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What’s so special about empirical adequacy?

Cartwright, Nancy; Bhakthavatsalam, Sindhuja

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Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam


Theory choice has long been a prime topic in philosophy of science: ‘How should we choose from among competing theories?’ Theory virtues have also in recent years become a standard, closely related topic: 'What virtues should a desirable theory have?' 'Are the preferred candidates (perhaps simplicity, heterogeneity, or explanatory power) symptomatic that a theory is true?' We think that most of this discussion is misguided. The fundamental problem is that, even where truth has been eschewed as the aim in view, the considerations raised for theory choice are still trained on truth – and on its fellow traveler, empirical adequacy, the sine qua non for truth. Even if we want other virtues in a theory like say, simplicity, it is assumed that we first winnow down to theories that are (at least roughly) empirically adequate. We think that this approach is off on the wrong foot: empirical adequacy is a poor starting point that could have us picking from among the wrong theories in many contexts. For many purposes that science aims to serve, the theories we choose need not be anything like empirically adequate, and as we will argue, in some cases empirical adequacy is a positive vice.


Cartwright, N., & Bhakthavatsalam, S. (2016). What’s so special about empirical adequacy?

Publication Date Sep 1, 2016
Deposit Date Oct 19, 2016
Publicly Available Date Oct 21, 2016
Series Title CHESS Working Papers
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