A (Fatal) Trilemma for best theory realism

  • José Díez
Original Paper in Philosophy of Science


The no-miracles argument (NMA) is the main inference-to-the-best-explanation kind of argument for scientific realism, and the pessimistic (meta-) induction (PI) is considered a main, if not the main, challenge for a NMA-based scientific realism. Doppelt (2014) advocates a new kind of inference-to-the-best-explanation supported scientific realism that he labels Best Theory Realism (BTR, previously introduced in Doppelt 2007a, 2011). If successful in replacing standard selective realism as the best version of scientific realism, BTR would be particularly good since it is not committed to the partial truth of past theories and thereby it is immune to the antirealist strategy of finding cases of past, predictively successful theories with predictively essential components not retained by later theories. The goal of this paper is to raise doubts about Doppelt’s attempt and argue that, other benefits of his proposal notwithstanding, it fails. In section 1 I summarize the main tenets of standard, retentive selective realism relevant for the present discussion. In section 2 I show that Doppelt’s main arguments against retentive selective realism do not work. In section 3, I argue that the way BTR faces the challenge posed by the historical record that motivates PI is unsatisfactory and puts Doppelt into a fatal trilemma: either he is committed to two claims that are untenable together; or endorses an extremely implausible form of present-science chauvinism; or unjustifiably discriminates explanation against prediction in historical record. The conclusion is that BTR falls short of substituting standard retentive selective realism as the most plausible realist position, and that thereby the cases of past successful theories with predictively essential parts not retained by posterior theories are still a real problem for a plausible realist position.


Scientific realism Selective realism Best system realism Doppelt 



Research for this work has been supported by the research projects FFI2012-37354 and FFI2016-76799-P, Spanish Ministry of Science adn Innovation. I want to thank Mario Alai, Anjan Chakravartty, Carl Hoefer, Paul Humphreys, Ulises Moulines, Albert Sole, Bas van Fraassen and two anonymous reviewers for comments and criticisms to earlier versions of this paper. This paper independently makes some criticisms against BTR also made by Alai (2016), published after the first version of this paper was written; in this final version I mention the relevant coincidences in footnotes. Though partially coincident, I take this paper as complementing Alai’s: in some common criticisms we emphasize different aspects; and more importantly, I reply Doppelt’s charge of inconsistency against pessimistic induction (and the Selective Realism that assumes the relevant part of the pessimistic induction) in a totally different manner; I elaborate differently the criticism of inconsistency against Doppelt and the reply to his defense giving a different interpretation of current Doppelt’s position in a crucial point; and I make two new criticisms (Alai also makes some others that I take as correct but that I do not mention).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Barcelona / LOGOS Research GroupBarcelonaSpain

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