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THEORIA, 2008, 74, 102114

doi:10.1111/j.1755-2567.2008.00011.x

No New Miracles, Same Old Tricks


by
JACOB BUSCH
University of St Andrews, UK

Abstract: Laudan (1984) distinguishes between two senses of success for scientific theories: (i) that
a particular theory is successful, and (ii) that the methods for picking out approximately true theories
are successful. These two senses of success are reflected in two different ways that the no miracles
argument for scientific realism (NMA) may be set out. First, I set out a (traditional) version of NMA
that considers the success of particular theories. I then consider a more recent formulation of NMA
(Psillos, 1999). This version of NMA is aimed at making us believe that our methods for picking out
approximately true theories are reliable. I shall argue that the success of the latter argument is
dependent on the success of the first. Therefore, even though Psillos presents a new formulation of
NMA, the evidential support for it is no stronger than the evidential support for the original version.
Keywords: scientific realism, No Miracles Argument, Inference to the Best Explanation, Stathis
Psillos.

1. A Traditional Account of the No Miracles Argument

In the arguments for and against scientific realism, different formulations of the
so-called no miracles argument for scientific realism (NMA) have been pro-
posed. Here I shall consider what I take to be the canonical version of this
argument as formulated by Putnam (1978). According to Putnam, a realist can
argue against an anti-realist that the anti-realist leaves the predictive success of
theories unexplained:

If there are such things [electrons, curved space-time, and DNA molecules], then a natural expla-
nation of the success of theories is that they are partially true accounts of how they behave . . . But
if those objects dont really exist at all, then it is a miracle that a theory which speaks of curved-space
time successfully predicts phenomena . . .
. . . That science succeeds in making true predictions, devising better ways of controlling nature, etc.,
is an undoubted empirical fact. If realism is an explanation of this fact, realism must itself be an
over-arching scientific hypothesis (Putnam, 1978, p. 18).

Thus success is spelled out in terms of predictions of phenomena. Since Laudan


(1981) introduced his pessimistic induction argument, realists have strengthened
this claim so that success is currently measured in terms of novel predictions (see
Leplin, 1997, and Psillos, 1999, for examples of this). This notion of novel
predictions can be further spelled out in terms of temporal novelty and use
novelty, but this is not relevant to the present line of argument. However, two
different readings of what could be meant by success invite two different

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formulations of NMA. These two senses of success correspond to two demands for
explanation as set out by Laudan (1984): we need to distinguish the demand for an
explanation of the ability of a theory to make correct predictions, from the demand
for an explanation of how science is able to identify theories which are able to do
so. This corresponds to the difference between saying that a particular theory is
successful and saying that our methods for picking out approximately true theories
are successful. In this article, I will first set out a version of NMA that considers the
success of particular theories, and then consider a novel formulation of NMA that
is intended as an argument for making us believe that our methods for picking out
approximately true theories are reliable. I shall argue that the latter argument will
be dependent on the success of the first.
Let us now reconstruct a version of NMA that can be derived from the above
quote from Putnam. I consider this to be the traditional formulation of NMA. Let
us call this formulation NMA*.
NMA*
1* Scientific theories produce novel predictions.
2* That these scientific theories produce novel predictions is best explained by
the hypothesis that scientific realism is approximately true.
3* This explanation is good enough in its own right.
4* Therefore, we should believe that scientific realism is approximately true.
From the later part of the quote from Putnam, we see that he intends his argument
to be an explanation argument. Thus formulated, the argument is an instance of a
more general inference principle, namely, inference to the best explanation (IBE).
The form of such an argument can be set out in the following way:1
1. D is a collection of data (facts, observations, givens).
2. H explains D (H would, if true, explain D).
3. No other hypothesis can explain D as well as H does.
4. Therefore, we should believe that H is true.
In the above reconstruction of NMA, premise 3* is added, not because it figures in
the quote from Putnam, but because this premise is needed for an adequate expla-
nation argument. If scientific realism were in fact a poor explanation of the success
of science, the inference to the truth of scientific realism would be dubious, simply
for that reason. Also, what features as separate premises 2 and 3 in the generalised
form of IBE is conjoined in the second premise of NMA*. NMA* tells us that we
need to explain the fact that some theory produces novel predictions. In the quote,
Putnam suggests that we can infer both the truth of scientific theories and the truth

1 There are different ways of setting out IBE. This particular formulation is inspired by Josephson and
Josephson (1994).

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of realism from the success of scientific theories. For our purposes, we can restrict
ourselves to the suggestion that we can infer the truth of scientific theories from the
alleged success of these theories. The argument works as an argument for scientific
realism where scientific realism is understood in semantic terms, in that it estab-
lishes the claim that the realist wants to argue for; namely, that our theories are
approximately true.2
I am not going to consider the strength of this argument in this article; suffice it
to say that a range of arguments have been raised against it, some of which are more
successful than others. However, it is worth noticing that the argument is not aimed
at giving an explanation of why the particular theories that we select are successful.
To explain this, it seems plausible to cite the reliability of our methods of selection.
By this explanation, we change the focus from what it is that explains the success
of a particular scientific theory, to why it is that theory selection in science (in
general) is so reliable for picking out theories with predictive power. This issue is
exactly the premise for a different kind of NMA argument that Psillos (1999),
inspired by Boyd (1984), has formulated.

2. Psilloss Reconstruction of Boyds Formulation of NMA

Recently, Psillos (1999) and Sankey (2001) have suggested a novel way of arguing
for realism. Here I shall consider Psilloss (1999) variety of this argument, as he has
provided the most detailed account of how the argument is supposed to work.
Psillos presents a variation on NMA that he finds evidence for in Boyd (1984).
Boyds contribution to Putnams formulation is, according to Psillos, that he has
strengthened the argument towards defending the rationality and reliability of IBE.
Psillos suggests that scientists employ IBE when choosing between theories. IBE
is an instance of the broader type of abduction that Psillos tells us we use for
generating theories. He spells out the relationship between NMA and IBE in the
following way. NMA is itself an instance of IBE, and yet it is aimed at defending
the thesis that IBE (as a type of inference) is reliable. So there are two levels of
argument. At the first order level, it is claimed through instances of explanatory
reasoning that it is reasonable to accept that particular theories are approximately
true. At the second order level, NMA is then supposed to defend the more general
claim that science can deliver theoretical truth by being based on these instances of
explanatory reasoning. In that sense, NMA is a kind of meta-abduction, according
to Psillos. So the argument is not only an instance of IBE/abduction, but is also used
to argue for the reliability of IBE.

2 Nothing hinges on this, and there are versions of NMA that argue for ontological versions of scientific
realism, but Putnams formulation of the argument is most appropriately construed in the way suggested,
in that Putnam uses the word true in his formulation.

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Psillos argues that this circular defence does not terminate in a vicious circle.
Douven (2001) and Lipton (2001) have already commented on this aspect of
circularity in Psilloss argument. I shall argue that Psilloss NMA is circular in a
much wider sense. He wants to argue that NMA is an argument that is aimed at
defending the reliability of our scientific methods (of which IBE is one). In
arguing for this, however, it is assumed that our scientific methods are reliable, and
in order for this argument to work Psillos has to presuppose that NMA* works as
an argument for the approximate truth of scientific theories. In this sense, the
Psillos/Boyd version of NMA is not a strengthened version of NMA. In this section,
I shall set out how Psillos reconstructs Boyds version of NMA and I shall suggest
that there is an ambiguity in this argument with regard to how we understand
scientific methods and how these are relevant to the success of scientific theories.
I shall argue (in section 4) that this ambiguity undermines Psilloss account of how
we are to understand how NMA can be used to argue that IBE is reliable.
Psillos suggests that we can reconstruct Boyds view regarding NMA in the
following way:

Scientists use accepted background theories in order to form their expectations, to choose the
relevant methods for theory testing, to devise experimental set-ups, to calibrate instruments, to
assess the experimental evidence, to choose among competing theories, to assess newly suggested
hypotheses, etc. All aspects of scientific methodology are deeply theory-informed and theory
laden . . . These theory-laden methods lead us to correct predictions and experimental success.
How are we to explain this?
The best explanation of the instrumental reliability of scientific methodology is that: the theoretical
statements which assert the specific causal connections or mechanisms by virtue of which scientific
methods yield successful predictions are approximately true (Psillos, 1999, p. 78).

According to the above, background knowledge is used for a variety of purposes


including to choose among theories and to calibrate instruments. Scientists
employ very different strategies for choosing between theories and for calibrating
instruments. There is a broad distinction that we need to make between different
kinds of scientific methodology. We have methods for securing proper results when
testing theories, and methods for choosing between theories or constructing theo-
ries like IBE or abduction. IBE is a method of science that we employ for choosing
between theories with the explicit aim of picking out a true theory. In other words,
when a scientist chooses a theory after having employed IBE, he is thereby justified
(everything else being equal) in his belief that that theory is true.3 The reason for

3 It should be noted that I am here suggesting that there is a broad distinction that can be made, but this
is by no means supposed to be exhaustive of the different distinctions that can be made within scientific
methodology. One could argue that the distinction between IBE and abduction is a particularly important
one and that these should not be grouped into just one kind. Abduction is supposed to aid scientists in
developing theories (Psillos (1999, p. 80) says, for example, that it is reasonable to believe that abductive

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this is that, according to scientific realists, scientific theories possess so-called


super-empirical virtues that are indicators of truth. The prime of these super-
empirical virtues is explanation. Here I do not wish to explore the intricate matters
of how this process takes place, or what other relevant super-empirical virtues there
may be, or if these virtues are indeed reliable indicators of truth; suffice it to say that
IBE as a method of science is supposed to pick out true theories.
If we look at the formulation of NMA that Psillos attributes to Boyd, we find that
he mentions methods for devising experimental set-ups, methods for calibrating
instruments, and methods for assessing the experimental evidence. All of these
methods are relevant for the reliability of either potential verifications or falsifica-
tions of theories by theory testing. If a prediction P is deduced from a theory T, we
will want to test whether what P says obtains for the purpose of verifying or
falsifying the theory. To test whether what P says is true, we will need to devise an
experimental set-up, and in doing so we need to take due care. Accuracy is of the
essence, as a wrongly calibrated instrument may feed us an inaccurate result that
would either favour or count against a theory for all the wrong reasons.
The best explanation for the success of the methods that scientists use when they
test theories is not the success of the theories tested. The methods for devising
experimental set-ups and calibrating instruments can be successfully applied
whether the theory is verified or falsified. A method for devising an instrumental
set-up has still been successful if we manage to falsify a theory when testing.
Success for these methods is measured by whether they promote accuracy in a
testing situation, regardless of the outcome of the test result. The reliability of
scientific methodology of this kind is therefore not supported by saying that the
theoretical statements which assert the specific causal connections or mechanisms
by virtue of which scientific methods yield successful predictions are approxi-
mately true. We need to distinguish methods for generating approximately true
theories from methods for devising experimental set-ups. As a matter of fact, there
is no direct connection between these two. One group of methods is supposed to
take us to true theories by virtue of those theories being best explainers. The other
group of methods is supposed to aid us in testing for the truth of these theories
generated by the first kind of methods.
It may be that the truth of scientific theories would explain the reliability of the
kinds of methods relevant for generating theories methods like IBE and abduc-
tion. But in the formulation of NMA that Psillos attributes to Boyd, the relevant
distinction has not been made, so there is an ambiguity in the concept of method

reasoning is reliable: it tends to generate approximately true theories), whereas IBE is supposed to aid
scientists in choosing between theories. Psillos, however, uses abduction and IBE interchangeably, and
there is a clear sense in which these two methods are definitely different from the methods involved in
experimental design and theory testing.

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employed in the argument. I believe Psillos inherits this ambiguity from Boyd in his
further formulations of NMA that I will go on to consider.
Another problem worth mentioning here that is not addressed in the reconstruc-
tion of Boyds view is: what exactly does it amount to, to cite the fact that our
methods are reliable as a premise?4 We establish whether or not a theory is reliable
by looking at its track record for a successful outcome. Boyd is assuming that we
already know that our methods have a positive track record and now he wants to
know why. This question is not answered by looking at any specific true theory.
Boyd would be wrong to say that for any specific theory this suggests the employ-
ment of reliable methods. So his argument needs to be cast in terms of our
theoretical success over time. A good formulation of the argument, then, would be
one that aimed to establish this by providing a historical record. I shall return to a
related point in section 5.

3. Psillos and the NMAs

Having suggested that there is an ambiguity between the different senses of


methods in Boyds formulation, I will now present Psilloss version of NMA. I
suggest that there are two different versions of NMA inherent in the way that Psillos
presents his argument, and I will suggest how these versions are supposed to be
understood. I shall argue that one of Psilloss arguments presupposes that IBE is
reliable as a starting premise. According to Psillos, NMA argues for the reliability
of IBE based on particular instances of explanatory reasoning. In section 4, I shall
argue that the example of explanatory reasoning that Psillos provides to support his
case is affected by the ambiguity (pointed out in the previous section) between
methods for constructing theories and methods for theory testing. In the final
section, I shall then argue that an account that makes sense of Psilloss formulation
of NMA shows how Psilloss argument relies on the success of a traditional
formulation of NMA.
According to Psillos, NMA suggests that the best explanation of the instrumental
reliability of scientific methodology is that parts of background theories are
approximately true (notice that this is a much wider claim than Boyds); namely, the
parts that postulate the causal connections by virtue of which scientific methods
yield successful predictions. Furthermore, since these background theories them-
selves are arrived at by means of abductive reasoning, it is reasonable to believe that

4 One has to tease out of Boyds argument that this is in fact a premise of his argument. He says that the
best explanation of the instrumental reliability of scientific methodology is that . . . (Psillos, 1999, p. 78),
but instrumental reliability has not been mentioned prior to this.

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abductive reasoning is reliable. It follows from this that abductive reasoning tends
to generate approximately true theories.

(NMA**):5
1** Scientific methodology is instrumentally reliable.
2** The hypothesis that our background theories are approximately true explains
this better than any other hypothesis.
3** The hypothesis that our background theories are approximately true is a
good explanation.
4** Therefore, our background theories are approximately true.

The way I reconstruct the argument here is more general than what is indicated in
the more qualified conclusion of the original argument namely, that parts of our
theories are approximately true but the relevant point is that we argue from the
fact that our scientific methods are reliable to the truth of (parts of) our theories.
However, this is not the only formulation that can be teased out of Psilloss (1999)
discussion of the topic.
Psillos states that: NMA is a philosophical argument which aims to defend the
reliability of scientific methodology in producing approximately true theories and
hypotheses (Psillos, 1999, p. 79, my emphasis). If this is the case, there is not one
but two NMA arguments on offer from Psillos. For this second argument, the
intended conclusion will be that our scientific methodology is reliable for gener-
ating approximately true theories. This is, in effect, the starting premise for
NMA**. If our scientific methods were in fact reliable, our theories would be true.
We can formulate a version of NMA that expresses this in the following way:

(NMA***)
1*** Scientific theories are approximately true.
2*** The hypothesis that our scientific methodology is reliable for producing
approximately true theories explains this better than any other hypothesis.
3*** The hypothesis that our scientific methodology is reliable for producing
approximately true theories is a good explanation.
4*** Therefore, our scientific methodology is reliable for producing approxi-
mately true theories.

5 This argument bears some resemblance to an argument that has been advocated by Sankey (2001)
under the heading of abductive realism. Sankeys argument is structurally much like that of Psillos,
but he explicitly identifies the relevant methods as the methods by which we choose between theories.
The methods mentioned in Sankeys argument are similar to the ones that Laudan (1984) refers to,
where it is argued that, by means of appealing to these methods, truth becomes redundant in the expla-
nation of our ability to identify predictively reliable scientific theories. I shall not go into these matters
any further here.

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The difference between NMA** and NMA*** is that each takes as a starting
premise different facts to be explained. For NMA**, this fact is that scientific
methodology is instrumentally reliable, and for NMA***, the fact is that our
scientific theories are approximately true. This difference marks what the proponent
of each of these arguments takes to be factual evidence that stands in need of
explanation. In section 4, I shall argue that it is contentious that we can assume that
either of these are established truths, independent of further argument.
The charge of rule circularity that is laid against Psillos applies to
NMA***, but it is not recognised that Psillos is setting out two interconnected
formulations of NMA: NMA** and NMA***, each of which needs the support
of the other to establish its first premise. NMA*** aims to defend IBE. However,
this reading of Psillos is not entirely straightforward. Later on in his book, we
find out that NMA is, in fact, not employed in any major way in the project of
defending IBE. In response to various objections to his views, Psillos writes,
NMA does not make IBE reliable. Nor does it add anything to its reliability, if
it happens to be reliable. It merely generates a new belief about the reliability of
IBE . . . (Psillos, 1999, p. 86, my emphasis). Psillos also says that NMA is a
philosophical argument which aims to defend the reliability of scientific meth-
odology in producing approximately true theories (ibid., p. 79). It is claimed by
Psillos that abduction is part of scientific methodology, so at first glance it
seems as if Psillos is being ambiguous about what he takes the aim of NMA***
to be.
I think Psillos believes that NMA*** can be used as an argument for IBE only
in a very qualified sense. It is not the case that NMA*** somehow makes IBE
more reliable. If IBE is reliable, that is an issue that is distinct from any issue to
do with NMA***. On Psilloss account, what NMA*** can do for us is to give
us a belief about IBE being reliable. It can explain why it is reasonable to think
that IBE is reliable, and hence it is not an idle argument (or so Psillos might
argue).
The problem with Psilloss two versions of NMA abstracting from the problem
of circularity is that they are too interdependent. NMA** defends the approxi-
mate truth of scientific theories given the fact that methods are reliable, and
NMA*** gives us reason to trust IBE given the approximate truth of theories. I
will begin with the latter. If NMA*** is not meant to be an argument for the
reliability of our methods (i.e., IBE) but rather an argument that gives us a belief
that our methods are reliable, it seems to me that NMA*** is completely redun-
dant. If IBE is a reliable principle, it is true that we would be justified in believ-
ing that it is reliable just in case that it is reliable (at least on the externalist
account of justification that Psillos accepts). However, it seems rather implausible
that we need something like NMA*** to generate this belief. This is simply
because Psillos assumed reliability of our methods as a fact that we cite in the

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first premise of NMA** on Boyds account of it. Hence, it is assumed as a


starting point for the argument that we all believe that our scientific methods are
reliable. If we already believe that our methods are reliable (and scientific
methods comprise IBE, amongst others) before we engage in an NMA**-style
argument, and all that NMA*** can do for us is to merely generate a new belief
in us about the reliability of IBE, then we do not need NMA*** unless, of
course, NMA*** is somehow temporally prior to NMA**. Whether it is or not
is hard to decide.
I think we need a better account of how we arrive at the starting premise of
NMA***, that scientific theories are approximately true (especially if the argument
is temporally prior, of course). This premise begs the question against any non-
realist opponent, so how is it established? We derive this premise from NMA**.
NMA** tells us that IBE is instrumentally reliable, but does that mean that it is
reliable with regard to producing true theories? We need to look at how the link
between the truth of scientific theories and the reliability of scientific methodology
is established.

4. Is IBE Reliable for Getting Us True Theories?

In this section, I shall outline Psilloss proposal of how to establish that IBE is a
reliable principle of inference. In order to argue for this, Psillos suggests that
examples of successful uses of IBE will provide evidence for IBE being reliable.
Here I shall argue that Psillos argues from the reliability of methods relevant for
experimental design and theory testing to the reliability of abductive methods. As
was argued in section 2, these methods are different in kind, and it is unfortunate
that Psillos blurs the distinction between them. I think we can offer a more chari-
table reading of Psillos (as I shall do in section 5), but on this reading, Psilloss
formulations of NMA rely on NMA*.
According to Psillos, the strength of the NMA argument rests on the following,
more concrete, type of explanatory reasoning (it is unclear whether this concrete
type of explanatory reasoning is meant to support NMA** or NMA*** or both at
the same time):

Suppose that a background theory T asserts that method M is reliable for generation of effect X in
virtue of the fact that M employs causal processes C1, . . . ,Cn which, according to T, bring about
X . . . Suppose, finally, that one follows M and X obtains. What else can better explain the fact that
the expected (or predicted) effect X was brought about than that the theory T which asserted the
causal connection between C1, . . . ,Cn and X has got the causal connections right, or nearly right?
If this reasoning to the best explanation is cogent, then it is reasonable to accept T as approximately
true, at least in those respects relevant to the theory-led prediction of X (Psillos, 1999, p. 79, my
italics).

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These considerations are, according to Psillos, part and parcel of more concrete
applications of explanatory reasoning in science (ibid.).6
We can reconstruct the argument in the following way:
(i) For T to be an acceptable theory, T has to be a good enough explanation in
its own right.
(ii) For T to be approximately true, T needs to be the best out of the available
alternative hypotheses.
(iii) T says that M is reliable for the generation of X, in virtue of M employing
causal processes that bring about X.
(iv) If one follows M, then X obtains.
\ What best explains that the expected effect X obtains is that T has got the
causal connections right.
It is not clear from this specific piece of reasoning that T is chosen as the best
explanatory hypothesis over other hypotheses. In fact, the example does not seem
to fit the model of abduction or IBE. We are considering a single hypothesis and we
are affirming it by experiment. We are not encountering a hitherto unexplained fact,
as is the case in abduction. Nor are we here dealing with different hypotheses, each
of which predicts a certain fact or generation of a particular X. So it is not
altogether clear how this type of explanatory reasoning and NMA relate. Psillos,
however, thinks that the connection is clear: successful instances of such reasoning
provide the basis (and the initial rationale) for this more general abductive
argument (Psillos, 1999, p. 79).
Psillos cites a method, the employment of which brings about certain caused
outcomes. In other words, in arguing for the reliability of scientific methodology to
generate true theories, he invokes the reliability of scientific methods that are
unrelated to the kind of methods that I suggested were relevant to NMA***. The
relevant methods for NMA*** are those by means of which we generate scientific
theories that we go on to evaluate (as referred to in the second premise of
NMA***). Such methods, as I suggested when discussing Boyd, could be sup-
ported when we find out that our theories do in fact have true predictions. It is these
theories that are relevant to the argument.
The confusion with regard to which kinds of methods are relevant might be
explained by the fact that the formulation of the argument that Psillos attributes to
Boyd makes it ambiguous as to which reading of method Boyd has in mind.

6 Confusingly, Psillos (2001, p. 367) says, If NMA is correct, then it says something about the common
deep inferential structure of the several instances of explanatory reasoning and suggests that a host of this
success-to-truth-via-explanatory-considerations mode is reliable. It is hard to tell whether NMA backs up
this reasoning or vice versa. Perhaps instances of IBE provide the rationale for NMA and NMA provides
a belief in the reliability of IBE, which is the reading of Psillos that I will consider.

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However, we can charitably read Boyd as considering only the kinds of methods
relevant for constructing theories (or we can at least suggest on Boyds behalf that
he should have limited himself to mentioning those methods). This reading is,
however, not straightforwardly available on Psilloss account, where the strength of
NMA*** qua IBE rests on an example of concrete explanatory reasoning. This
example therefore becomes crucial to whether we think that NMA*** is a strong
argument. As I have just argued, this example of concrete explanatory reasoning is
not of the same kind as that of IBE. Given that Psillos is expressing himself as if he
believes that NMA*** functions so as to give us the belief in the reliability of IBE,
the example provided had better be uniform with the sense of method that we
associate with IBE.

5. Calling Upon the Old

Psilloss formulation has become unclear because he has not made it explicit that
he is employing two senses of method, and he unfortunately makes the mistake
of describing his example of more concrete explanatory reasoning as an instance
of IBE. In doing so, he confuses the reader into thinking that the example of
explanatory reasoning that he is offering is meant to be a successful instance of IBE
and that this (and more of the same kind) in turn provides the rationale behind
NMA.
However, what he is trying to do is present an argument for the reliability of IBE.
In order to do so, he wants to cite successful theories developed by means of IBE.
The idea will then be that we infer from the success of theories developed by means
of IBE to the reliability of IBE itself. The following passage from a later publication
supports this reading:

But two things seem relevant here. First, the actual track-record of successful applications of IBE
does offer genuine evidence for the reliability of IBE. In particular, successful novel predictions
issued by first-order theories arrived at by IBE lend extra credence to the claim that IBE is reliable.
Second, the reliability of IBE offers new evidence (of a sort) for the truth of first-order scientific
theories (Psillos, 2001, p. 367).

In Psilloss earlier work (1999), it is not part of the story that the successful instance
of explanatory reasoning is meant to display that the successful theory in question
has been developed by means of IBE. So Psillos needs to make clear that it is
examples of vindicated prediction that he takes to be evidence of the reliability of
IBE, rather than the instances of explanatory reasoning being examples of IBE
inferences that were vindicated (IBE is then only vindicated in a derivative sense).
This means that the evidential procedure in arguing for the reliability of IBE is
piecemeal, as one would expect. As we see in the above, the strategy is twofold.

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Once we have achieved our goal of showing that IBE is reliable, we shall also be
warranted (to some extent) in believing that future theories selected/generated by
means of IBE will be successful (i.e., true). However, the means by which we show
that there is a link between successful predictions and truth calls upon a different
formulation of NMA from the ones that we can tease out from Psilloss formula-
tion, namely NMA*. In NMA*, it is argued that the success of science is explained
by the truth of scientific theories; the success of science is understood in terms of
successful prediction. So NMA* allows us to argue from the fact that some theory
produces novel predictions to that theory being true. However, insofar as Psilloss
version of NMA is supposed to be a novel way of arguing for scientific realism, it
is a most unwelcome result that it relies on a traditional formulation of NMA of the
Putnam variety.
Furthermore, notice that it is not sufficient for Psillos to settle for an unspecified
notion of reliability in the above. If IBE is not reliable for generating true theories,
we have lost the rationale behind the second premise of NMA***. We are now in
a position to see how the circular interdependence of NMA** and NMA*** was
established. We cannot take it for granted that the novel predictions that a theory
enjoys are indications of that theory being true without begging the question against
an anti-realist. So we need a separate argument for establishing this. Psillos does
not provide an independent argument for this: in the literature, this claim is argued
for by realists by the use of NMA*. Employing NMA* gives us the conclusion of
NMA*, that our theories are approximately true. Without helping ourselves to the
conclusion that our theories are approximately true, we cannot help ourselves to the
first premise of NMA***. If we cannot help ourselves to the first premise of
NMA***, we do not get the conclusion of NMA***. Without the conclusion
of NMA***, we cannot get to the first premise of NMA**. In the first premise of
NMA**, it is suggested that scientific methods are instrumentally reliable. The kind
of methods that we need to be reliable for generating true theories are the abductive
kind, rather than the kind of methods relevant for experimental design and theory
testing. If the abductive method were indeed reliable, we would expect our theories
(generated by these methods) to be true. But, of course, without the conclusion of
NMA**, we do not get the starting premise of NMA***.
So, NMA** and NMA***, being interdependent, are hostage to the success of
NMA*. Insofar as the new formulation of NMA proposed by Psillos was meant to
provide independent argument for realism, this is a devastating result. In order to
get the interdependent formulations NMA** and NMA*** up and running, we
have to rely on a traditional formulation of NMA, namely NMA*, that has yet to
overcome traditional arguments against it. Reverting to the overall success of
scientific methodology might look like a better starting point for a realist argument,
but it cannot be relied upon when arguing in the way suggested here without taking
the conclusion of NMA* for granted.

2008 Stiftelsen Theoria


Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd
114 JACOB BUSCH

Acknowledgements

Earlier versions of this article benefited from the advice and suggestions of two
anonymous referees for Theoria.

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2008 Stiftelsen Theoria


Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd