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Scientific progress as increasing verisimilitude.

Authors
  • Niiniluoto, Ilkka
Type
Published Article
Journal
Studies in history and philosophy of science
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2014
Volume
46
Pages
73–77
Identifiers
PMID: 25051874
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

According to the foundationalist picture, shared by many rationalists and positivist empiricists, science makes cognitive progress by accumulating justified truths. Fallibilists, who point out that complete certainty cannot be achieved in empirical science, can still argue that even successions of false theories may progress toward the truth. This proposal was supported by Karl Popper with his notion of truthlikeness or verisimilitude. Popper's own technical definition failed, but the idea that scientific progress means increasing truthlikeness can be expressed by defining degrees of truthlikeness in terms of similarities between states of affairs. This paper defends the verisimilitude approach against Alexander Bird who argues that the "semantic" definition (in terms of truth or truthlikeness alone) is not sufficient to define progress, but the "epistemic" definition referring to justification and knowledge is more adequate. Here Bird ignores the crucial distinction between real progress and estimated progress, explicated by the difference between absolute (and usually unknown) degrees of truthlikeness and their evidence-relative expected values. Further, it is argued that Bird's idea of returning to the cumulative model of growth requires an implausible trick of transforming past false theories into true ones.

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