Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-m9kch Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-19T07:40:03.134Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

How to Be a Historically Motivated Antirealist: The Problem of Misleading Evidence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


The Pessimistic Induction over the history of science argues that because most past theories judged empirically successful in their time are not even approximately true, most present ones probably are not approximately true either. But why did past scientists accept those incorrect theories? Kyle Stanford’s Problem of Unconceived Alternatives is one answer to that question: scientists are bad at exhausting the space of plausible hypotheses to explain the available evidence. Here, I offer another answer: the Problem of Misleading Evidence. I argue that this proposal enjoys some advantages over Stanford’s, although both are probably needed to explain the historical record.

Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Many people have helped me articulate, develop, and defend the ideas presented here. Audiences at the 2018 PSA, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Philosophy of Science in ruary 2017, and the 2015 Congress on Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science meeting were generous with their constructive criticism. I benefited especially from detailed discussions with Liam Bright, Anjan Chakravartty, Haixin Dang, Peter Lewis, P. D. Magnus, Aaron Novick, Sam Ruhmskorff, and Kyle Stanford.


Brush, Stephen. 1976. The Kind of Motion We Call Heat. New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
Chang, Hasok. 2012. Is Water H2O? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Devitt, Michael. 2010. Putting Metaphysics First: Essays on Metaphysics and Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Fahrbach, Ludwig. 2011. “How the Growth of Science Ends Theory Change.” Synthese 180:139–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fahrbach, Ludwig. 2017. “Scientific Revolutions and the Explosion of Scientific Evidence.” Synthese 194 (12): 5039–72..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fallis, Don, and Lewis, Peter J.. 2014. “Misleading Evidence.” SSRN. Scholar
Fallis, Don, and Lewis, Peter J.. 2016. “The Brier Rule Is Not a Good Measure of Epistemic Utility.” Australian Journal of Philosophy 94:576–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Farley, John. 1977. The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Johnson, George. 1838. A History of the British Zoophytes. Edinburgh: Lizars.Google Scholar
Laudan, Larry. 1981. “A Confutation of Convergent Realism.” Philosophy of Science 48:1949.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lipton, Peter. 2000. “Tracking Track Records.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 74:179205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Magnus, P. D. 2010. “Inductions, Red Herrings, and the Best Explanation for the Mixed Record of Science.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61:803–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Magnus, P. D., and Callender, Craig. 2004. “Realist Ennui and the Base Rate Fallacy.” Philosophy of Science 71:320–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mizrahi, Moti. 2013. “The Pessimistic Induction: A Bad Argument Gone Too Far.” Synthese 190:3209–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roush, Sherrilyn. 2009. “Optimism about the Pessimistic Induction.” In New Waves in Philosophy of Science, ed. Magnus, P. D. and Busch, Jacob. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Ruhmkorff, Samuel. 2013. “Global and Local Pessimistic Meta-inductions.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 27:409–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Šešelja, Dunja, and Weber, Erik. 2012. “Rationality and Irrationality in the History of Continental Drift: Was the Hypothesis of Continental Drift Worthy of Pursuit?Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 43:147–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sloan, Phillip R. 1992. “Organic Molecules Revisited.” In Buffon ’88, 415–38. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
Stanford, P. Kyle. 2006. Exceeding Our Grasp. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strick, James. 2000. Sparks of Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Tulodziecki, Dana. 2017. “Against Selective Realism(s).” Philosophy of Science 84:9961007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vickers, Peter. 2013. “A Confrontation of Convergent Realism.” Philosophy of Science 80:189211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Worrall, John. 2000. “Relying on Meta-induction?Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 74:207–35.Google Scholar