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Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism - van Fraassen

Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism - van Fraassen

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BAS
C.
VANFRAASSEN
ArgumentsConcerningScientificRealism
Therigourof"
sciencerequiresthatwedistil1gu~sh
wel(
theUl1~rapi?d,figure
of"
natureitselffromthegay-colollredvesturewIth
whier:
we
clothe
it
atourpleasure,
_HeinrichHertz,quoted
by
LudwigBoltzmann,letterto
Nature,
28February1895
In
ourcentury,thefirstdominantphilosophyofscien~ewas~evelope?astf10g'lcalpositivisrn.Eventoday,suchanexpressionasthereceivedpar
0'
11'1'..
viewoftheories'referstotheviewsdevelopedbytheoglcapositivists,althoughtheirheydayprecededtheSecOl~~WorldWaLInthischapterIshallexamine,andcritictze,themamargumentsthathavebeenofferedforscientificrealism.Theseargumentsoccurredfre-quentlyaspartofacritiqueoflogical~osi~ivism.~utitissurelyfairtodiscusstheminisolation,forevenIfSCientificrealism
IS
mosteasilyun-derstoodasareactionagainstpositivisrn,itshouldbeable~~standalone,ThealternativeviewwhichIadvocate-Jorlackofatraditionalna~~eIshallcall
it
constructiveempiricism-is
equallyatoddsWithPOSItIVIstdoctrine.
1
ScientificRealismandConstructiveEmpiricism
In
philosophyofscience,theterm's:ie~tificrealis~'denotesaprecise
iti
onthequestionofho,wascientifictheory
IS
tobe,understood,
POSI
JOn.".
I.,.
andwhatscientificactivityreally
IS.
I
shallattempttodefine
t
lIS
position,andtocanvassitspossiblealternatives,Then
I
shallindicate,roughlyandbriefly,thespecificalternativewhich
I
shalladvocate..,,
FROM
BasC.vanFraassen,
The
ScientificImage
(Oxford:ClareI1dol1Press,1980),
6-21,23-25,
31-40,
VANFRAASSEN"CONCERNINGSCIENTIFICR~;ALISM
1065
1,1
STATEMENTOFSCIENTIFIC
REALISM
Whatexactlyisscientificrealism?A
naive
statementofthepositionwouldbethis;thepicturewhichsciencegivesusoftheworldisatrueone,faithfulinitsdetails,andtheentitiespostulatedinsciencereallyexist:theadvancesofsciencearediscoveries,notinventions,Thatstatementistoonaive,itattributestothescientificrealistthebeliefthattoday'stheoriesarecorrect
It
wouldmeanthatthephilosophicalpositionofanearlierscientificrealistsuchas
C.
S,
Peircehadbeenrefutedbyempiricalfind-ings,
I
donotsupposethatscientificrealistswishtobecommitted,assuch,eventotheclaimthatsciencewillarriveinduetimeattheoriestrueinallrespects-forthegrowthofsciencemightbeanendlessself-correction;orworse,Armageddonmightoccurtoosoon.Butthenaivestatementhastherightflavour.
It
answerstwomainquestions:
it
characterizesascientifictheoryasastoryaboutwhattherereallyis,
andscientific
activityasanenterpriseofdiscovery,asopposedtoinvention.Thetwoquestionsofwhatascientifictheoryis,andwhatascientifictheorydoes,mustbeansweredbyanyphilosophyofscience,Thetaskwehaveatthispoint
is
tofindastatementofscientificrealismthatsharesthesefeatureswiththenaivestatement,butdoesnotsaddletherealistswithunacceptablystrongconsequences.
It
isespeciallyimpor-tanttomakethestatementasweakaspossibleifwewishtoargueagainstit,
so
asnottochargeatwindmills.Asclues
I
shallcitesomepassagesmostofwhich
will
alsobeexam-inedbelowinthecontextsoftheauthors'arguments,AstatementofWil-fridSellarsisthis:
tohavegoodreasonforholding
a
theoryis
ipsofacto
tohavegoodreason
for
holdingthat
the
entitiespostulated
by
thetheoryexist.
I
Thisaddressesaquestionofepistemology,butalsothrowssomeindirectlightonwhatit
is,in
Sellars'sopinion,toholdatheory.BrianEllis,whocallshimselfascientificentityrealistratherthanascientificrealist,appearstoagreewiththatstatementofSellars,butgivesthefollowingformulationofastrongerview:
I
understandscientificrealismto
be
the
view
thatthetheoreticalstatementsofscienceare,orpurporttobe,truegeneralizeddescriptionsofreality."
Thisformulationhastwoadvantages;
It
focusesontheunderstandingofthetheorieswithoutreferencetoreasonsforbelief,anditavoidsthesug-gestionthattobearealistyoumustbelievecurrentscientifictheoriestobetrue,Butitgainsthelatteradvantagebyuseoftheword'purport',whichmaygenerateitsownpuzzles,
 
1066
CH.9
EMPIRICISM
ANn
SCIEN1'lFIC
REALISM
HilaryPutnam,inapassagewhichIshal1citeagaininSection
7,
givesaformulationwhichhesayshelearnedfromMichaelDummett:
Arealist(withrespectto
a
given
theoryordiscourse)holdsthat
(l)
thesen-tencesofthattheory
are
trueorfalse;and(2)thatwhatmakesthemtrueorfalseissomethingexternal-thatistosay,
it
isnot(ingeneral)oursensedata,actual
or
potentia
I,
or
thestructureof
our
minds,
orour
language,etc.'
HefollowsthissoonafterwardswithafurtherformulationwhichhecreditstoRichardBoyd:
Thattermsinmaturescientifictheoriestypicallyrefer(thisformulationisduetoRichardBoyd),thatthetheoriesacceptedinamaturesciencearetypicallyapproximatelytrue,that
the
sametermcanrefertothesamethingevenwhenitoccursindifferent
theories-thesestatementsare
viewed
by
thescientificrealist...aspartofanyadequatescientificdescriptionofscienceand
its
relations
to
its
objects."
Noneofthesewereintendedasdefinitions.ButtheyshowIthinkthattruthmustplayanimportantroleintheformulationofthebasicrealistposition.Theyalsoshowthattheformulationmustincorporateananswertothequestionwhatitisto
accept
or
hold
atheory.Ishallnowproposesuchaformulation,whichseemstometomakesenseoftheabovere-marks,andalsorendersintelligiblethereasoningbyrealistswhichIshallexaminebelow-withoutburdeningthemwithmorethantheminimumrequiredforthis..
Scienceaims
to
giveus,
in
itstheories,aliterallytruestory
of
whattheworld
is
like;
and
acceptance
of
a
scientifictheoryinvolvesthebeliefthat
it
is
true.
Thisisthecorrectstatementofscientificrealism.Letmedefendthisformulationbyshowingthatitisquiteminimal,andcanbeagreedtobyanyonewhoconsidershimselfascientificrealistThenaivestatementsaidthatsciencetellsahuestory;thecorrectstate-meritsaysonlythatitistheaimofsciencetodoso.Theaimofscienceisofcoursenottobeidentifiedwithindivirlualscientists'motives.Theaimofthegameofchessistocheckmateyouropponent;butthemotiveforplayingmaybefame,gold,andglory.Whattheaimisdetermineswhatcountsassuccessintheenterpriseassuch;andthisaimmaybepursuedforanynumberofreasons.Also,incallingsomething
the
aim,Idonotdenythatthereareothersubsidiaryaimswhichmayormaynotbemeanstothatend:everyonewillreadilyagreethatsimplicity,infor-mativeness,predictivepower,explanationare(also)virtues.Perhapsmyformulationcanevenbeacceptedbyanyphilosopherwhoconsidersthemostimportantaimofsciencetobesomethingwhichonly
requires
thefindingoftruetheories-giventhatIwishtogivetheweakestformulationofthedoctrinethatisgenerallyacceptable.
VANfRAASS~:N
m
CONCERNINGSCIENTIFICREALISM
Il~aveadded'l~teirally'toruleoutasrealistsuchpositionsasimplythatscience
IS
trueIfproperlyunderstood'butliterallyfalseorrneeming-less.Forthatwouldbeconsistentwithconventionalism,logicalpositivism,andinstrumentalismIwillsaymoreaboutthisbelow;andalsoinSec-tion
7
where
I
shallconsiderDummett'sviewsfurther.Thesecondpartofthestatement
touches
onepistemology.Butitonlyequatesacceptanceofatheorywithbeliefinitstruth.'Itdoesnotimplythatanyone
IS
everrationallywarrantedinformingsuchabelief.Wehavetomakeroomfortheepistemologicalposition,todaythesubjectofcon-siderabledebate,thatarationalpersonneverassignspersonalprobability
I
toanypropositionexceptatautology.Itwould,
I
think,berareforascientificrealisttotakethisstandinepistemology,butitiscertainlypcssible.sTounderstandqualifiedacceptancewemustfirstunderstandaccep-tance
toutcourt.
If
acceptanceof
a
theoryinvolvesthebeliefthatit
is
truethententativeacceptanceinvolvesthetentativeadoptionofthebeliefthatitistrue.Ifbeliefcomesindegrees,sodoesacceptance,andwemaythenspeakofadegreeofacceptanceinvolvingacertaindegreeofbeliefthatthetheoryistrue.Thismustofcoursehedistinguishedfrombeliefthatthetheoryisapproximatelytrue,whichseemstomeanbeliefthatsomememberofaclasscentringonthementionedtheoryis(exactly)true.Inthiswaytheproposedformulationofrealismcanbeusedregardlessofone'sepistemologicalpersuasion,
1.2
ALTERNATlVESTOREALISM
Scientificrealismisthepositionthatscientifictheoryconstructionaimstogiveusaliterallytruestoryofwhattheworldislike,andthatacceptanceof
a
sci~ntifictheoryinvolvesthebeliefthatitistrue.Accordingly,anti-realismISaPOSItlOl1accordingtowhichtheaimofsciencecanwellbeservedwithoutgivingsuchaliterallytruestory,andacceptanceofatheorymayproperlyinvolvesomethingless(orother)thanbeliefthatitistrue.
What
doesascientistdothen,accordingtothesedifferentpositions?~ccordingtotherealist,whensomeoneproposesatheory,heisassertingIttobetrue.Butaccordingtotheanti-realist,theproposerdoesnotassertthetheory;
hedisplays
it,
andclaimscertainvirtuesforit.Thesevirtuesmayfallshortoftruth.empiricaladequacy,perhaps;comprehensiveness,acceptabilityforvariouspurposes.Thiswillhavetobespeltout,forthedetailsherearenotdeterminedbythedenialofrealism.Fornowwemustconcentrateonthekeynotionsthatallowthegenericdivision.T~eideaofaIiterallytrueaccounthastwoaspects:thelanguageistobeliterallyconstrued;andsoconstrued,theaccountistrue.Thisdividestheanti-realistsintotwosorts.Thefirstsortholdsthatscienceisoraimstobetrue,properly(butnotliterally)construed.Thesecondholdsthatthelanguageofscienceshouldbeliterallyconstrued,butitstheoriesneed
 
1068
Cu.
9
EMPIRICISMANDSCIENTIF.1CRJ':ALISM
notbetruetobegood.Theanti-realismIshalladvocatebelongstothesecondsort.Itisnotsoeasytosaywhat
is
meantbyaliteralconstrual.Theideacomesperhapsfromtheology,wherefundamentalistsconstruetheBihleliterally,andliberalshaveavarietyofallegorical,metaphorical,andana-logicalinterpretations,which'demythologize'.Theproblemofexplicating'literalconstrual'belongstothephilosophyoflanguage.InSection7be-low,whereI
briefly
examinesomeofMichaelDurnrnett'sviews,Ishallemphasizethat'literal'doesnotmean'truth-valued'.Theterm'literal'iswellenoughunderstoodforgeneralphilosophicallise,butifwetrytoexplicateitwefindourselvesinthemidstoftheproblemofgivinganadequateaccountofnaturallanguage.
It
wouldbebadtacticstolinkaninquiryintosciencetoacommitrnenttosomesolutiontothatproblem.Thefollowingremarks,andthoseinSection
7,
shouldfixtheusageof'literal'sufficientlyforpresentpurposes.Thedecisiontoruleoutallbutliteralconstrualsofthelanguageofscience,rulesoutthoseformsofanti-realismknownas
positivism
and
instrumentalism.
First,onaliteralconstrual,theapparentstatementsofsciencereallyarestatements,
capableof
beingtrueorfalse.Secondly,althoughaliteralconstrualcanelaborate,itcannotchangelogicalrela-tionships.(Itispossibletoelaborate,
for
instance,byidentifyingwhatthetermsdesignate.The'reduction'ofthelanguageofphenomenologicalthermodynamicstothatofstatisticalmechanicsislikethat:bodiesofgasareidentifiedasaggregates
of
molecules,temperatureasmeankineticenergy,andsoon.)Onthepositivists'interpretationofscience,theoreticaltermshavemeaningonlythroughtheirconnectionwiththeobservable.Hencetheyholdthattwotheoriesmayinfact
saythesamething
althoughinformtheycontradicteachother.(Perhapstheonesaysthatallmatterconsistsofatoms,whiletheotherpostulatesinsteadauniversalcontinuousmedium;theywillsaythesamethingneverthelessiftheyagreeintheirobservableconsequences,accordingtothepositivists.)Buttwotheorieswhichcontradicteachotherinsuchawaycan'really'besayingthesamethingonlyiftheyarenot:literallyconstrued.Mostspecifically,ifatheorysaysthatsomethingexists,thenaliteralconstrualmayelaborateonwhatthatsomethingis,butwillnotremovetheimplicationofexistence.Therehavebeenmanycritiquesofpositivistinterpretationsofscience,andthereisnoneedtorepeatthem....
1.3
CONSTRUCTIVE
EM
PIRICISM
Toinsistonaliteralconstrualofthelanguageofscienceistoruleouttheconstrualofatheoryasametaphororsimile,oras.intelligibleonlyafteritis'demythologized'orsubjectedtoSOmeothersortof'translation'thatdoesnotpreservelogicalform.Ifthetheory'sstatementsinclude'Thereareelectrons',thenthetheorysaysthatthereareelectrons.
If
in
VANFRAASSENCONCERNINGSCIENTIFICREALISM
additiontheyinclude'Electronsarenotplanets',thenthetheorysays,inpart,thatthereareentitiesotherthanplanets.Butthisdoesnotsettleverymuch.Itisoftennotatallobviouswhetheratheoreticaltermreferstoaconcreteentityoramathematicalentity.Perhapsonetenableinterpretationofclassicalphysics
is
thattherearenoconcreteentitieswhichareforces-that'thereareforcessuchthat...'can
always
beunderstoodasamathcmaticalstatementassertingtheexistenceofcertainfunctions.Thatisdebatable.Noteveryphilosophicalpositionconcerningsciencewhichinsistsonaliteralconstrualofthelanguageofscienceisarealistposition.Forthisinsistencerelatesnotatalltoourepistemieattitudestowardlheorics,nortotheaimwepursueinconstructingtheories,butonlytothecorrectunderstandingof
whatatheorysays.
(Thefundamentalisttheist,theag-nostic,andtheatheistpresumablyagreewitheachother(thoughnotwithliberaltheologians)intheirunderstandingofthestatementthatGod,orgods,orangelsexist.)
After
decidingthatthelanguageofsciencemustbelitera~lyunderstood,wecanstillsaythatthereisnoneedtobelievegoodtheoriestobetrue,nortobelieve
ipsofacto
thattheentitiestheypostulatearereal..Science
aimstogiveustheorieswhichareempiricallyadequate;andacceptance
ora
thecinvolvesasbeliefonlythat
itis
empiricallyadequate.
Thisisthestatement,Oftheanti-realistposition
I
advocate;
I
shallcallit
constructiveempiricism.
Thisformulation
is
subjecttothesamequalifyingremarksasthatofscientificrealisminSection1.1above.Inaddition
ir
requiresanexpli-cationof'empiricallyadequate'.Fornow,Ishallleavethatwiththepre-liminaryexplicationthatatheoryisempiricallyadequateexactlyifwhat~t~a~sabouttheobservable,thingsandeventsinthisworld,istrue-exactly
if
It
savesthephenomena.Alittlemorepre
ClS
ely:suchatheoryhasatleastonemodelthatalltheactualphenomenafitinside.
I
mustemphasizethatthisrefersto
all
thephenomena;thesearenotexhaustedbythoseactuallyobserved,norevenbythoseobservedatsometime,whetherpast,present,orfuture....Thedistinction
I
havedrawnbetweenrealismandanti-realisminsofarasitpertainstoacceptance,concernsonlyhowmuchbeliefisinvolvedtherein.Acceptanceoftheories(whetherfull,tentative,toadegree,etc.)
rs
aphenomenonofscientificactivitywhichclearlyinvolvesmorethanbelief.Onemainreasonforthisisthatweareneverconfrontedwithacompletetheory.Soifascientistacceptsatheory,hetherebyinvolveshimselfinacertainsortofresearchprogramme.Thatprogrammecouldwellbedifferentfromtheoneacceptanceofanothertheorywouldhavegivenhim,evenifthosetwo(veryincomplete)theoriesareequivalenttoeachother
with
respecttoeverythingthatisobservable-insofarastheygo.Thusacceptanceinvolvesnotonlybeliefbutacertaincommitment.

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