Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chapter 7. Social realism


Scientific realism is the idea that scientific theories provide descriptions of the world that are approximately true. Realists in a particular domain of science postulate that the realm under consideration consists of entities, forces, and structures that are real and independent from our observations. Realism involves the view that at least some of the assertions of a field of knowledge make true statements about the properties of unobservable things, processes, and states in the domain of study. This view presupposes a correspondence theory of truth—the idea that the world is separate from the concepts that we use to describe it. And, it implies some sort of theory of scientific rationality— a theory of the grounds that we have for believing or accepting the findings of a given area of science. Realism, objectivity, and facts go together. We can interpret a theory realistically just in case we believe that there is a fact of the matter concerning the assertions contained in the theory.

Several major philosophers of science have taken up this issue in the past three decades, including Hilary Putnam, Richard Boyd, Rom Harré (Harré and Madden 1975), Roy Bhaskar (1975), and Peter Manicas (2006). Ilkka Niiniluoto’s Critical Scientific Realism provides an excellent contemporary analysis of the premises and varieties of scientific realism (Niiniluoto 1999). Richard Boyd’s arguments for scientific realism are particularly compelling (1990, 2002): various areas of the natural sciences are highly successful in predicting and controlling natural phenomena; their accounts are based on hypothetical theories of the unobservable mechanisms of nature; and, the best explanation of that success is the assumption that those theories are approximately true. Here is a good statement of Boyd’s view: ...

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