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The Role of the ‘No Miracles’ Argument for Scientific Realism Essay


The most general explanation of the principles of scientific realism is based on the idea that science can provide the true description of the real world and details of the world’s processes.

To justify the appropriateness of the philosophy, the supporters of scientific realism are inclined to promote the ‘no miracles’ argument which is discussed as rather debatable among anti-realists (French & Saatsi 2011, p. 84). That is why, it is necessary to discuss the role of the argument for supporting scientific realism.

This significant role was accentuated by Hilary Putnam as the developer of the argument. According to Putnam’s discussion of the argument, if the scientific theory is not true, it is a miracle that this theory can generate effective and working predictions, and moreover, “the positive argument for realism is that it is the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success of science a miracle” (Putnam, cited in Norris 2002, p. 218).

On the one hand, the ‘no miracles’ argument is rather convincing to support scientific realism because it is the strongest argument based on the principle of the empirical success.

On the other hand, the ‘no miracles’ argument cannot be discussed as convincing to support the philosophy because it fails to explain why many successful scientific theories of the past are not discussed as true ones today.

As a result, to conclude about the appropriateness of the argument, it is important to focus on the ideas of such anti-realists as Bas Van Fraassen and Larry Laudan. Moreover, it is necessary to discuss the ‘no miracles’ argument from the point of scientific realists who support the argument and refer to Alan Musgrave and Ian Hacking’s views.

The ‘no miracles’ argument is also known as the ‘success’ or ‘ultimate’ argument. According to this argument, the scientific theories are successfully accepted and used because they are approximately true. If these theories are not true, their success is rather miraculous.

Thus, the success of the theories is grounded on their truth and empirical evidence, but not miracles (French & Saatsi 2011, p. 84-85). The argument provides the non-miraculous alternative to speak about the success of scientific theories, and the empirical success should be taken into account while discussing the effectiveness of theories (Clarke & Lyons 2002, p. xi).

While referring to the ideas of the above-mentioned philosophers of science, it is reasonable to start with the discussion of anti-realists’ ideas and their visions of the effectiveness of the ‘no miracles’ argument because in their works, Musgrave and Hacking are inclined to support the argument as important for scientific realism in response to Van Fraassen and Laudan’s discussions.

Scientific realism should be discussed from the perspective of its three dimensions, which are the commitment to the development of the mind-independent world; the specific semantic commitment to the literal interpretation of hypotheses, and the epistemological commitment to discussing scientific entities (Sankey 2012, p. 34).

Metaphysically, commitment to the mind-independent world means that scientists develop theories to explain the objective or external reality which is independent from their mind (Sankey 2012, p. 7).

The semantic commitment explains the scientists’ focus on discussing claims about different entities as literally true and valuable even if they are not observed. The epistemological commitment is the focus on theoretical statements as explaining and forming the true knowledge of the whole world (Sankey 2012, p. 36).

In his works, Van Fraassen refers to the ideas of constructive empiricism, discusses the dimensions of scientific realism and proposes the improved statement of the philosophy of scientific realism while discussing the effectiveness of the ‘no miracles’ argument as the ‘ultimate’ argument (Van Fraassen 2013, p. 1078-1079).

Thus, Van Fraassen is inclined to propose the more developed and accurate statement referred to scientific realism, “science aims to give us, in its theories, a literally true story of what the world is like; and acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true.

This is the correct statement of scientific realism” (Van Fraassen 2013, p. 1062). Thus, the philosopher focuses on the importance of the science’s aim and on the role of the belief to speak about the theory as true or not. Moreover, according to Van Fraassen, scientific theories can be discussed as successful when they are literally construed.

To oppose the ‘no miracles’ argument, Van Fraassen chooses not only to develop the definition of scientific realism but also focuses on the discussion of the alternative vision, which is more effective than scientific realism to discuss the relations between the world and science.

Thus, Van Fraassen states that scientific realism in contrast to constructive empiricism cannot provide the real platform for discussing the successful theory and notes that “acceptance of a theory involves as belief only that it is empirically adequate” (Van Fraassen 2013, p. 1065).

From this point, constructive empiricism is more effective to speak about the success of scientific theories because it operates the idea of adequacy.

Pointing at the weaknesses of scientific realism, Van Fraassen develops the alternative explanation to the ‘no miracles’ argument, according to which it is even unnecessary to explain the nature of the scientific theories’ success because this success “is no miracle” (Van Fraassen 2013, p. 1080).

Van Fraassen is inclined to discuss the success of the definite scientific theories as the natural process, which is similar to survival because “only the successful theories survive – the ones which in fact latched on to actual regularities in nature” (Van Fraassen 2013, p. 1080).

On the one hand, Van Fraassen’s approach can be discussed as the indirect criticism of the ‘no miracles’ argument because the philosopher chooses to discuss the successful theories from the unusual perspective and with references to the Darwinist’s view.

On the other hand, Van Fraassen adds to the discussion of the role of the ‘no miracles’ argument for scientific realism because of improving the statement of scientific realism’s principles.

From this perspective, Van Fraassen cannot provide the effective arguments and evidences to state that the ‘no miracles’ argument is irrelevant because he avoids explaining of the reasons for the theories’ success.

One of the anti-realists’ responses to the ‘no miracles’ argument is the researches conducted by Laudan to state that many successful theories of the past are not supported today.

In his works, Laudan is inclined to build his argument against the ‘no miracles’ argument as the platform of scientific realism while evaluating the effectiveness of the argument in relation to meeting the dimensions of scientific realism (Laudan 2013, p. 1110).

Thus, Laudan focuses on the central question of the debates among realists and anti-realists, which is “whether the realist’s assertions about the interrelations between truth, reference and success are sound” (Laudan 2013, p. 1111).

While focusing on discussing the correlation between the mentioned notions, Laudan pays attention to the fact that the realists’ argument fail because it has weaknesses to explain the success of the theories from the point of semantic and epistemic perspectives as well as from the point of truth in the theoretical context.

To develop his argument, Laudan continues to focus on semantic and epistemic aspects as significant to conclude about the relevance of realists’ visions.

That is why, according to Laudan, even if the realist had “a semantically adequate characterisation of approximate or partial truth, and even if that semantics entailed that most of the consequences of an approximately true theory would be true”, this realist would have no any criterion “that would epistemically warrant the ascription of approximate truth to a theory” (Laudan 2013, p. 1119).

As a result, basing on the set dimensions and criteria, realists cannot provide explanations to the theories “which are not approximately true”, but often successful, as it is relevant while discussing the theories of the past (Laudan 2013, p. 1124).

Thus, according to Laudan, the aspects of the theories’ successfulness and effective empirical evidence associated with the ‘no miracles’ argument cannot serve to reflect the real world appropriately.

As a result, if the ‘no miracles’ argument fails to explain the success of the definite theories in the history of science, this argument also fails to support the idea of scientific realism effectively.

However, Laudan is rather focused to state that realists fail to explain the success of theories in the historical context, and this approach prevents him from looking at the problem from many perspectives (Hudson 2013, p. 203-204).

That is why, Laudan’s position is directly opposed to Musgrave’s one, and Musgrave provides many effective arguments to support his focus on the positive role of the ‘no miracles’ argument for scientific realism.

If Van Fraassen and Laudan as anti-realists are inclined to provide the sound evidence and support to state that the idea of scientific realism based on the platform of the ‘no miracles’ argument is not appropriate to discuss the true character of many successful scientific theories, Musgrave and Hacking focus on responding to the opponents while supporting the role of the ‘no miracles’ argument for scientific realism.

Thus, Musgrave builds his argument for scientific realism with its theoretical platform and against the anti-realists’ visions while evaluating Van Fraassen’s approach in detail.

According to Musgrave, Van Fraassen’s Darwinian explanation can be “accepted by realists and anti-realists alike”, but Musgrave also pays attention to the fact that “to say that only successful theories are allowed to survive is not to explain why any particular theory is successful” (Musgrave 2013, p. 1094).

As a result, Van Fraassen’s approach cannot be discussed as threatening to the idea of the ‘no miracles’ argument because the philosopher’s argument should be considered as the alternative vision of the problem.

According to the ‘no miracles’ argument promoted by Musgrave, successful scientific theories make claims which are true or approximately true because the entities mentioned in the claims and scientific theories really exist. As a result, the success of the theories is closely connected with the empirical success.

That is why, it is not a miracle that the scientific claims are associated with the empirical success because the entities mentioned in the theories exist, and the theories as well as their principles are true or approximately true (Musgrave 2013, p. 1087; Sankey 2012, p. 130).

Thus, according to Musgrave, anti-realism fails to provide the appropriate explanation to speak about the success of theories (Sankey 2012, p. 130). That is why, the ‘no miracles’ argument or the ‘ultimate’ argument serves perfectly to support scientific realism in order to explain the success of scientific theories.

While referring to Van Fraassen’s theory, it is also important to note that his constructive empiricism “is weaker than earlier anti-realist views in all kinds of ways, and correspondingly closer to realism” (Musgrave 2013, p. 1105).

As a result, Musgrave supports the idea that Van Fraassen in his discussions of the successful theories can be considered as closer to realists than anti-realists that is why scientific realism seems to be the most appropriate philosophy to discuss and explain the essence of the scientific theories’ success.

Furthermore, it is important to pay attention to the fact that Musgrave concentrates on the ‘no miracles’ argument as the best explanation to the theories’ success with references to the idea of predictive novelty.

Thus, anti-realists build their arguments against the effectiveness of scientific realism with references to the fact that the ‘ultimate’ argument cannot provide the explanation to the successfulness of the theories which are not true today (Sankey 2012, p. 130).

However, Musgrave points at the specific idea of the predictive novelty which means that it is reasonable to concentrate on hypotheses which can be useful to predict unknown facts rather than on hypotheses operating known details; thus, those theories are successful which serve to make novel, but credible predictions (Sankey 2012, p. 132).

This approach allows the further discussion of the approximately true theories focused on the novel knowledge. In this situation, Musgrave is inclined to use the epistemic terms in order to speak about the ‘ultimate’ or ‘no miracles’ argument, and this fact contributes to his discussion of scientific realism (Sankey 2012, p. 132).

From this point, Musgrave’s claims that Van Fraassen’s theory fails to explain the success of scientific theories, and Van Fraassen’s discussions are rather correlated with realists’ ones because of using the same terms and concentrating on the same relations between the ideas of truth and success (Musgrave 2013, p. 1094).

Furthermore, Musgrave supports the ‘ultimate’ argument while focusing on the concept of the novelty to explain the aspects which are predominantly discussed by such anti-realists as Laudan as the main ones to argue against the principles of scientific realism (Psillos 2005, p. 70-72).

As a result, Musgrave’s focus on the predictive novelty contributes to the support of the ‘no miracles’ argument, and his explanations can diminish the threatening effect of Van Fraassen’s alternative approach on the notions of scientific realism.

In this situation, Musgrave’s discussion is effective to support the unique role of the ‘no miracles’ argument for scientific realism, and this argument sounds as really ‘ultimate’ for the philosophy.

However, to state about the appropriateness of the ‘no miracles’ argument to support scientific realism, it is also important to refer to the ideas proposed by Hacking. On the one hand, the philosopher’s claims can be discussed as defending in relation to the ideas of scientific realism in general and ‘no miracles’ argument in particular.

On the other hand, Hacking chooses one more alternative position and focuses on the discussion of the role of experiments rather than theoretical arguments for stating about the success of scientific theories (Psillos 2005, p. 303).

Thus, Hacking pays attention to the fact that “discussions about scientific realism or anti-realism usually talk about theories, explanation and prediction”, however, it is necessary to focus on the fact that “only at the level of experimental practice is scientific realism unavoidable” (Hacking 2013, p. 1140).

According to Hacking, experiments and the scientists’ practical activities are more important than the discussions of theories.

Thus, to discuss whether the theories are true, it is necessary to conduct the experiments in order to conclude about the use and existence of entities. Hacking tries to draw the readers’ attention to the problem while stating, “think about practice, not theory” (Hacking 2013, p. 1153).

That is why, the philosopher presents the supporting facts to conclude that theoretical debates cannot provide scientists with more support and evidence to decide on the effectiveness of this or that theory and claim (Hudson 2013, p. 172-173).

From this point, Hacking’s approach cannot add significantly to the discussion of the effectiveness of the ‘ultimate’ argument for developing the principles of scientific realism because the philosopher shares the alternative position (Hacking 2013, p. 1142).

As a result, Hacking’s theory is discussed as closer to supporting scientific realism with its platform than to supporting anti-realists’ visions.

While focusing on the ideas of Bas Van Fraassen, Larry Laudan, Alan Musgrave, and Ian Hacking on the relevance of the ‘no miracles’ argument in relation to scientific realism, it is possible to share the vision of the argument’s supporters.

Thus, the ‘ultimate’ argument can be discussed as the convincing defence of scientific realism because it is the strongest argument to explain the scientific theories’ success while referring to all three dimensions of scientific realism.

In spite of the fact that anti-realists can provide significant arguments to oppose the principles of scientific realism, the ‘no miracles’ argument is the most detailed approach to explain the success of theories while basing on the important theoretical and empirical background (Okasha 2002, p. 66; Psillos 2005, p. 69).

In this case, the most convincing arguments to discuss the ‘ultimate’ argument as the perfect platform for scientific realism are provided by Musgrave who is able to explain all the weaknesses mentioned by anti-realists while operating the notion of the predictive novelty (Sankey 2012, p. 132).

The ‘no miracles’ argument, which states that claims of the successful theories are true and they reflect the real world’s processes seems to be convincing because facts and empirical evidences are traditionally discussed as the convincing arguments to support the theory.

As a result, the ‘no miracles’ argument is effective to explain the success of the scientific theories to support the principles of scientific realism. On the contrary, Van Fraassen’s alternative vision based on the theory of survival is not effective to explain the success of the theories, but only to determine it.

Furthermore, Laudan’s approach is also debatable because it can be criticised with references to Musgrave’s notion of the predictive novelty. In addition, Hacking’s approach can be interpreted from the point of empirical success to support the effectiveness of the ‘ultimate’ argument.

That is why, the ‘no miracles’ argument can be discussed as convincing because there are no opposite arguments which are as effective and detailed as the ‘ultimate’ argument to explain the processes of the real world with references to the theoretical notions and grounds.

The ‘no miracles’ argument also seems to be convincing as the defence of scientific realism while responding to the three dimensions of scientific realism because this philosophy involves the discussion of the argument’s semantic and epistemic nature along with the focus on the possible truth of scientists’ predictions.

Reference List

Clarke, S. & Lyons, T. 2002, Recent themes in the philosophy of science: scientific realism and commonsense, Springer, USA.

French, S. & Saatsi, J. 2011, The Continuum companion to the philosophy of science, Bloomsbury, UK.

Hacking, I. 2013, ‘Experimentation and scientific realism’, in M Curd, J Cover, & C Pincock (eds), Philosophy of science: the central issues, Norton & Company, USA, pp. 1140-1155.

Hudson, R. 2013, Seeing things: the philosophy of reliable observation, Oxford University Press, UK.

Laudan, L. 2013, ‘A confutation of convergent realism’, in M Curd, J Cover, & C Pincock (eds), Philosophy of science: the central issues, Norton & Company, USA, pp. 1108-1125.

Musgrave, A. 2013, ‘Realism versus constructive empiricism’, in M Curd, J Cover, & C Pincock (eds), Philosophy of science: the central issues, Norton & Company, USA, pp. 1083-1106.

Norris, C. 2002, Hilary Putnam: realism, reason and the uses of uncertainty, Manchester University Press, UK.

Okasha, S. 2002, Philosophy of science: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, UK.

Psillos, S. 2005, Scientific realism: how science tracks truth, Routledge, USA.

Sankey, H. 2012, Scientific realism and the rationality of science, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., Australia.

Van Fraassen, B. 2013, ‘Arguments concerning scientific realism’, in M Curd, J Cover, & C Pincock (eds), Philosophy of science: the central issues, Norton & Company, USA, pp. 1060-1081.

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IvyPanda. (2020, February 13). The Role of the ‘No Miracles’ Argument for Scientific Realism. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-the-no-miracles-argument-for-scientific-realism-essay/

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"The Role of the ‘No Miracles’ Argument for Scientific Realism." IvyPanda, 13 Feb. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-the-no-miracles-argument-for-scientific-realism-essay/.

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IvyPanda. "The Role of the ‘No Miracles’ Argument for Scientific Realism." February 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-the-no-miracles-argument-for-scientific-realism-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Role of the ‘No Miracles’ Argument for Scientific Realism." February 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-the-no-miracles-argument-for-scientific-realism-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Role of the ‘No Miracles’ Argument for Scientific Realism'. 13 February.

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