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The scientific method from a philosophical perspective

Merritt, David

A methodology of science must satisfy two requirements: (i) It must be ampliative: the theories which it generates must make statements that go far beyond any data or observations that may have motivated those theories in the first place. (ii) It must be epistemically probative: it must somehow provide a warrant for believing that the theories so produced are correct, or at least partially correct, even if they can never be fully confirmed. These two requirements pull in opposite directions, and attempts to specify the “scientific method” often focus on one to the exclusion of the other. On a few points there now exists something approaching a consensus. (i) Scientific hypotheses — including, particularly, statements about unobserved or unobservable entities or mechanisms — remain conjectural, no matter how frequently predictions based on those hypotheses are found to coincide with data. (ii) A good (best?) indicator of a theory’s verisimilitude is its ability to successfully predict phenomena which it was not specifically designed to predict. I discuss these ideas with particular reference to cosmological theories.

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