Predictive success, partial truth and skeptical realism

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Leconte, Gauvain
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conference paper description
Realists argue that mature theories enjoying predictive success are approximately and partially true, and that the parts of the theory necessary to this success are retained through theory-change and worthy of belief. I examine the paradigmatic case of the novel prediction of a white spot in the shadow of a circular object, drawn from Fresnel's wave theory of light by Poisson in 1819. It reveals two problems in this defence of realism: predictive success needs theoretical idealizations and fictions on the one hand, and may be obtained by using different parts of the same theory on the other hand. I maintain that these two problems are not limited to the case of the white spot, but common features of predictive success. It shows that the no-miracle argument by itself cannot prove more than a \textit{skeptical realism}, the claim that we cannot know which parts of theories are true. I conclude by examining if Hacking's manipulability arguments can be of any help to go beyond this position.