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Plenty of today’s scientific theories will one day be discredited. So should we be sceptical of science itself?(r/PhilosophyofScience)
In the academic literature, this is called the “pessimistic meta-induction” argument: “All scientific theories before the currently accepted ones have turned out not to be true, so by induction, we have to expect the same for any theory we might consider.”
The most general objection to this argument is that very few (if any) of the theories that were abandoned in favor of better ones were just wrong tout-court. If they were successfull at all for explanation, prediction and interaction, then they successfully captured some aspect of reality under some limiting conditions. Usually, the descriptions yielded by discarded theories arise from the newer theories in the limit given some boundary-conditions.
So, discarded theories are mostly not totally invalidated, but shown to be approximations or limiting cases of current theories.
The test for whether we should be “realists” about some element of a theory is whether that element contributes to/is responsible for the predictive & explanatory power of the theory, i.e. it’s actual success.
The issue of scientific realism is extremely interesting – and there’s a lot more to be said. Personally, I think Stathis Psillos’s Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth is a very good book on the subject – I can only recommend it.
The most interesting conclusion from the pessimistic meta-induction for me: We should not be realists about the ontology even of our best theories, only about the relations/interactions they describe. A theory’s ontology may be completely off and we needn’t be any the wiser if the relational structure it depicts “fits” reality.
So, I think we have no sufficient reason to be classical scientific realists, but sufficient reason to be structural realists.