The epistemological status of scientific theories : an investigation of the structural realist account
In this dissertation, I examine a view called 'Epistemic Structural Realism', which holds that we can, at best, have knowledge of the structure of the physical world. Put crudely, we can know physical objects only to the extent that they are nodes in a structure. In the spirit of Occam's razor, I argue that, given certain minimal assumptions, epistemic structural realism provides a viable and reasonable scientific realist position that is less vulnerable to anti-realist arguments than any of its rivals. The first chapter presents an overview of the scientific realism debate, concentrating on the epistemological dimension. The second chapter tracks the development of structural realism, differentiates between several versions, and outlines the objections that have been raised against it. The third chapter provides answers to a large subset of these objections, namely those launched by Stathis Psillos, who spearheads the critique of epistemic structural realism. The fourth chapter offers an attempted solution to M.H.A. Newman's objection that the epistemic structural realist view, if true, trivialises scientific knowledge. The fifth chapter presents a historical case study of the caloric theory of heat. I utilise the study to answer the pessimistic meta-induction argument. The sixth chapter addresses the argument from the underdetermination of theory by evidence. I argue that epistemic structural realism can potentially restrict the impact of the argument by imposing structural constraints on the set of all possible theories compatible with the evidence. The seventh and final chapter outlines briefly some promising avenues for future research.