Information versus knowledge in confirmation theory

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Darrell Rowbottom talked about the role of information and knowledge in the philosophy of Science on 18 November 2010 in the Third Workshop in the Philosophy of Information, Brussels, Belgium. Starting from the old definition of knowledge as justified true belief, Darrell defended the thesis that scientific progress is about useful information, rather than about knowledge. Must we appeal to the notion of knowledge, in the subjective sense typically discussed by epistemologists, in the philosophy of science? Many scientific realists appear to think so, in so far as they assert that we can achieve knowledge of (and not merely true beliefs about) unobservable things, and of theories concerning them. As a natural result, perhaps, this has recently led Bird to suggest that scientific progress should be understood in terms of knowledge, rather than merely truth. But I would instead suggest that making scientific progress consists in acquiring useful information. I will argue for this by pointing out the scientific importance of collecting information that (a) is not and will not ever be believed, (b) is false (as it may be on some views of information), and (c) is truly believed without being justifiably believed. I will also say something about the different ways that ‘useful’ may be understood, with special reference to the property of truth and its role in positions such as constructive empiricism and structural realism. My own view is that even fictions may be both useful and informative; and this gels nicely with some recent work, e.g. by Frigg, on scientific models.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 3rd Workshop in the Philosophy of Information
PublisherThe Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


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