van_fraassen_acsr - A R G U M E N T S C O N C E R N I N G...

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Arguments Concerning - Scientific Realism 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, letter to Narure, 28 February 1895 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 World War. 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 -for lack of a traditional name I shall call it constructive empiricism -is equally at odds with positivist doctrine. $1. 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. 4 I . I 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 7 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
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This note was uploaded on 08/01/2008 for the course PHIL 140A taught by Professor Fitelson during the Spring '07 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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van_fraassen_acsr - A R G U M E N T S C O N C E R N I N G...

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