The rigour of science requires that we distinguish well the
undraped figure of nature itself from the gay-coloured
vesture with which we clothe it at our pleasure.
Heinrich Hertz, quoted by Ludwig Boltzmann,
IN our century, the first dominant philosophy of science was
developed as part of logical positivism. Even today, such an expres-
sion as 'the received view of theories' refers to the views developed
by the logical positivists, although their heyday preceded the Second
In this chapter I shall examine, and criticize, tht main arguments
that have been offered for scientific realism. These arguments
occurred frequently as part of a critique of logical positivism. But
it is surely fair to discuss them in isolation, for even if scientific
realism is most easily understood as a reaction against positivism, it
should be able to stand alone. The alternative view which I advocate
lack of a traditional name I shall call it
equally at odds with positivist doctrine.
Scientific Realism and Consrrucrive Empiricism
In philosophy of science, the term 'scientific realism' denotes a
precise position on the question of how a scientific theory is to be
understood, and what scientific activity really is. I shall attempt to
define this position. and to canvass its possible alternatives. Then I
shall indicate, roughly and briefly. the specific alternative which I
shall advocate and develop in later chapters.
Statement of Scientbsc Realism
What exactly is scientific realism? A nai've statement of the position
would be this: the picture which science gives us of the world is a
ARGUMENTS CONCERNING SCIENTIFIC REALISM
true one, faithful in its details, and the entities postulated in science
really exist: the advances of science are discoveries, not inventions.
That statement is too naive; it attributes to the scientific realist the
belief that today's theories are correct. It would mean that the
philosophical position of an earlier scientific realist such as C. S.
Peirce had been refuted by empirical findings. I do not suppose that
scientific realists wish to be committed, as such, even to the claim
that science will arrive in due time at theories true in all respects-
for the growth of science might be an endless self-correction; or
worse, Armageddon might occur too soon.
But the naive statement has the right flavour. It answers two main
questions: it characterizes a scientific theory as a story about what
there really is, and scientific activity as an enterprise of discovery, as
opposed to invention. The two questions of what a scientific theory
is. and what a scientific theory does, must be answered by any
philosophy of science. The task we have at this point is to find a
statement ofscientific realism that shares these features with the naive
statement, but does not saddle the realists with unacceptably strong
consequences. It is especially important to make the statement as
weak as possible if we wish to argue against it. so as not to charge