Interpretation, Constraint, and the Prospects of Scientific Realism
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I explore the interaction between theory-based interpretations of scientific evidence and constraints on theories provided by that evidence. Interpretation is often viewed as a source of error and a reason for scepticism about scientific results. But, I argue, while interpretation does generate epistemic risk, it also points to new sources of evidence that can constrain our theories. This is especially clear in the development of instrumentation that increases the range of our interactions with nature. While the design of such instruments and the interpretation of their outputs are deeply dependent on theory-based interpretations, these outputs can still challenge those very theories. At the same time, theory-guided instrumentation provides us access to aspects of nature that we cannot study with our unaided senses. This access allows us to extend the range of evidence that we collect, and thus increases the constraints on our theories. As a result, theory-guided evidence collection has a positive impact on the prospects of scientific realism since these increasing constraints on our theories provide our only reason for thinking that we may be approaching the development of true theories.
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