Journal Article

When Empirical Success Implies Theoretical Reference: A Structural Correspondence Theorem

Gerhard Schurz

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 60, issue 1, pages 101-133
Published in print March 2009 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
When Empirical Success Implies Theoretical Reference: A Structural Correspondence Theorem

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Starting from a brief recapitulation of the contemporary debate on scientific realism, this paper argues for the following thesis: Assume a theory T has been empirically successful in a domain of application A, but was superseded later on by a superior theory T*, which was likewise successful in A but has an arbitrarily different theoretical superstructure. Then under natural conditions T contains certain theoretical expressions, which yielded T's empirical success, such that these T-expressions correspond (in A) to certain theoretical expressions of T*, and given T* is true, they refer indirectly to the entities denoted by these expressions of T*. The thesis is first motivated by a study of the phlogiston–oxygen example. Then the thesis is proved in the form of a logical theorem, and illustrated by further examples. The final sections explain how the correspondence theorem justifies scientific realism and work out the advantages of the suggested account.

Introduction: Pessimistic Meta-induction vs. Structural Correspondence

The Case of the Phlogiston Theory

Steps Towards a Systematic Correspondence Theorem

The Correspondence Theorem and Its Ontological Interpretation

Further Historical Applications

Discussion of the Correspondence Theorem: Objections and Replies

Consequences for Scientific Realism and Comparison with Other Positions 7.1

Comparison with constructive empiricism


Major difference from standard scientific realism


From minimal realism and correspondence to scientific realism


Comparison with particular realistic positions

Journal Article.  13228 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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