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Stephen Downes

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Science and Truth

David Papineau, Nov 17, 2023

This is an interesting, engaging and accessible article first published in 1997 but only recently available online. David Papineau addresses how we choose between different scientific theories, a question of importance after the work of people like Feyerabend and Kuhn. Philosophers, historians and sociologists of science, he argues, simply give in to the sceptical answer; "the real explanation must therefore lie in political factors, either in the form of affinities of content between certain theories and the interests of certain sections of society, or in the form of the outcome of struggles for power between competing groups of scientists." But epistemology teaches us that even if certainty is unattainable, reliability is a reasonable standard, and what we actually learn, "when you become expert in any field of science, is which methods will be effective at answering that science's theoretical questions. In effect, you learn which kinds of possible answers need to be taken seriously as candidates to questions in your fields, and which kinds of answers can be discounted."

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