Comparative success and empirical progress without approximate truth

Jonathon Hricko*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues against a particular version of the inference from the success of a scientific theory to the claim that the theory must be approximately true to some extent. The kind of success at issue is comparative, where one theory is more empirically successful than its rival if that theory predicts phenomena that are inexplicable or anomalous according to its rival. A theory that exhibits this kind of comparative success can be seen as thereby achieving empirical progress over its rival. David Harker has developed a form of selective scientific realism based on the idea that this kind of success is evidence for the approximate truth of the parts of theories responsible for such success. Counterexamples to Harker’s position are cases in which a theory is more successful than its rival in virtue of containing parts that are not even approximately true. In order to identify some counterexamples to Harker’s position, this paper considers four historical cases that Greg Frost-Arnold has recently used to motivate a novel historical challenge to realism called the Problem of Misleading Evidence. This paper argues that these four cases are counterexamples to Harker’s position, and that they provide a strong reason to doubt his position and the kind of success-to-truth inference that he defends.

Original languageEnglish
Article number205
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Comparative success
  • Empirical progress
  • Historical challenge to scientific realism
  • Selective scientific realism
  • Success-to-truth inference


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