P.D. Magnus (research)

Realist ennui and the base rate fallacy

Co-authored with Craig Callender. Published in Philosophy of Science.

Versions available


The no-miracles argument and the pessimistic induction are arguably the main considerations for and against scientific realism. Recently these arguments have been accused of embodying a familiar, seductive fallacy. In each case, we are tricked by a base rate fallacy, one much-discussed in the psychological literature. In this paper we consider this accusation and use it as an explanation for why the two most prominent `wholesale' arguments in the literature seem irresolvable. Framed probabilistically, we can see very clearly why realists and anti-realists have been talking past one another. We then formulate a dilemma for advocates of either argument, answer potential objections to our criticism, discuss what remains (if anything) of these two major arguments, and then speculate about a future philosophy of science freed from these two arguments. In so doing, we connect the point about base rates to the wholesale/retail distinction; we believe it hints at an answer of how to distinguish profitable from unprofitable realism debates. In short, we offer a probabilistic analysis of the feeling of ennui afflicting contemporary philosophy of science.


	AUTHOR = {P.D. Magnus and Craig Callender},
	TITLE = {Realist ennui and the base rate fallacy},
	JOURNAL = {Philosophy of Science},
	YEAR = 2004,
	MONTH = jul,
	VOLUME = {71},
	NUMBER = {3},
	PAGES = {320--338}