People typically talk about scientific progress. But what does scientific progress amount to? In the philosophy of science literature, one can find three major accounts (See Darrell Rowbottom and Alexander Bird). The Epistemic (knowledge) view holds that people’s concept of scientific progress involves the accumulation of scientific knowledge. The Semantic (truth) view says that scientific progress involves the accumulation of true scientific beliefs, though not necessarily scientific knowledge. The Functional-Internalist (goal) view states that scientific progress primarily involves achieving either theoretical or technological scientific goals. When arguing for or against these three views, philosophers often rely on intuitions about how much progress people think scientists have made in hypothetical cases relative to the amount of knowledge, truth, or problem-solving outcomes that are generated. Typically, these philosophers assume that ordinary intuitions regarding these factors count as some of the best evidence for their particular approaches. But we might wonder: do actual ordinary intuitions best support the epistemic, semantic, or functional-internalist views?
To find out, Wesley Buckwalter and I ran the following 2x2x2 between-subjects experiment.