90 (December 2021):30-38 (2021)

Gustavo Cevolani
IMT School For Advanced Studies Lucca
Luca Tambolo
Università degli Studi di Trieste (PhD)
When two or more (groups of) researchers independently investigating the same domain arrive at the same result, a multiple discovery occurs. The pervasiveness of multiple discoveries in science suggests the intuition that they are in some sense inevitable—that one should view them as results that force themselves upon us, so to speak. We argue that, despite the intuitive force of such an “inevitabilist insight,” one should reject it. More specifically, we distinguish two facets of the insight and argue that: (a) the profusion of multiple discoveries in scientific practice does not support the inevitabilist side of the inevitability/contingency of science controversy; and (b) the crucial role of background knowledge in scientific inquiry complicates the attempt to interpret the pervasiveness of multiple discoveries in realist terms.
Keywords Multiple discoveries  Inevitability thesis  Contingency thesis  Scientific realism
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