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CSS colloquium - Peter Vickers, University of Durham: The Pessimistic Induction: A New Generation of Historical Case Studies?

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Monday 18 June 2012,  at 14:15 - 15:45



Laudan’s ‘Confutation of Convergent Realism’ (1981) is now famous for defining an important strand of the scientific realism debate which has continued for over 30 years. Today many philosophers agree that realists have successfully responded to Laudan by (i) making ‘scientific success’ more difficult to come by, and (ii) making a divide et impera distinction between ‘working’ and ‘non-working’ posits in a scientific theory. However, historical case studies of a certain kind can still damage the contemporary scientific realist, and Laudan claimed that his list of false-but-successful scientific theories could be extended ‘ad nauseam’. This raises the possibility that, had Laudan completed his list, it would have contained a (large) number of case studies which defeat even the contemporary realist. Since 2006 new case studies have started to come forward which are selected to do damage to the modern realist. In this paper I ask the question whether a Laudan-style pessimistic induction might still be possible. I start to put together a new list of case studies which, I suggest, the next generation of scientific realists will find more challenging than Laudan’s original.