Novel Predictions and the No Miracle Argument

Erkenntnis 79 (2):297-326 (2014)
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Predictivists use the no miracle argument to argue that “novel” predictions are decisive evidence for theories, while mere accommodation of “old” data cannot confirm to a significant degree. But deductivists claim that since confirmation is a logical theory-data relationship, predicted data cannot confirm more than merely deduced data, and cite historical cases in which known data confirmed theories quite strongly. On the other hand, the advantage of prediction over accommodation is needed by scientific realists to resist Laudan’s criticisms of the no miracle argument. So, if the deductivists are right, the most powerful argument for realism collapses. There seems to be an inescapable contradiction between these prima facie plausible arguments of predictivists and deductivists; but this puzzle can be solved by understanding what exactly counts as novelty, if novel predictions must support the no miracle argument, i.e., if they must be explainable only by the truth of theories. Taking my cues from the use-novelty tradition, I argue that (1) the predicted data must not be used essentially in building the theory or choosing the auxiliary assumptions. This is possible if the theory and its auxiliary assumptions are plausible independently of the predicted data, and I analyze the consequences of this requirement in terms of best explanation of diverse bodies of data. Moreover, the predicted data must be (2) a priori improbable, and (3) heterogeneous to the essentially used data. My proposed notion of novelty, therefore, is not historical, but functional. Hence, deductivists are right that confirmation is independent of time and of historical contingencies such as if the theorist knew a datum, used it, or intended to accommodate it. Predictivists, however, are right that not all consequences confirm equally, and confirmation is not purely a logical theory-data relation, as it crucially involves background epistemic conditions and the notion of best explanation. Conditions (1)–(3) make the difference between prediction and accommodation, and account for the confirming power of theoretical virtues such as non ad-hocness, non-fudging, non-overfitting, independence and consilience. I thus show that functional novelty (a) avoids the deductivist objections to predictivism, (b) is a gradual notion, in accordance with the common intuition that confirmation comes in degrees, and (c) supports the no miracle argument, so vindicating scientific realism



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References found in this work

Criticism and the growth of knowledge.Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave (eds.) - 1970 - Cambridge [Eng.]: Cambridge University Press.
Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 1991 - London and New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.

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