It has become apparent that the debate between scientific realists and constructive empiricists has come to a stalemate. Neither view can reasonably claim to be the most rational philosophy of science, exclusively capable of making sense of all scientific activities. On one prominent analysis of the situation, whether we accept a realist or an anti-realist account of science actually seems to depend on which values we antecedently accept, rather than our commitment to “rationality” per se. Accordingly, several philosophers have attempted (...) to argue in favour of scientific realism or constructive empiricism by showing that one set of values is exclusively best, for anyone and everyone, and that the downstream choice of the philosophy of science which best serves those values is therefore best, for anyone and everyone. These efforts, however, seem to have failed. In response, I suggest that philosophers of science should suspend the effort to determine which philosophy of science is best for everyone, and instead begin investigating which philosophy of science is best for specific people, with specific values, in specific contexts. I illustrate how this might be done by briefly sketching a single case study from the history of science, which seems to show that different philosophies of science are better at motivating different forms of scientific practice. (shrink)
In recent years there has been a noticeable yet largely unacknowledged ‘pragmatic turn’ in the scientific realism debate, inspired in part by van Fraassen’s work on ‘epistemic stances’. Features of this new approach include: an ascent to the meta-level (the focus is not so much on whether scientific realism is true, but on the prior questions of the nature of the positions in this debate, how to decide whether to be a scientific realist, etc.); a reinterpretation of scientific realism and (...) anti-realism as (or as closely associated with) stances, frameworks, rather than theories or beliefs; a move away from the previously dominant empirical-explanatory (i.e. quasi-scientific or naturalistic) conception of scientific realism, anti-realism, and their justification; and a stress on the pragmatic and values-based elements in the debate. The traditional scientific realism debate is concerned with determining which position is true, or most epistemically justified. The new approach by contrast is concerned with determining which position best serves certain values, e.g. is most useful, fruitful, or otherwise prudentially preferable. In this paper we try to bring together the various strands in this new orientation, summarise its key features, contrast it with superficially similar but opposing views, and explore the similarities and differences among some of its adherents. Given we are advocates of the turn, we also offer a defence of the value and fruitfulness of this reconceptualization of the debate. -/- . (shrink)
The debate over scientific realism, simply put, is a debate over what we can and should believe about reality once we've critically assessed all the available arguments and empirical evidence. Thinking earnestly about the merits of scientific realism as a philosophical thesis requires navigating contentious historiographical issues, being familiar with the technical details of various scientific theories, and addressing disparate philosophical problems spanning aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, and beyond. This issue of Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of (...) Science aims to make participating in the scientific realism debate easier for both newcomers and veterans, collecting over twenty invited and peer-reviewed papers under the title "The Future of the Scientific Realism Debate: Contemporary Issues Concerning Scientific Realism.". (shrink)
Scientific claims implicitly invite criticism. While we might expect that challenging an epistemic authority in religious circles would be seen as an illegitimate activity (e.g. heresy) and met with suppression, challenging an epistemic authority in scientific circles is supposed to be a legitimate form of engagement, and should (ideally) be met with reasoned argument based in empirical evidence. Given this implicit invitation to challenge scientific claims, and the sweeping knowledge claims often made by today’s scientists, it is hardly surprising that (...) people outside narrowly defined scientific communities (i.e. science’s “public”) often challenge the truth of scientific consensuses. The scrutiny of scientific claims by non-scientist members of the public is quite understandable and in many ways unobjectionable, given the role that science advice increasingly plays in our society’s governance structures and public policy making. As scientists increasingly play policy-maker, they become doubly subject to public criticism: first as a scientist making substantive claims about reality and second as public-interest decision-maker making important decisions about public policy. Thus, for the scientist’s social role as epistemic authority to remain justified, public criticism of science should ideally be entertained and answered by practicing scientists. (shrink)
Readers of Bas van Fraassen’s previous work will find his newest book, Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective, packed with many familiar theses, albeit defended in interesting new ways. Those interested in the debate between scientific realists and anti-realists, in particular, will find this a more satisfying sequel to his first book, The Scientific Image, than any of his subsequent work.