Predictive success, partial truth and Duhemian realism
- 244 Downloads
According to a defense of scientific realism known as the “divide et impera move”, mature scientific theories enjoying predictive success are partially true. This paper investigates a paradigmatic historical case: the prediction, based on Fresnel’s wave theory of light, that a bright spot should figure in the shadow of a disc. Two different derivations of this prediction have been given by both Poisson and Fresnel. I argue that the details of these derivations highlight two problems of indispensability arguments, which state that only the indispensable constituents of this success are worthy of belief and retained through theory-change. The first problem is that, contrary to a common claim, Fresnel’s integrals are not needed to predict the bright spot phenomenon. The second problem is that the hypotheses shared by to these two derivations include problematic idealizations. I claim that this example leads us to be skeptical about which aspects of our current theories are worthy of belief.
KeywordsScientific realism Partial truth Novel prediction Fresnel’s bright spot prediction Divide et impera move Pierre Duhem
I would like to thank Kevin Buton-Maquet, Gladys Kostyrka, Timothy Lyons, Peter Vickers, Pierre Wagner, two anonymous reviewers, the organizers of the conference New Thinking on Scientific Realism and the organizers of the conference Scientific Realism and The Challenge from the History of Science for their precious advice and comments.
- Biot, J.-B. (1816). Traité de physique expérimentale et mathématique (Vol. 4). Paris: Deterville.Google Scholar
- Cartwright, N., & Jones, M. R. (2005). Idealization XII: Correcting the model. Amsterdam: Rodopi: Idealization and Abstraction in the Sciences.Google Scholar
- de Sitter, W. (1917). On the curvature of space. Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen Proceedings, 20, 229–243.Google Scholar
- Descartes, R. (1644). Principia philosophiae. Amsterdam: Ludovicum Elzevirium.Google Scholar
- Duhem, P. (1914). La Théorie physique: son objet, sa structure. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
- Fresnel, A. (1866). Œuvres complètes d’Augustin Fresnel. Paris: Imprimerie Impériale.Google Scholar
- Laymon, R. (1982). Scientific realism and the hierarchical counterfactual path from data to theory. In PSA: proceedings of the biennial meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, pp. 107–121.Google Scholar
- Lemaître, G. (1927). Un univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extra-galactiques. Annales de la Société scientifique de Bruxelles, série A, 47, 49–59.Google Scholar
- Leplin, J. (1997). A novel defense of scientific realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Mäki, U. (2011). The truth of false idealizations in modeling. In P. Humphreys & C. Imbert (Eds.), Models, simulations, and representations (pp. 216–233). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Moeller, K. (2007). Optics: Learning by computing, with examples using maple, mathcad, matlab, mathematica, and maple. Undergraduate texts in contemporary physics. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Psillos, S. (1999). Scientific realism: How science tracks truth. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Putnam, H. (1975). Philosophical papers: Mathematics, matter and method. Cambridge: CUP Archive.Google Scholar
- Saatsi, J. (2015). Historical inductions, old and new. Synthese. doi: 10.1007/s11229-015-0855-5.
- Smart, J. J. (1968). Between science and philosophy: An introduction to the philosophy of science. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
- Worrall, J. (1989a). Fresnel, Poisson and the white spot: The role of successful predictions in the acceptance of scientific theories. In D. Gooding, T. Pinch, & S. Schaffer (Eds.), The uses of experiment, studies in the natural sciences (pp. 135–157). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar