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1 THE SCIENTIFIC IMAGE BAS C. VAN FRAASSEN CLARENDON PRESS - OXFORD

4 22 ARGUMENTS CONCERNING SCIENTIFIC REALISM This sort of epistemological rope-trick does not work of course. To begin, I am committed to the view that T is true or T is false, but not thereby committed to an inferential move to one of the two! The rule operates only if I have decided not to remain neutral between these two possibilities. Secondly, it is not at all likely that the rule will be applicable to such logically concocted rivals. Harman lists various criteria to apply to the evaluation of hypotheses qua explanations.1 Some are rather vague, like simplicity (but is simplicity not a reason to use a theory whether you believe it or not?). The precise ones come from statistical theory which has lately proved of wonderful use to epistemology : His a better explanation than H' (ceteris paribus) of E, provided : (a) P(H)> P(H')-H has higher probability than H' (b) P(E/ H) > P(E/H')--H bestows higher probability on E than H' does. The use of 'initial' or a priori probabilities in (a)-the initial plausibility of the hypotheses themselves-is typical of the so-called Bayesians. More traditional statistical practice suggests only the use of (b). But even that supposes that Hand H' bestow definite probabilities on E. If H' is simply the denial of H, that is not generally the case. (Imagine that H says that the probability of E equals 3. The very most that not-h will entail is that the probability of E is some number other than 2; and usually it will not even entail that much, since H will have other implications as well.) Bayesians tend to cut through this 'unavailability of probabilities' problem by hypothesizing that everyone has a specific subjective probability (degree of belief) for every proposition he can formulate. In that case, no matter what E. H, H' are, all these probabilities really are (in principle) available. But they obtain this availability by making the probabilities thoroughly subjective. I do not think that scientific realists wish their conclusions to hinge on the subjectively established initial plausibility of there being unobservable entities, so I doubt that this sort of Bayesian move would help here. (This point will come up again in a more concrete form in connection with an argument by Hilary Putnam.) I have kept this discussion quite abstract; but more concrete arguments by Sellars, Smart, and Putnam will be examined below. It ARGUMENTS CONCERNING SCIENTIFIC REALISM 23 should at least be clear that there is no open-and-shut argument from common sense to the unobservable. Merely following the ordinary patterns of inference in science does not obviously and automatically make realists of us all. 44. Limits of the Demand for Explanation In this section and the next two, I shall examine arguments for realism that point to explanatory power as a criterion for theory choice. That this is indeed a criterion I do not deny. But these arguments for realism succeed only if the demand for explanation is supreme-if the task of science is unfinished, ipso facto, as long as any pervasive regularity is left unexplained. I shall object to this line of argument, as found in the writings of Smart, Reichenbach, Salmon, and Sellars, by arguing that such an unlimited demand for explanation leads to a demand for hidden variables, which runs contrary to at least one major school of thought in twentieth-century physics. I do not think that even these philosophers themselves wish to saddle realism with logical links to such consequences: but realist yearnings were born among the mistaken ideals of traditional metaphysics. In his book Between Science and Philosophy, Smart gives two main arguments for realism. One is that only realism can respect the important distinction between correct and merely useful theories. He calls 'instrumentalist' any view that locates the importance of theories in their use, which requires only empirical adequacy, and not truth. But how can the instrumentalist explain the usefulness of his theories? Consider a man (in thesixteenthcentury) who is a realist about the Copernican hypothesis but instrumentalist about the Ptolemaic one. He can explain the instrumental usefulness of the Ptolemaic system of epicycles because he can prove that the Ptolemaic system can produce almost the same predictions about the apparent motions of the planets as does the Copernican hypothesis. Hence the assumption of the realist truth of the Copernican hypothesis explains the instrumental usefulness of the Ptolemaic one. Such an explanation of the instrumental usefulness of certain theories would not be possible if all theories were regarded as merely instrumental." What exactly is meant by 'such an explanation' in the last sentence? If no theory is assumed to be true, then no theory has its usefulness explained as following from the truth of another one-granted. But would we have less of an explanation of the usefulness of the

5 22 ARGUMENTS CONCERNING SCIENTIFIC REALISM This sort of epistemological rope-trick does not work of course. To begin. I am committed to the view that T is true or T is false. but not thereby committed to an inferential move to one of the two! The rule operates only if I have decided not to remain neutral between these two possibilities. Secondly, it is not at all likely that the rule will be applicable to such logically concocted rivals. Harman lists various criteria to apply to the evaluation of hypotheses qua explanation^.'^ Some are rather vague, like simplicity (but is simplicity not a reason to use a theory whether you believe it or not'?). The precise ones come from statistical theory which has lately proved of wonderful use to epistemology : H is a better explanation than H' (ceteris parihzis) of E. provided: (a) P(H)> P(H')-H has higher probability than H' (b) P(E/ W) > P(E/H')------H bestows higher probability on E than H' does. The use of 'initial' or a priori probabilities in (a)---the initial plausibility of the hypotheses themselves--is typical of the so-called Ra~esians. More traditional statistical practice suggests only the use of (b). But even that supposes that Hand H' bestow definite probabilities on E. If H' is simply the denial of H. that is not generally thc case. (Imagine that H says that the probability of E equals 2. The very most that not-h will entail is that the probability of E is some number other than 2; and usually it will not even entail that much, since H will have other implications as well.) Bayesians tend to cut through this 'unavailability of probabilities' problem by hypothesizing that everyone has a specific subjective probability (degree of belief) for every proposition he can formulate. In that case, no matter what E. H, H' are, all these probabilities really are (in principle) available. But they obtain this availability by making the probabilities thoroughly subjective. I do not think that scientific realists wish their conclusions to hinge on the sub-.jectively established initial plausibility of there being unobservable entities. so I doubt that this sort of Bayesian move would help here. (This point will come up again in a more concrete form in connection with an argument by Hilary Putnam.) 1 have kept this discussion quite a.bstract ; but more concrete arguments by Sellars. Smart. and Putnam will be examined below. It ARGUMENTS CONCERNING SCIENTIFIC REALISM 23 should at least be clear that there is no open-and-shut argument from common sense to the unobservable. Merely following the ordinary patterns of inference in science does not obviously and automatically make realists of us all. \$4. Litnits of the Demand, for E.~planulinn In this section and the next two. I shall examine arguments for realism that point to explanatory power as a criterion for theory choice. That this is indeed a criterion I do not deny. But these arguments for realistn succeed only if the demand for explanation is supreme---if the task of science is unfinished, ip.so,fucto. as long as any pervasive regularity is left unexplained. I shall object to this line of argument. as found in the writings of Smart, Reichenbach. Salmon. and Sellars, by arguing that such an unlimited demand for explanation leads to a demand for hidden variables. which runs contrary to at least one major school of thought in twentieth-century physics. I do not think that even these philosophers themselves wish to saddle realistn with logical links to such consequences: but realist yearnings were born among the mistaken ideals of traditional metaphysics. In his book Brtwcen Science and Philnsoph.~. Smart gives two main arguments for realism. One is that only realism can respect the important distinction between correct and tnerelj, ~. ~ e f i dtheories. l He calls 'instrumentalist' any view that locates the importance of theories in their use, which requires only empirical adequacy. and not truth. But how can the instrumentalist explain the usefulness of his theories'? Consider a man (In the sixteenth century) who is a realist about the Copernican hypothesis but ~nstrumentalist about the Ptolemaic one. He can explain the instruniental usefulness of the Ptolemaic system of epicycles because he can prove that the Ptolernaic system can produce zlmost the same predictions about the apparent motions of the planets as does the Copernican hypothesis. Hence the assumption of the realist truth of the Copernican hypothesis explains the instrumental usefulness of the Ptolemaic one. Such an explanation of the instrumental usefulness of certain theories would not be possible if all theories were regarded as merely instrumental." What exactly is meant by 'such an explanation' in the last sentence? If no theory is assumed to be true. then no theory has its usefulness explained as following from the truth of another one--granted. But would we have less of an explanation of the usefulness of the

6 Laws and Symmetry Bas C. van Fraassen CLARENDON PRESS ' OXFORD

7 6. Inference to the Best Explanation: Salvation by Laws? INTRODUCTION WE have now seen that any philosophical account of laws needs a good deal in the way of metaphysics to do justice to the concept at all. We have also seen that, as a result, any such account founders on the two fundamental problems of identification and of inference. The extant accounts come to grief additionally in their attempts even to meet the most basic criteria relating to science and explanation. Their promises have all proved empty. But there are still those traditional arguments, which conclude first that there must be laws of nature, and secondly, that we must believe that there are such laws. In modern terms, the threats are these: without laws of nature we can make no sense of science and its achievement, nor of rational expectation, and must succumb inevitably to the despair of scepticism. In this Part I shall answer these epistemological arguments. More constructively, I shall propose a programme for epistemology and for philosophy of science which will allow them to flourish in the absence of laws of nature or belief therein. As a man of science you're bound to accept the working hypothesis that explains the facts most plausibly. The Arch-Vicar of Belial, to Dr Poole, in Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence.' THE inference from the phenomena that puzzle us, to their best explanation, appears to have our instinctive assent. We see putative examples of it, in science and philosophy no less than in ordinary life and in literature. It is exactly this pattern of inference, to the best explanation offered, that philosophers have drawn upon to claim confirmation of laws. They support this appeal in two ways: by pointing to the failures of traditional ideas of induction and by arguing that this inference pattern is the true rock on which epistemology must build. After examining their reasons, I shall argue instead that they would build on shifting sands. As long as the pattern of Inference to the Best Explanation-henceforth, IBE-is left vague, it seems to fit much rational activity. But when we scrutinize its credentials, we find it seriously wanting.2 (For those more interested in IBE itself than in its connection with laws, sections 2 and 3 may be skipped.) If both induction and IBE fail as rational basis for opinion and expectation of the future, traditional epistemology is indeed in serious difficulty. But rather than proclaim the death of epistemology, and submit either to an irenic relativism or to sceptical despair, I shall try to show in the next chapter that a new epistemology has been quietly growing within the ruins of the old (as well as show that it issues in a still more drastic critique of IBE).

9 Belief as Rational but Lawless how it does that, must be either uninformative or arbitrary. That is the dilemma this ideal always foundered on. To illustrate this, begin with the naive 'straight rule': believe that the ratio of A to B overall equals the ratio observed so far. That tells us to believe that the sun will always rise. Unfortunately, it also tells us to expect all aces as soon as we have seen a single toss of the alien die, if it came up ace. We can't very well suggest that another ratio is any more plausible. So we must fiddle with the confidence: always believe what this rule tells you, but believe it weakly after one toss and strongly after many tosses.5 Now what is needed is an exact prescription of what beliefs, degrees of belief, or confidence I should have at the outset; and an auxiliary rule about how this should change with the outcome of each new toss. The former could be perfect neutrality of opinion. (I do not assume it must be a precise subjective probability or anything like it.) But then the auxiliary rule must still say exactly how much non-neutrality there should be after one toss; and indeed, after n + 1 tosses (as a function of n, the previous outcomes, and the new outcome). Now you can look at the numbers and ratios as much as you like, but they will give you no clue at all to this auxiliary rule for massaging your confidence in the observed ratio. Myriads, continua, of such functions exist, and however little they diverge in the small, they lead to widely different consequences down the line. You can try to remain a little neutral among them: the more you do so, the less arbitrary will your rule of induction be, but also the less informative. Now, next problem: fry and formulate a measure of balance between arbitrariness and informativeness. There you will again find a continuum of functions to choose from, and you will again confront the dilemma presented by the spectrum from capricious choice to trivializing neutrality.6 There are many other problems with the ideal of induction, even if this is (as I think) its fundamental flaw.7 As to the empiricists who followed this banner sans device, their hope was placed in an empty promise. But does there indeed lie a better hope in the mobilization of laws to found rational expectation, as Dretske, Armstrong, and Tooley contend? 2. DRETSKE ON THE REMARKABLE CONFIRMATION OF LAWS The scheme we inspected above might be called simple or bare induction; many have been the proposals to replace it by more Inference to the Best Explanation 135 complex schemes. One such is Dretske's proposal that we take note of the (supposed) remarkable tendency of laws to become well confirmed on the basis of very little evidence. He uses exactly the reflections and types of examples exhibited above, to sketch a rival picture of how we can rationally go beyond the evidence. It appears, at first sight, that laws are beyond our epistemic grasp. The sun has risen every day; this appears to confirm the universal generalization that it always has and always will. But if we speculated that this was a matter of law, we would be asserting more: something beyond and in addition to the universal statement. The conforming instances support the generalization, but surely they do not support anything beyond that? Dretske tells us that this apparent problem is a pseudo-problem, resting on a mistaken empiricist epistemology. In fact, he claims, it is quite the other way round. This sort of evidence, of positive instances, does not at all support the universal statement, if taken in isolation. But it does support the hypothesis that it is a law that the phenomenon always occurs in that same way. Dretske calls this conclusion 'mildly paradoxical' ('Laws of Nature', p. 267), but it seems more than that. Surely if it is a law that A then it is also true that A; hence I can become no less confident that it is so than that it is a law. The air of paradox is perhaps removed, if we take Dretske to be attacking the conception of evidential support that was implicit in the proffered argument. This conception appears to be the old ideal of purely numerical induction. To tackle also more sophisticated epistemic schemes, Dretske makes the preliminary point that raising our probabilities may not amount to real confirmation.8 Let us use the alien die, introduced in the preceding section, to illustrate his point. Suppose I begin with the initial assumption that the die is fair. Then my initial probability that it will come up ace all ten tosses, is very low-(:)'o which equals about six in a thousand million. After I have seen seven aces come up in in a row, while maintaining this assumption, the probability that the last three will come up, is still the same as it was: (i)'. But this is now also the new probability of the proposition that all ten come up ace. The probability of that proposition has therefore become 6' times-about timeshigher than it was. Our probability for the universal statement has increased dramatically-but we are in no better position to predict

12 146 Belief as Rational but Lawless revision of judgement much more modest than inference to the truth of the favoured hypothesis. The charge should be that I have construed the rule of inference to the best explanation too naively. Despite its name, it is not the rule to infer the truth of the best available explanation. That is only a code for the real rule, which is to allocate our personal probabilities with due respect to explanation. Explanatory power is a mark of truth, not infallible, but a characteristic symptom. This retrenchment can take two forms. Thefirst form is that the special features which make for explanation among empirically unrefuted theories, make them (more) likely to be true.14 The second form is that the notion of rationality itself requires these features to function as relevant factors in the rules for rational response to the evidence. I will take up both forms-the first in the remainder of this section, and the second in the next chapter. Let us note beforehand that the first must lean on intrinsic explanatoriness, which can be discerned prior to empirical observations, and the second specifically on explanatory success after the observational results come in. What the criteria are for either, we shall leave up to the retrencher. Retrenchment, form 1 Is the best explanation we have, likely to be true? Here is my argument to the contrary. I believe, and so do you, that there are many theories, perhaps never yet formulated but in accordance with all evidence so far, which explain at least as well as the best we have now. Since these theories can disagree in so many ways about statements that go beyond our evidence to date, it is clear that most of them by far must be false. I know nothing about our best explanation, relevant to its truth-value, except that it belongs to this class. So I must treat it as a random member of this class, most of which is false. Hence it must seem very improbable to me that it is true. You may challenge this in two ways. You may say that we do have further knowledge of our own best explanation, relevant to its truth-value, beyond how well it explains. I'm afraid that this will bring you back to the reaction of Privilege, to glory in the assumption of our natural or historical superiority. Or you may say that I have construed the reference class too broadly. That is fair. The class of rivals to be considered should be on a par with Inference to the Best Explanation 147 our own, in ways that could affect proportions of truth. So we cannot include in it two theories, each having the same disagreement with ours at point X, but then disagreeing with each other at point Y, on which ours has nothing to say. So for each statement ours makes, beyond the evidence we have already, we can include only one theory disagreeing with that statement, for every way to disagree with it. But of course;.there is only one true way to agree or disagree at this point. So the conclusion, that most of this class is false, still stands. David Armstrong, replying to a version of this argument, writes 'I take it that van Fraassen is having a bit of fun here.'l5 Yes, I had better own up immediately: I think I know what is wrong with the above argument. But my diagnosis is part and parcel of an approach to epistemology (to be explained in the next chapter), in which rules like IBE have no status (qua rules) at all. As a critique of IBE, on its own ground, the above argument stands. One suspicious feature of my above argument is that it needed no premisss about what features exactly do make a hypothesis a good explanation. Let us consider a contrary argument offered by J. J. C. Smart, which does focus on one such feature, simplicity. I think that both argument and counterargument will be rather typical of how any such debate could go (for any choice of explanatory feature). Smart begins as follows: My argument depends on giving a non-negligible a priori probability to the proposition that the universe is simple.... Let p = the observational facts are as if there are electrons, etc. q = the universe is simple r = there really are electrons, etc. We can agree... that P(p) > P(pr), as of course we have to! But I want to say P(pr/q) > P(pf/q).16 That is, the probability on the supposition that the universe is simple, is greater for our best explanation which entails that the phenomena will continue as before, than it is for a denial of that explanation which agrees on those phenomena. The reason for this judgement, on Smart's part, must hinge on a connection between explanation and simplicity. So it does. It is exactly because the explaining hypothesis is simple (as it must be, to qualify as explanation) that the supposed simplicity of the universe makes the hypothesis more probable than its denial (under

13 148 Belief as Rational but Lawless the further supposition that the explanation is right about all the phenomena, even those to come). And it seems at first sight plausible to say that a supposed simplicity in nature, will make simple theories more likely to be true. But this plausibility derives from an equivocation. If the simplicity of the universe can be made into a concrete notion by specifying objective structural features that make for simplicity, then I can see how Smart may have arrived at the opinion that the universe is (probably) simple. For there can be evidence for any objective structural feature. But if the universe's simplicity means the relational property, that it lends itself to manageable description by us (given our limitations and capacities) I cannot see that. The successes we've had are all successes among the descriptions we could give of nearby parts of the universe, and of the sort which our descriptive abilities allow. Suppose it is true that the frog can distinguish only the grossest differences between objects at rest, but can notice even small moving objects. Then his success in catching insects flying by is no index of how many potential prey and potential enemies sit there quietly watching him. Could simplicity in the first sense, which we might have reason to surmise, make more probable the simpler-for-us among the accounts we can give? That depends in part on how much simplicity of theories has to do with simplicity of the world as described by those theories. But suppose there is an intimate connection-unlike, say, in literature where the simplicity and economy of form in poetry does not limit it to simplicity of subject, in comparison with prose. Then still the allocation of probabilities is effectively prevented by a very modest consideration. Simplicity is global. A part of a structure, which is very simple overall, may be exceedingly complex considered in isolation. Here is a simply described set: that of all descendants of Geoffrey of Monmouth, alive today. Now, try to describe it purely in terms of features recognizable today (by geographical location, blood type, what have you) without reference to the past. Considered as part of a historical structure, the set is easily delineated; viewed short-sightedly in the twentieth century it is not. Similarly for the simplicity of the universe as a whole, and those aspects and parts of it on which our sciences focus. The simplicity a situation has in virtue of being part of a simple universe, does not make more likely any simple putative description of it by itself alone. Inference to the Best Explanation 149 Retrenchment, form 2 I already raised the possibility of a sophisticated, probabilistic version of the rule briefly above. Combining the ideas of personal probability and living by rules, the new rule of IBE would be a recipe for adjusting our personal probabilities while respecting the explanatory (as well as predictive) success of hypotheses. This will be investigated in the next chapter, after we have taken a much closer look at the representation of opinion. There must clearly be a solid basis for the appeal and renown that IBE has enjoyed over the years. It is important to ferret this out. But as with any subject, we must carefully separate the inflated claims of philosophical exponents from the grains of common sense which gave those claims their initial appeal. Eventually we must also show that the common-sense part is equally respected in our own account. If I already believe that the truth about something is likely to be found among certain alternatives, and if I want to choose one of them, then I shall certainly choose the one I consider the best. That is a core of common sense which no one will deny. But how far is it from this common sense to IBE, conceived as cornerstone of epistemology? This rule cannot supply the initial context of belief or opinion within which alone it can become applicable. Therefore it cannot be what 'grounds' rational opinion. That is only the first point. Next we can see that even if the rule is applicable, we might very well not wish to apply it. Suppose it seems likely to me that one of the first six horses will win the race, and that of these, horse No. 1 is the best. It does not follow at all that I shall then wish to predict that horse No. 1 will win, for this might mean no higher probability than f for its winning. Similarly, if I turn away then, and just at the end of the race a great cheer goes up, the best explanation for me of this cheer will be that horse No. 1 has just won. And still I shall be no readier to say that this is what has just happened. If a force majeure makes me predict, then I shall indeed say 'No. ]'-but this will certainly not reveal then that I believe it. A rule which we would often, when it is applicable, prefer not

14 150 Belief as Rational but Lawless to apply, is not a rule we are following! Common sense will often prevent us from applying IBE; and it could not very well do that if it were the epistemic categorical imperative. Even more important, perhaps, is this: even if the rule is applicable, and we make our choice in accordance with it, we may not be following the rule. This sounds paradoxical, but think: must a choice among hypotheses, even if unconstrained, necessarily be a choice to believe? In general, the common-sense choice will be in the context of an opinion to the effect that this batch of hypotheses have a balance of certain virtues, and are well fitted to serving our present aims. Likelihood of truth will presumably be among those virtues, or among those aims, but it need not be alone. Informativeness with respect to topics of interest may be another. When we choose the best, therefore, the choice must be interpreted in terms of the basis for choice. If likelihood of truth is not the sole basis, then the choice-choice to accept-must not be equated with choice to believe. How little comfort common sense gives to philosophical fancy! What has happened to extrapolation of general truth from evidence alone? No more than the metaphysician do I think that common sense brings its own clarity with it. So I propose next to discuss the whole subject again in a higher-and more constructive-key. Specifically, I will consider versions of IBE that make full use of the conceptual resources of probability. And yet, its fortunes will not improve thereby. Towards a New Epistemology... it is by no means clear that students of the sciences... would have any methodology left if abduction is abandoned. If the fact that a theory provides the best available explanation for some important phenomenon is not a justification for believing that the theory is at least approximately true, then it is hard to see how intellectual inquiry could proceed. Richard Boyd1 So far I have only offered a critique of traditional epistemology with its ampliative rules of induction and inference to the best explanation (abduction). But this mainstream does not constitute the only tradition in epistemology. The seventeenth century gave us besides Descartes and Newton also Blaise Pascal, and from his less systematic writings there sprung a stream that in the succeeding three centuries has become a powerful river: the underground epistemology of probabilism. After introducing its basic ideas, I shall show that it leads us into a much more radical and far-reaching critique than we have seen so far. The rule of IBE, and indeed the whole species of ampliative rules, is incoherent. I shall deliver this critique at the outset through a proxy, a foil, one particular sort of probabilist: the orthodox Bayesian. The rigours of his views are however also considerably more than his arguments can demonstrate. I will go on then to propose an epistemology that is certainly still probabilist, but offers a reconciliation with traditional epistemology. It does give room to practices of ampliation beyond the evidence. (In the next chapter, we shall see that it also allows us finally to illuminate how objective chance should guide our personal expectationremember the fundamental question, concerning chance, which previous chapters had to leave unanswered?-and how it may enter the opinion that guides rational decisions.) To end I shall argue that, despite the ominous warnings of the past, our new epistemology is driven into neither sceptical despair, nor feeble relativism, nor metaphysical realism.

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