Existence, reference, and truth are all theory-relative. So, though everyone was converted to atomism, no one understood what atoms were. REALISM VS. ANTI-REALISM 1) “No miracles” argument: Supports realism. And if we tighten the account by claiming that continuity requires retention of core causal descriptions (Psillos) or detection property clusters (Chakravartty), are we engaged in a self-serving enterprise? They could, however, be developed without recourse to “hidden mechanisms” and independently of specific hypotheses about the reality underlying the phenomena. Euclidean geometry has a unique parallels axiom and angle sum of triangles equals 180º, whereas, for example, spherical geometry has a zero-parallel axiom and angle sum of triangles greater than or equal to 180º. Our question is this: Is scientific realism an adequate way to think about science or does some form of antirealism make more sense? IBE is the rule that we should infer the truth of the theory (if there is one) that best explains the phenomena. SR is often characterized in terms of two commitments (van Fraassen 1980): SR1     Science aims to give a literally true account of the world. Magnus, P.D. Although Tarski’s definition is technically sophisticated, the main points for our purposes are these. Realists should concede these points; many in the 21st century do. Scientific Realism vs. Anti-Realism. Thus, Putnam thinks, truth is epistemically transcendent: it cannot be captured by any epistemic surrogate (Putnam 1978). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Yes, scientists conventionally introduce posits (an event) as Stoney introduced the term “electron” in 1894: “electron” means “the fundamental unit of electric charge that permanently attaches to atoms”. For example, we cannot inductively infer “Galaxy X is receding” from “Light from Galaxy X is red-shifted”, but we can infer by IBE that Galaxy X is receding because that is the best explanation of why its light is red-shifted. (1991), “Empirical Equivalence and Underdetermination”, Journal of Philosophy 88 (9), 449-472. I have a foundational knowledge of philosophy but Ive never managed to understand the basics of realism vs antirealism debates and why it matters. Wilson, M. (2006), Wandering Significance. While this works only for simple sentences built from terms that directly pick out their referents and predicates with directly verifiable content, it can be extended to other sentences. van Fraassen, B. In the late 1970s Putnam came to doubt SR3, reversed his position, and proposed a new program, internal realism (Putnam 1981). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. An acceptable philosophy of science should be able to explain standard scientific practice and its instrumental success. ). Finally, if we interpret the language of science literally (as van Fraassen does), then we ought to accept that we see tables if and only if we see collections of molecules subject to various kinds of forces. However, scientific realists’ arguments and their interpretation of SR1 and SR2 often presuppose further commitments: SR3     There is a determinate mind-independent and language-independent world. The reference to knowledge points to the dual character of scientific realism. I criticize eight antirealist proposals that I found in the literature with a view to proving that the realist proposal is still the best of the proposals I know of. In order to give Premise 1 bite, the theories must have empirical consequences, which they will have only with the help of auxiliary hypotheses, A (§4). This gives an intuitively plausible reading of the Twin-Earth scenario: Oscar is talking about water (H2O) and Twin-Oscar is talking about Twin-water (XYZ). NOA accepts ordinary scientific practices but rejects apriorist philosophical ideas like the realist’s God’s-Eye view and antirealist’s truth-surrogates. According to Kuhn (1970), the standard view of science as steadily cumulative (presupposed by both positivism and realism) rests on a myth that is inculcated by science education and fostered by Whiggish historiography of science. Scientific realism is overall better than scientific antirealism. McMullin, E. (1991), “Rationality and Theory Change in Science”, in P. Horwich (ed. (It is noteworthy that Putnam recanted internalist truth in his last writing on these matters (Putnam 2015)). He rejected both a veil of perception and the possibility of our representing the noumenal reality lying behind it. As physics developed in the early 20th century, many of the 19th century methodological worries sorted themselves out: Perrin’s experiments with Brownian motion persuaded most of the reality of atoms; special relativity unified mechanics and electromagnetism and signaled the demise of traditional mechanism; general relativity further unified gravity with special relativity; quantum mechanics produced an account of the microscopic world that allowed atoms to vibrate and was spectacularly supported empirically. Most “theoretical” entities can be detected (like electrons) with scientific instruments or theoretically calculated (like lunar gravity). These conventions cannot be experimentally refuted or confirmed since experiments only have physical meaning relative to them. This is NOA: we should accept the certified results of science on a par with homely truths. More strongly, Harman (1965) argues that IBE is needed to warrant straight enumerative induction: we are entitled to make the induction from “All observed As are Bs” to “All As are Bs” only if “All As are Bs” provides the best explanation of our total evidence. The basic equations of Newton, Maxwell, Einstein (STR/GTR), quantum mechanics, relativistic quantum mechanics, and so forth, are typical examples of such laws. Miller, R. (1987), Fact and Method. Consequently, the explanatory success of fundamental laws cannot be cited as evidence for their truth. Bellarmine advocated an antirealist interpretation of Copernicus’s heliocentrism—as a useful instrument that saved the phenomena—whereas Galileo advocated a realist interpretation—the planets really do orbit the sun. Structuralism comes from philosophy of mathematics. Lewis, D. (1970), “How to Define Theoretical Terms”, Journal of Philosophy 67, 427-446. On Putnam’s account, S correctly uses t to refer to x only if S is a member of a linguistic community whose t-usage (via their linguistic and extra-linguistic interactions) is causally or historically tied to the things or stuff that are of the same kind as x. Many debates in the early 21st century focus on historical inductions, especially on what representative basis would warrant an inductive extrapolation. T and T* advocates often argue, criticize each other, and rationally persuade each other that one of the two is incorrect. Fourth, observation is theory-infected: what we can both observe and employ as evidence is a function of the language, concepts, and theories we possess. In particular, questions about the reality of some putative objects are to be answered in terms of whether they contribute to a useful organization of experience and whether they withstand the test of experience. Though rejecting the positivists’ distinction between T-terms and O-terms, van Fraassen defends a distinction between observable and unobservable objects and properties, a distinction that grounds his policy of agnosticism concerning what science tells us about unobservables. Newton’s law of gravitation, FG = Gm1m2/r122, tells us what the gravitational force between two massive bodies is. But there is always the option of declining to choose, of remaining agnostic. Stanford, P.K. Conventionalism is not an “anything-goes” doctrine—not all stipulations will accommodate the evidence—it is the claim that the physical meaning of measurements and evidence is determined by conventionally adopted frameworks. (1987), Truthlikeness. But no realist will worry about this. This metaphysical picture quickly led to empiricist scruples, voiced by Berkeley and Hume. Rorty, R. (1980), Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In quantum mechanics, for example, spin states of entangled particles are perfectly correlated, yet every reasonable explanation-candidate has failed, and scientists no longer insist that they must be explained, contrary to what realists allegedly require (Fine 1986). Structural Realism claims that: science aims to provide a literally true account only of the structure of the world (StR1); to accept a theory is to believe it approximates such an account (StR2); the world has a determinate and mind-independent structure (StR3); theories are literally true only if they correctly represent that structure (StR4); and the progress of science asymptotically approaches a correct representation of the world’s structure (StR5). November 12, 2020. Because of their hostility to metaphysics, the positivists “diluted” various concepts that have a metaphysical ring. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. For any T, there exists a distinct empirically equivalent T’. The term was coined as an argument against a form of realism Dummett saw as 'colorless reductionism'.. New York: Free Press. In the context of our debates, OStR is supposed to avoid the epistemological problems of EStR: qua objects understood as structural nodes, electrons are in principle no more unknowable (or knowable) than Obama or ordinary physical objects. It is shown that by assuming this standpoint many of the puzzling features of the scientific endeavor are clarified (e.g., the belief in a common nature, the use of ordinary referential semantics and theoretical entities, etc. But the discovery that the latter was true and the former false should not be described as a change of meaning or reference of the word “gravitation”. Model theory tells us that since T is consistent it has a model M of cardinality n; that is, all the sentences of T will be true-in-M. Now define a 1-1 mapping f from the domain of M, D(M), to the domain of W, D(W), and use f to define a reference relation R* between L(T) (the language of our theory) and objects in D(W) as follows: if x is an object in D(W) and P is a predicate of L(T), then P refers* to x if and only if P refers-in-M to f-1x. Think of these terms being introduced into the language via an introducing event or baptism. Whereas theoretical explanations allow acceptable alternatives and need not be true, causal explanations prohibit acceptable alternatives and require the cause’s existence. Abstract. They have the same background beliefs about: the world, its fundamental ontology, processes, and laws (statements that are not to be given up); correct mathematical and linguistic expression; scientific values, goals, and methods; scientifically relevant questions and problems; and experimental and mathematical techniques. I reply that realists can get around the historical objection, once they take the realist attitude only toward successful theories that cohere with each other. Scientific Anti-Realism An anti-realist position concerning science can be developed by, first, rejecting the realists’ claims about what is actually involved in the acceptance of a scientific theory and, second, arguing that this alternative way of understanding what it means to accept a theory is not (as the realist would contend) antithetical to the aims of science. Global vs Local Realism/Anti-realism Here, "global" refers to all of science, and "local" refers to specific scientific theories or disciplines. Even more strongly, there is no paradigm-independent, objective fact of the matter concerning which of them is correct. Worrall, for example, argues that Fresnel’s structural claims about light (the mathematics) were retained, but not his commitments to a mechanical ether; his critics question whether Fresnel could have been “just” right about the structure of light-propagation and completely wrong about the nature of light. Deflationists argue that such “thin” concepts and trivial relations cannot bear the explanatory burdens that scientific realists expect of them. Similarly, the practice of conjoining auxiliary hypotheses with a theory to extend and test the theory cannot be accounted for by positivism. It should be noted that the distinction, as he draws it, has no a priori ontological implications: flying horses are observable but do not exist; electrons may exist but are unobservable. Scientific Realism & Anti-Realism Introduction Scientific theories claim, or at least seem to claim, that the universe is populated by a host of entities that we cannot observe in any obvious sense: we have genes, quarks, curved space-time, the superego (if you think psychoanalysis is a science) etc. Such theorems suggest that Newtonian mechanics yields close to correct answers for applications close to the relativistic limits (not too fast). In order to use T to set our epistemic policy we must accept T; that is, believe what T tells us about observables, but we should be agnostic about what T tells us about unobservables, including whether A is observable or unobservable. Our question is this: Is scientific realism an adequate way to think about science or does some form of antirealism make more sense? Quine, W.V. Hardin and Rosenburg (1982) exploit the idea that one can successfully refer to X (by being suitably causally linked to X) while having (largely) false beliefs about X. In the Einstein-Bohr methodological debates about the completeness of quantum mechanics, the realist Einstein saw QM as a degenerate theory, while the instrumentalist Bohr saw QM as a progressive theory. Though perhaps an advance, this does not provide us with a good reason to trust any particular part of our own theories, especially any particular assessment we make (from our vantage point) of the features of a past discarded theory that were responsible for its empirical success. We can similarly consider the offices of the U.S. President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, and so forth. Kitcher, P. (2001). The progress of science asymptotically converges on a true account. Such arguments undermine a central distinction of the positivist program. Pragmatists question metaphysical realism (SR3): it presupposes a relation between our representations (to which we have access) and a mind-independent world (to which we lack access), and there cannot be such a relation, because mind-independent objects are in principle beyond our cognitive reach. OStR bites the bullet: we can know only structure because only structure exists. Lipton, P. (2004/1991), Inference to the Best Explanation. He eventually settled for a less ambitious account: the meaning of a T-term is given by the logical role it plays in a theory (Carnap 1939). Unfortunately, the content of “is an electron” is open-ended and outstrips observational content so that no explicit definition of it in terms of a finite list of O-terms can be given in first-order logic. A range of arguments attempt to show that scientific realism is often supported by an implausible history of science. (2006), Exceeding our Grasp. Quine accepted meaning holism together with another thesis, epistemological holism, a doctrine often called “the Quine-Duhem Thesis”, because Duhem used it to argue against Poincaré’s conventionalism. as a collection of objects defined by the structure of relations given in the U.S. Constitution, distinct from its particular exemplars at a given time: Bush, Cheney, Pelosi (January 2007), and Obama, Biden, Boehner (January 2011). Two theories, T and T’, are empirically equivalent if all the observables in a model of T are isomorphic to the observables in a model of T’. Despite best efforts, no satisfactory metric has emerged that would characterize distance from the truth or the truth-distance between T and T* (Laudan 1981; Miller 1974; Niiniluoto 1987). But sooner or later anomalies crop up that the paradigm cannot handle (for example, the failure to bring electromagnetism, black body radiation, and Mercury’s orbit under the Newtonian scheme). Conversely, if meaning does determine extension, then since the extension of “water” (on Earth) is the extension of “water” (on Twin-Earth), Oscar and Twin-Oscar must associate different meanings with the term. Continuity of reference of the kind advocated by Putnam may be too crude. The kind of account that Cartwright rejects has three main components. Laudan, L. and J. Leplin. (2003b), “No Refuge for Realism: Selective Confirmation and the History of Science”, Philosophy of Science 70, 917-925. So realism, unlike positivism, saves our ordinary ways of talking and acting. Thus Cartwright is anti-realist about fundamental laws: contrary to realists, they are not (even approximately) true; contrary to van Fraassen, she is not recommending agnosticism—we now know they are non-factive. Scientific Realism and Antirealism Debates about scientific realism concern the extent to which we are entitled to hope or believe that science will tell us what the world is really like. At this level, antirealist rejections of IBE seem stretched: it seems unsatisfactory to say either that we do not need an explanation (since it appears to be a guiding aim of inquiry to explain regularities where possible) or that observed gas behavior is as it is because gases behave as if they are composed of molecules (since ordinary and scientific practice distinguishes genuine explanations from just-so stories). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. For EStR to be a realist position, it will not suffice to say: we can know only observable objects (like Obama) and their (observable) structural relations; we must be agnostic about unobservable objects and their relations. Suppose a scientific theory T tells us “A is unobservable by humans”. (Kuhn thinks that clean views of history come from focusing too much on normal science.) I reply that the predicate is viable, because there are clear cases of approximately true descriptions, and because Hilpinen/Lewis's theoretical account of approximate truth can handle those clear cases. Copyright © is held by the author. Anti-realism Anti-realism and realism are the two sides of a philosophical discussion behind the entire foundation of acknowledged scientific fact. Oxford: Oxford University Press. These geometries raise the possibility that physical space could be non-Euclidean. To many this move seems fallacious—if “successful” means correct, then the truth of the former follows as much as the existence of the latter; if “successful” does not mean correct, then neither follows. In fact, science is a self-interpreting practice that needs no philosophical interpretation. First, there is epistemological structural realism (EStR), endorsed by Poincaré, Worrall, and logical positivists in the Ramseyfied-theory tradition: electrons are objects as Obama is an object, but, unlike Obama, science can never discover anything about electrons’ natures other than their structural relations. But if we should be agnostic about A’s observability, then we do not know whether or not we should believe in As. (1998), “Semirealism”, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 29 (3), 391-408. Their separation into realists and antirealists is complicated, but Helmholtz, Hertz, Kelvin, Maxwell, and Planck had realist sympathies and Duhem, Mach, and Poincaré had antirealist doubts. To undercut this general option, van Fraassen argues, the realist must commit to some claim like: every regularity and coincidence must be explained. Laudan, L. (1984), “Realism without the Real”, Philosophy of Science, 51, 156-162. Nowadays the positivists are often depicted as reactionaries who developed a crude, ahistorical philosophical viewpoint with pernicious consequences (Kuhn 1970, Kitcher 1993). How could this be, if the radical interpretation of Kuhn were correct? SR2     To accept a theory is to believe it is (approximately) true. Putnam and Boyd were aware that care was needed with the NMA and sometimes restricted their claims to mature theories so that we discount ab initio some theories on Laudan’s troublesome list—like the theory of crystalline spheres or of humoral medicine. (Kitcher 2001; Liston 1985). “Real Realism: The Galilean Strategy”, The Philosophical Review 110 (2), 151-197. The concepts of atom and force became questionable. Lewis, D. (1984). Moreover, intermolecular forces allowing for internal vibration and deformation could not be easily conceptualized as Newtonian central forces. (2006), “Structure: its Shadow and Substance”, British Journal for Philosophy of Science 57, 275-307. van Fraassen, B. In other words, does science help us get in touch with the truth about reality or does science have some other function? Idealism fails to explain the practice and its success, while SR succeeds. Classical concepts have two characteristics: they determine their extensions in the world, and we can “grasp” them. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Then, on Putnam’s view, the extension of the term is part of the meaning of the term, the kind or magnitude that the term “locked on to” in the course of its introduction and historical development. Treating “is true” as predicated of sentences in a formal language, he provided a definition of the concept that builds it up recursively from a primitive reference relation that is specified by a list correlating linguistic items syntactically categorized with extra-linguistic items semantically categorized. (1927), The Analysis of Matter. Psillos (1999) employs causal descriptivism to deal with this problem: “ether” in 19th century theories refers to the electromagnetic field, since that (and only that) object has the properties (medium of light-propagation that is the repository of energy and transmits it locally) that are causally responsible for the relations between measurements we get when we perform optical experiments. Second, the “justification” for IBE is two-fold. Putnam, H. (1975d), Philosophical Papers 2: Mind, Language and Reality. Moreover, quantum mechanics, despite its empirical success, led to its own problems, since quantum particles have strange properties—they cannot have both determinate position and momentum at a given time, for example—and the quantum world has no unproblematic interpretation. To be a realist position, EStR has to presuppose that, in addition to the structure of the phenomena whose objects are knowable, there is a mind-independent, knowable “underlying” structure, whose objects are unknowable. Putnam, H. (1975a), “Explanation and Reference”, in Putnam 1975d. CE claims that we ought to believe what science tells us about all observables (both observed and unobserved) but not about unobservables. Tarski showed how to define the concept is true-in-L (where L is a placeholder for some particular language). This undermined Kant’s claims that space has to be Euclidean and that there is synthetic a priori knowledge. Theories are literally true (when they are) partly because their concepts “latch on to” or correspond to real properties (natural kinds, and the like) that causally underpin successful usage of the concepts. etc. Sixth, constructive empiricists claim that constructive empiricism is better than scientific realism because it explains science without extra epistemic risk. Moreover, scientific developments undermined several theses formerly taken as necessarily true. We now see why SR is committed to SR3 and SR4 above. Musgrave, A. Stanford, P.K. Psillos, S. (2001), “Is Structural Realism Possible?”, Philosophy of Science 68, S13–S24. As realists rely on IBE, antirealists rely on EET: The argument appears to be valid, but each of its premises can be challenged (Boyd 1973; Laudan and Leplin 1991). Field, H. (1982), “Realism and Relativism”, Journal of Philosophy 79 (10), 553-567. Third is IBE: the success of DN-explanations in rendering large classes of phenomena intelligible can justify our inferring the truth of the covering laws.

scientific realism vs antirealism

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