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Stanford’s Unconceived Alternatives from the Perspective of Epistemic Obligations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Kyle Stanford’s reformulation of the problem of underdetermination has the potential to highlight the epistemic obligations of scientists. Stanford, however, presents the phenomenon of unconceived alternatives as a problem for realists, despite critics’ insistence that we have contextual explanations for scientists’ failure to conceive of their successors’ theories. I propose that responsibilist epistemology and the concept of “role oughts,” as discussed by Lorraine Code and Richard Feldman, can pacify Stanford’s critics and reveal broader relevance of the “new induction.” The possibility of unconceived alternatives pushes us to question our contemporary expectation for scientists to reason outside of their historical moment.

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