mardi 25 octobre 2016

Why empiricists should endorse modalities (1): modal knowledge

Let us take stock. In the posts so far (linked below in order),

  • I presented modal empiricism: the view that our best scientific theories are empirically adequate for all possible situations to which they would apply.
  • I detailed the conception of empirical adequacy on which the position rests. It is not cast in terms of a model of the universe, as usually, but in terms of situations to which different models apply, and, I think this conception is more connected to scientific practice than the usual ones.
  • This conception of empirical adequacy does not commit us to modal empiricism, but I explained how modal empiricism is able to answer the no-miracle argument, while retaining the advantages of empiricism when it comes to theory change.
  • Finally, I explained why, according to me, scientific realism is misguided: it rests on (meta-)abduction for its justification, but abduction, however central it is in scientific practice, is not a principle of justification, but a strategic device to select good hypotheses: hypotheses that we should test first, that is. It doesn't exempt us from further empirical tests if we want to justify these hypotheses. But scientific realism cannot itself be tested empirically.

What makes modal empiricism a version of empiricism, not of scientific realism, is that in contrast with realism, the modalities to which it is committed are arrived at by induction on possible situations, not by abduction. Relations of necessity are no explanations to regularities, but regularities extended to the possible.