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Manipulative success and the unreal

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In its original form due to Ian Hacking, entity realism postulates a criterion of manipulative success which replaces explanatory virtue as the criterion of justified scientific belief. The article analyses the foundations on which this postulate rests and identifies the conditions on which one can derive a form of entity realism from it. It then develops in detail an extensive class of counterexamples, drawing on the notion of quasi-particles in condensed matter physics. While the phenomena associated with quasi-particles pass the entity realist's criterion of manipulative success, quasi-particles themselves are illusions, and can be seen to be so even on the basis of the largely non-theoretical "home truths" that one must be ready to admit as background knowledge. Hence, Hacking's entity realism is shown to be incoherent.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Publication date: 01 October 2003

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