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CSS colloquium: Michela Massimi, University of Edinburgh

Nineteenth century optics and three tales of success-to-truth inferences

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Wednesday 11 May 2016,  at 10:15 - 11:45

In philosophy of science, success-to-truth inferences have been the realist stronghold for long time. Scientific success has been the parameter by which realists have claimed to discern true theories from false ones (via the so-called No Miracles Argument). But the notion of scientific success has not been scrutinized as it should.

In this paper, I tell the tale of success-to-truth inferences three times, by considering success from nowhere, success from here now, and success from within. My tale focuses on nineteenth century optics and Augustin Fresnel's lasting contribution.

I ultimately argue for a suitable version of success from within that can do justice to the historically situated nature of scientific knowledge while also delivering on the promise of realism about science. The outcome is a new way of thinking about success-to-truth inferences that can help us re-assess some entrenched views about winners and losers in the history of science.