Scientific Realism: Old and New Problems

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    Scientific realism is a doctrine that was both in and out of fashion several times during the twentieth century. I begin by noting three presuppositions of a succinct characterization of scientific realism offered initially by the foremost critic in the latter part of the century, Bas van Fraassen. The first presupposition is that there is a fundamental distinction to be made between what is “empirical” and what is “theoretical”. The second presupposition is that a genuine scientific realism is committed to their being “a literally true story of what the world is like”. The third presupposition is that there are methods for justifying a belief in the empirical adequacy of a theory which do not also suffice to justify beliefs in its literal truth. Each of these presuppositions raises a number of problems, some of which are quite old and others rather newer. In each case, I briefly review some of the old problems and then elaborate the newer problems.