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Pessimistic induction

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Title: Pessimistic induction  
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Subject: End-of-history illusion, Inductive reasoning, Larry Laudan, Philosophy of science, Index of philosophy of science articles
Collection: Inductive Reasoning, Philosophy of Science
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Pessimistic induction

In the philosophy of science, the pessimistic induction, also known as the pessimistic meta-induction, is an argument which seeks to rebut scientific realism, particularly the scientific realist's notion of epistemic optimism.

Scientific realists argue that we have good reasons to believe that our presently successful scientific theories are true or approximately true, where approximate truth means a theory is able to make novel predictions and that the central terms of such theories genuinely refer. The pessimistic meta-induction undermines the realist's warrant for his epistemic optimism via historical counterexample. Using meta-induction, Larry Laudan argues that if past scientific theories which were successful were found to be false, we have no reason to believe the realist's claim that our currently successful theories are approximately true. The pessimistic meta-induction argument was first fully postulated by Laudan in 1981.

However, there are some objections against Laudan's theory. One might see shortcomings in the historic examples Laudan gives as proof of his hypothesis. Theories later refuted, like that of crystalline spheres in astronomy, or the phlogiston theory do not represent the most successful theories at their time. A further objection tries to point out that in scientific progress we indeed approximate the truth. When we develop a new theory, the central ideas of the old one usually become refuted. Parts of the old theory, however, we carry over to the new one. In doing so, our theories become more and more well-founded on other principles, they become better in terms of predictive and descriptive power, so that, for example, aeroplanes, computers and DNA sequencing all establish technical, operational proof of the effectiveness of the theories. Therefore, we can hold the realist view that our theoretical terms refer to something in the world and our theories are approximately true.

See also


  • Laudan, Larry. "A Confutation of Convergent Realism", Philosophy of Science, Vol. 48, No. 1, (Mar. 1981): 19-49. [1]

Further reading

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