Contemporary Scientific Realism and the Challenge from the History of Science

Course details


Sat 24 Nov 2018 - Sun 25 Nov 2018
3.00pm Saturday - 2.00pm Sunday

Contemporary Scientific Realism and the Challenge from the History of Science


Scientific realists claim that science seeks the truth and that we have good reason to believe that our best scientific theories achieve or at least approximate it. Vickers defends epistemic scientific realism, arguing that we can (at least sometimes) identify the parts of our scientific theories which are (approximately) true. By contrast, Lyons argues against epistemic scientific realism. Both Lyons and Vickers draw on historical examples to support their claims, especially historical episodes where scientists were confident they had hit upon ‘the truth’, but it later turned out that they were radically mistaken. Such cases have often been put forward to challenge the realist claim that the success of science gives us good grounds for believing that science is uncovering the fundamental truths of our universe. Whilst Vickers believes the realist can answer such historical challenges, Lyons is not so optimistic. Lyons does, however, support a realist attitude to when it comes to the aim of science, and he proposes that a refined understanding of the realist aim holds lessons for inquiry in general.

Programme details


2.45pm           Course Registration

3.00pm           What is Contemporary Scientific Realism anyway?

                        PETER VICKERS

4.30pm           Tea / coffee

5.00pm           Science and justified belief: Historical and philosophical 


                        TIMOTHY LYONS

6.30pm           Break / bar open

7.00pm           Dinner

8.15pm-          Tackling Meckel’s 1811 Gill Slit prediction and Bohr’s 1913

9.30pm           Spectral Line prediction

                       PETER VICKERS  



8.15am           Breakfast (residents only)

9.30am           Socratic scientific realism: Seeking truth, without claiming 

                       to possess it

                       TIMOTHY LYONS

10.45am         Coffee / tea

11.15am         Q & A

                     Questions directed by MARIANNE TALBOT

12.30pm         Break / bar open

1.00pm          Lunch

2.00pm           Course disperses


Recommended reading


More important:

Lyons, T. D. and S. Clarke (2001): ‘Introduction: Scientific Realism and Common Sense’, in S. P. Clarke and T. D. Lyons (eds.) Recent Themes in the Philosophy of Science, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Lyons, T. D. (2018): ‘Four Challenges to Epistemic Scientific Realism – and the Socratic Alternative’, forthcoming in a special issue of Spontaneous Generations.

Vickers, P. (2015): ‘Contemporary Scientific Realism and the 1811 Gill Slit Prediction’, blog post for the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, available here:

Vickers, P. (2018): ‘Quo Vadis Selective Scientific Realism?’, forthcoming in a special issue of Spontaneous Generations.

Vickers, P. (2018): ‘Historical Challenges to Realism’, in J. Saatsi (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism, Routledge. - published June 2018 in The Conversation.

Recommended additional reading:

Lyons, T. D. (2016): ‘Scientific Realism’, in P. Humphreys (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press.



Accommodation for this weekend is at Rewley House for Saturday night only.

Depending on availability it may also be possible to extend your stay, please enquire at the time of booking for availability and prices.

All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.


Tuition (includes coffee/tea): £77.50


If you are in receipt of a state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses



Professor Timothy D Lyons


Timothy Lyons is Chair of Philosophy and Professor, Philosophy of Science, at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis. He received his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science in 2002 from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has numerous publications that focus on the scientific realism debate in, for instance, The British Journal for Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of ScienceSynthese: An International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science; Erkenntnis: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science; and the Oxford Handbook for Philosophy of Science.


Dr Peter Vickers


Peter Vickers received a BSc in Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of York in 2003, followed by an MA (2005) in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Leeds. This led to a PhD in history and philosophy of science (2009), also at Leeds, supervised by Prof. Steven French. He then spent a year as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, USA (2010-11), completing his first book Understanding Inconsistent Science (Oxford University Press, 2003). He is now into his seventh year as a lecturer in the Philosophy Department at Durham University, UK, and is planning a second book provisionally entitled Identifying Future-Proof Science.


Ms Marianne Talbot

Director of Studies


Marianne Talbot took her first degree at London University, then her B.Phil at Oxford (Corpus Christi College). She has taught for the colleges of Oxford University for 30 years (1987 – 1990 at Pembroke College, 1991 – 2000 at Brasenose College). She has been Director of Studies in Philosophy at OUDCE since 2001. She is the author of Bioethics: An Introduction, and Critical Reasoning: A Romp Through the Foothills of Logic. Marianne’s podcasts have been hugely popular. Two of them have been global number one on iTunesU. One of these (The Nature of Arguments) has been downloaded 7 million times.