Samuel Schindler, "Theoretical Virtues in Science: Discovering Reality Through Theory" (Cambridge UP, 2018)


A fundamental problem in science, and in philosophy of science, is that of theory choice. Scientists propose theories to explain data, but when two scientific theories can both explain the same data, what criteria do scientists use to choose between them? And given that even very popular scientific theories can turn out to be wrong, how are the criteria for theory choice related to truth? Do scientists even aim at true theories, as realists hold, or, as anti-realists hold, do they just care that the theories can explain what's observed? In Theoretical Virtues in Science: Uncovering Reality Through Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Samuel Schindler lays out an extended case for realism based on a close critical look at the main virtues that scientific theories are thought to aim for besides empirical adequacy, such as simplicity, explanatory scope, and fruitfulness. On Schindler's view, the extra-empirical virtues are also epistemic: for example, a simpler theory is also more likely to be true, and so scientists are epistemically justified in choosing a simpler theory over an empirically adequate but more complicated rival. Schindler, who is associate professor at the Centre for Science Studies at Aarhus University in Denmark provides an excellent discussion of the theoretical virtues themselves, their roles in actual theory choices, and their roles in realist-anti-realist debates about the nature of scientific theories.

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Carrie Figdor

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

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