314Lecture8-ScientificRealism2Online - Lecture Eight...

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Lecture Eight: Scientific Realism Semantics Much of the knowledge we have of the world comes from empirical investigation. The philosophical problem is that if we experience the world mediated by our impressions and ideas, then how can we know the nature of reality? Hume basically argued that there are no rational grounds for our matter of fact beliefs. However, we are psychologically wired to believe and act upon those beliefs nonetheless. Berkeley goes farther and denies there is anything beyond the ideas within our minds. There is no existence without perception. Contemporary philosophers have argued that we are justified in the belief that mind- independent objects exist since they explain the regularities of our experience. We predict an effect will occur given a certain cause. In most cases, our expectations are satisfied. If I turn on the light switch, I expect the light to come on. In the majority of cases, the light comes on. If the light did not turn on, then I would speculate that there must be some kind of plausible explanation for the anomalous experience--the bulb is out, faulty wiring, etc. These further beliefs about what might have gone wrong are also part of the regularity of past experience. Logical positivism What are we justified in believing, given scientific evidence? Scientific realists argue that we are justified in believing that unobservables exist if they are postulated by our best scientific theories. On the other hand, antirealists argue that science should not make claims about the real world or the ultimate nature of things. French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) claims that the goal of science is not to discover the nature of ultimate reality rather science should make accurate predictions of phenomena. In general, positivism is a view that: (a) emphasizes verification/falsification (b) regards observation/experience as the only source of knowledge (c) is anti-causation (d) is anti-theoretical entities (e) downplays explanation (f) is anti-metaphysics (typically) During the 19 th century, metaphysics was prevalent. Philosophy and the other humanities disciplines were greatly influenced by romanticism and idealism. Things like ‘the absolute’, ‘the will’, ‘becoming’, were common subjects of conversation. However, by the beginning of the 20 th century, many philosophers began to embrace science, mathematics, and logic in order to counter the ‘confused thinking of the metaphysicians.’ 1
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Logical positivists (and logical empiricists) were influenced by the empiricism of Hume, Mach, and Comte. They also employed the mathematical logic of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell to create a framework within which theories could be precisely formulated. Some notable positivists are: Moritz Schlick, Carl Hempel, Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach and Alfred J. Ayer. They sought to separate what they regarded as meaningless metaphysical jargon from true empirical science. Empiricist criterion of meaning = in order to be meaningful, a word must have some
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314Lecture8-ScientificRealism2Online - Lecture Eight...

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