Exceeding Our Grasp

Exceeding Our Grasp : Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives

4.35 (17 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Expected delivery to the United States in 8-13 business days.

Not ordering to the United States? Click here.


The historical record of scientific inquiry, Stanford suggests, is characterized by what he calls the problem of unconceived alternatives. Past scientists have routinely failed even to conceive of alternatives to their own theories and lines of theoretical investigation, alternatives that were both well-confirmed by the evidence available at the time and sufficiently serious as to be ultimately accepted by later scientific communities. Stanford supports this claim
with a detailed investigation of the mid-to-late 19th century theories of inheritance and generation proposed in turn by Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, and August Weismann. He goes on to argue that this historical pattern strongly suggests that there are equally well-confirmed and scientifically
serious alternatives to our own best theories that remain currently unconceived. Moreover, this challenge is more serious than those rooted in either the so-called pessimistic induction or the underdetermination of theories by evidence, in part because existing realist responses to these latter challenges offer no relief from the problem of unconceived alternatives itself.

Stanford concludes by investigating what positive account of the spectacularly successful edifice of modern theoretical science remains open to us if we accept that our best scientific theories are powerful conceptual tools for accomplishing our practical goals, but abandon the view that the descriptions of the world around us that they offer are therefore even probably or approximately true.

"Stanford has genuinely advanced the philosophical discussion about scientific realism with his careful articulation of the problem of unconceived alternatives."- The Review of Metaphysics

"Stanford's book deserves to be widely read. Its central argument is clearly stated, its conclusion is radical, it engages in a productive fashion with detailed case studies, and it lays down several substantial challenges to scientific realism. Lastly, it is consistently thought-provoking."-Science
show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 248 pages
  • 156 x 236 x 16mm | 370g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0199751536
  • 9780199751532
  • 1,217,460

Table of contents

1. Realism, Pessimism, and Underdetermination ; 1.1 Scientific Realism: What's at Stake? ; 1.2 Problems for Pessimism and Underdetermination ; 1.3 Recurrent, Transient Underdetermination, and a New Induction over the History of Science ; 2. Chasing Duhem: The Problem of Unconceived Alternatives ; 2.1 Duhem's Worry: Eliminative Inferences and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives ; 2.2 Confirmation: Holism, Eliminative Induction, and Bayesianism ; 2.3 Pessimism Revisited ; 3. Darwin and Pangenesis: The Search for the Material Basis of Generation and Heredity ; 3.1 Preliminary Worries ; 3.2 Pangenesis: Darwin's "Mad Dream" and "Beloved Child" ; 3.3 Darwin's Failure to Grasp Galton's Common Cause Mechanism for Inheritance ; 4. Galton and the Strip Theory ; 4.1 The Transfusion Experiments: "A Dreadful Disappointment to Them Both" ; 4.2 Galton's Strip Theory and Its Maturational, Invariant Conception of Inheritance ; 4.3 Galton's Understanding of "Correlation" and "Variable Influences" in Development ; 5. August Weismann's Theory of the Germ-Plasm ; 5.1 German Biology at the End of the Nineteenth Century and Weismann's Theory of the Germ-Plasm ; 5.2 Germinal Specificity, the Search for a Mechanism of Cellular Differentiation and the Reservation of the Germ-Plasm ; 5.4 Productive and Expendable Germinal Resources ; 5.5 Conclusion: Lessons from History ; 6. History Revisited: Pyrrhic Victories for Scientific Realism ; 6.1 Realist Responses to the Historical Record ; 6.2 Once More into the Breach: The Pessimistic Induction ; 6.3 Reference without Descriptive Accuracy ; 6.4 Diluting Approximate Truth ; 7. Selective Confirmation and the Historical Record: "Another Such Victory over the Romans"? ; 7.1 Realism, Selective Confirmation, and Retrospective Judgments of Idleness ; 7.2 Theoretical Posits: They Work Hard for the Money ; 7.3 Trust and Betrayal ; 7.4 Structural Realism and Retention ; 7.5 Selective Confirmation: No Refuge for Realism ; 8. Science without Realism? ; References ; Index
show more

Review quote

The argument is extremely clear, detailed, and thorough. It doesn't try to be a textbook, and is aimed squarely at professional philosophers and advanced students in philosophy of science. * Metaphilosophy *
show more

About P. Kyle Stanford

Kyle Stanford is at the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine
show more

Rating details

17 ratings
4.35 out of 5 stars
5 41% (7)
4 53% (9)
3 6% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X