Grounding the Selectionist Explanation for the Success of Science in the External Physical World

Foundations of Science: DOI: 10.1007/s10699-023-09907-y (forthcoming)
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I identify two versions of the scientific anti-realist’s selectionist explanation for the success of science: Bas van Fraassen’s original and K. Brad Wray’s newer interpretation. In Wray’s version, psycho-social factors internal to the scientific community – viz. scientists’ interests, goals, and preferences – explain the theory-selection practices that explain theory-success. I argue that, if Wray’s version were correct, then science should resemble art. In art, the artwork-selection practices that explain artwork-success appear faddish. They are prone to radical change over time. Theory-selection practices that explain theory-success in science are however not faddish. They are mostly stable; that is, long-lived and consistent over time. This is because scientists (explicitly or implicitly) subscribe to what I will call the testability norm: scientific theories must make falsifiable claims about the external physical world. The testability norm and not psycho-sociology explains the theory-selection practices that explain theory-success in science. Contra Wray, scientific anti-realists can then maintain that the external physical world (as expressed in the testability norm) explains theory-success.

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Ragnar Van Der Merwe
University of Johannesburg

Citations of this work

Running Mice and Successful Theories: The Limitations of a Classical Analogy.Matthias Egg & August Hämmerli - forthcoming - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie:1-18.

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The Logic of Scientific Discovery.Karl Popper - 1959 - Studia Logica 9:262-265.
What is structural realism?James Ladyman - 1998 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 29 (3):409-424.
Knowledge and Social Imagery.David Bloor - 1979 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 30 (2):195-199.
True enough.Catherine Z. Elgin - 2004 - Philosophical Issues 14 (1):113–131.

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