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The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 10, 2001

Philosophy of Science

Elliott Sober
Pages 59-68

Instrumentalism Revisited

Instrumentalism is usually understood as a semantic thesis: scientific theories are neither true nor false, but are merely instruments for making predictions. Scientific realists are on firm ground when they reject this semantic claim. This paper focuses on epistemological rather than semantic instrumentalism. This form of instrumentalism claims that theories are to be judged by their ability to make accurate predictions, and that predictive accuracy is the only consideration that matters in the end. I consider how instrumentalism is related to a quite different proposal concerning how theories should be evaluated—scientific realism. Instrumentalism allows for the fact that a false model can get one closer to the truth than a true one.

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