Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives by Kyle StanfordExceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives by Kyle Stanford

Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives

byKyle Stanford

Paperback | April 15, 2010

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The incredible achievements of modern scientific theories lead most of us to embrace scientific realism: the view that our best theories offer us at least roughly accurate descriptions of otherwise inaccessible parts of the world like genes, atoms, and the big bang. In Exceeding Our Grasp,Stanford argues that careful attention to the history of scientific investigation invites a challenge to this view that is not well represented in contemporary debates about the nature of the scientific enterprise.The historical record of scientific inquiry, Stanford suggests, is characterized by what he calls the problem of unconceived alternatives. Past scientists have routinely failed even to conceive of alternatives to their own theories and lines of theoretical investigation, alternatives that were bothwell-confirmed by the evidence available at the time and sufficiently serious as to be ultimately accepted by later scientific communities. Stanford supports this claim with a detailed investigation of the mid-to-late 19th century theories of inheritance and generation proposed in turn by CharlesDarwin, Francis Galton, and August Weismann. He goes on to argue that this historical pattern strongly suggests that there are equally well-confirmed and scientifically serious alternatives to our own best theories that remain currently unconceived. Moreover, this challenge is more serious thanthose rooted in either the so-called pessimistic induction or the underdetermination of theories by evidence, in part because existing realist responses to these latter challenges offer no relief from the problem of unconceived alternatives itself.Stanford concludes by investigating what positive account of the spectacularly successful edifice of modern theoretical science remains open to us if we accept that our best scientific theories are powerful conceptual tools for accomplishing our practical goals, but abandon the view that thedescriptions of the world around us that they offer are therefore even probably or approximately true.
Kyle Stanford is Associate Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine.
Title:Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived AlternativesFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.68 inPublished:April 15, 2010Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199751536

ISBN - 13:9780199751532

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Table of Contents

1. Realism, Pessimism, and Underdetermination1.1 Scientific Realism: What's at Stake?1.2 Problems for Pessimism and Underdetermination1.3 Recurrent, Transient Underdetermination, and a New Induction over the History of Science2. Chasing Duhem: The Problem of Unconceived Alternatives2.1 Duhem's Worry: Eliminative Inferences and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives2.2 Confirmation: Holism, Eliminative Induction, and Bayesianism2.3 Pessimism Revisited3. Darwin and Pangenesis: The Search for the Material Basis of Generation and Heredity3.1 Preliminary Worries3.2 Pangenesis: Darwin's "Mad Dream" and "Beloved Child"3.3 Darwin's Failure to Grasp Galton's Common Cause Mechanism for Inheritance4. Galton and the Strip Theory4.1 The Transfusion Experiments: "A Dreadful Disappointment to Them Both"4.2 Galton's Strip Theory and Its Maturational, Invariant Conception of Inheritance4.3 Galton's Understanding of "Correlation" and "Variable Influences" in Development5. August Weismann's Theory of the Germ-Plasm5.1 German Biology at the End of the Nineteenth Century and Weismann's Theory of the Germ-Plasm5.2 Germinal Specificity, the Search for a Mechanism of Cellular Differentiation and the Reservation of the Germ-Plasm5.3 Productive and Expendable Germinal Resources5.4 Conclusion: Lessons from History6. History Revisited: Pyrrhic Victories for Scientific Realism6.1 Realist Responses to the Historical Record6.2 Once More into the Breach: The Pessimistic Induction6.3 Reference without Descriptive Accuracy6.4 Diluting Approximate Truth7. Selective Confirmation and the Historical Record: "Another Such Victory over the Romans"?7.1 Realism, Selective Confirmation, and Retrospective Judgments of Idleness7.2 Theoretical Posits: They Work Hard for the Money7.3 Trust and Betrayal7.4 Structural Realism and Retention7.5 Selective Confirmation: No Refuge for Realism8. Science without Realism?ReferencesIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Stanford's book deserves to be widely read. Its central argument is clearly stated, its conclusion is radical, it engages in a productive fashion with detailed case studies, and it lays down several substantial challenges to scientific realism. Lastly, it is consistently thought-provoking." --Science