A Pragmatist Reboot of William Whewell’s Theory of Scientific Progress

Contemporary Pragmatism 20 (3):218-245 (2023)
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William Whewell’s philosophy of science is often overlooked as a relic of 19th century Whiggism. I argue however that his view – suitably modified – can contribute to contemporary philosophy of science, particularly to debates around scientific progress. The reason Whewell’s view needs modification is that he makes the following problematic claim: as science progresses, it reveals necessarily truths and thereby grants a glimpse of the mind of God. Modifying Whewell’s view will involve reinventing his notion of necessary truth as the pragmatist notion of superassertibility. And, if scientific progress does not uncover necessary truths, then it does not reveal the mind of God. The result is an outline of an account of scientific progress that is piecemeal and fallibilist in nature, yet at the same time maintains key Whewellian themes of consilience and the unity of science.



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Ragnar Van Der Merwe
University of Johannesburg

References found in this work

The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.
Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 17 (2):278-279.
The Logic of Scientific Discovery.Karl Popper - 1959 - Studia Logica 9:262-265.
A confutation of convergent realism.Larry Laudan - 1981 - Philosophy of Science 48 (1):19-49.
Explanation and scientific understanding.Michael Friedman - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.

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