Evidence and Objectivity in Achinstein's Philosophy of Science

Gerald Doppelt

in Philosophy of Science Matters

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738625
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894642 | DOI:
Evidence and Objectivity in Achinstein's Philosophy of Science

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This chapter advances a critical evaluation of Achinstein's account of scientific evidence in The Book of Evidence. The chapter argues that weaknesses in his account motivate an alternative position associated with “inference-to-the-best-explanation” scientific realism. Achinstein claims that philosophical conceptions of evidence such as Baysianism, hypothetico-deductive accounts, enumerative induction views, and inference-to-the-best-explanation views fail the crucial test of relevancy to scientists’ inferential practices. The chapter argues that Achinstein's notion of veridical evidence also fails to meet his own relevancy test. That is to say that his notion of veridical evidence fails to provide a standard that captures how scientists decide what is evidence for what and how to resolve controversies over evidence. The chapter suggests that Achinstein's criterion of objectivity creates this fundamental problem in his account of veridical evidence. The chapter illustrates my criticism by examining two of Achinstein's key scientific examples: Hertz versus Thomson on the nature of cathode rays, and the debate between wave and particle physicists concerning the nature of optical phenomena. While Achinstein proposes a notion of eliminative-causal reasoning to account for the evidence in the debate between wave and particle theorists, The chapter argues that eliminative-causal reasoning is a species of inference-to-the-best-explanation reasoning, which in any case provides a conception of evidence superior to Achinstein's. The chapter argues that Achinstein's evidential paradigm of eliminative-casual reasoning is vulnerable to the pessimistic meta-induction, which is best handled by my own version of inference-to-the-best-explanation realism, which the chapter calls “best current theory realism.”

Keywords: veridical evidence; objectivity of evidence; hypothesis; eliminative-causal reasoning; pessimistic meta-induction; best explanation realism; best current theory; scientific realism; Hertz-Thomson; cathode rays; wave-particle debate

Chapter.  5449 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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