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How much pluralism?

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Strong forms of scientific realism seem indefensible in the face of the history of science, and in particular the long list of theories that enjoyed great empirical success and yet whose central ontological and metaphysical commitments were abandoned by subsequent scientists. Pluralism is the thesis that there are alternative possible histories of science to our own in which quite different theoretical commitments were adopted at crucial stages. However, consideration of a few examples, including Newtonian gravitation, the ether and phlogiston, show that even in cases of radical theory change more than purely empirical structure is retained in subsequent science. Strong forms of antirealism are also indefensible in the light of a proper appreciation of the continuity in the history of science. The synthesis that resolves the dialectic is of course structural realism. The question as to how much pluralism is appropriate will be considered in the light of the cases discussed.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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