Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Empirical Success, Closeness to Evidence, and Approximation to the Truth [Special Issue]

Topics: Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of language, Philosophy of science, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: (Anti)realism, Empirical success, Evidence, Similarity, Truthlikeness


Realists and antirealists agree that different theories can be more or less empirically successful, even if they disagree on how to interpret this fact. Most of their arguments rely on how the notion of success is understood; still, few definitions of success are available, and their adequacy is doubtful. In this paper, we discuss some of these definitions and introduce a new measure of the success of a theory relative to a body of evidence aimed at overcoming some of their limitations. We moreover discuss how empirical success is connected to the approximate truth (or truthlikeness) of theories, a point of crucial importance for the defense of scientific realism.

Today, the debate between scientific realists and antirealists is as lively and diverse as ever. A main point of contention is how to interpret the empirical success of our best theories: as a symptom of their approximate truth, as realists maintain, or instead as their ability to “save the phenomena”, as antirealists suggest? One thing that both camps agree on, however, is the plain fact that theories can be, and often are, in fact, empirically successful, i.e., able to “account for” (fit, accommodate) a body of available evidence. It is moreover commonly assumed that in doing this, some theories may be better than others; in other words, that “empirical success” is a comparative notion, admitting of…


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