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entities. What do these views agree about? What do they disagree about? Why is the theory/observation distinction important for anti-realists about scientific theories? Does it make a difference what kind of anti-realist you are; i.e., does the severity of the problem depend upon whether you are a reductionist or an instrumentalist? Scientific theories are a problem for empiricists. They are arguably our most successful and reliable sources of knowledge, and yet they don't seem to satisfy the empiricist requirement that all of our knowledge be about, and justified through, experience. Antirealism is an attempt to solve this problem. Its proponents claim that science, despite how it seems, really is grounded in experience and therefore is an empirically valid source of knowledge. For the empiricist, the only things that we have direct access to are our sensual experiences. They are all that we can talk meaningfully about, and they are all that we can know. The empiricist thinks of this experience as being presented on an 'internal screen', and if there is a world external to us then it can only be known as we 'observe' it on this screen. Empiricists differ in opinion as to what the basic components of this experience are. Phenomenalists claim that they are individual sense-data - patches of colour, snippets of sound, etc. Medium-sized object empiricists claim that they are bundles of sense-data - the ones we call chairs, tennis balls, etc. Each of these empiricists has his own language of experience - the language from which all meaningful and knowable statements are composed. For the phenomenalist this language is the language of sense-data. For the medium-sized objectist it is the language of medium-sized objects. Many scientific statements are not expressed in either of these languages. The statement "all rocks sink in water" is expressed in the language of medium-sized objects, but not in the language of individual sense-data. But the statement "electrons have a mass of 9.11 x 10-31 kg" is expressed in neither. For the empiricist, this statement is meaningless - it is not about anything that we can observe on our internal screens - or if it does have any meaning it is not a claim whose truth or falsity we can verify because, again, we cannot observe what it claims. Thus the empiricist is obliged to reject this as an empty claim, and much of science along with it. In response to this, the anti-realist argues that scientific statements should not be taken at face value, and that when correctly viewed they do indeed meet empirical requirements. There are two principal versions of antirealism: reductionism and instrumentalism. I will explain each position in turn. In what follows I will talk about two distinct subsets of any scientific language. The first, called the observation language, contains all those statements that are expressed in the language of experience as agreed upon by empiricists. For the phenomenalist, this will be the language of individual sense data. For the medium-sized object empiricist, it will be the language of medium-sized objects. The rest of the scientific language I will call the theoretical language. It is theoretical in the sense that it contains words and phrases that are only meaningful in the context of the particular scientific theory. The
they are not expressed in the language of experience. He claims that they are not the kinds of things that can be true or false . We can see that. I will refer to statements in the observation language as observation statements.) The instrumentalist claims that theoretical statements are not really statements at all. without losing any of its content.observation language. Consider the above theory again.the equivalent class of observation statements is smaller. and so any requirement of meaning or factual content is misguided. The reductionist claims that that these two statements are just a shorthand way of writing an equivalent class of observation statements. if so desired. but many predictions about what observational consequences follow from what observational premises seem to rely essentially upon them.they are just rules for deducing observation statements from observation statements. But this would probably not have been true for a more realistic example. and it is through these observation statements that its truth or falsity can be verified. taken together.not only is much of the theory expressed in terms of them. For example. in effect. and to statements in the theoretical language as theoretical statements. because on their view it is only the statements that are expressed in the observation language that make meaningful and verifiable claims. they are factually equivalent to this single observation statement: All rocks sink in water (In this case they are not really shorthand at all . consider the following theory: All rocks contain sinkitons Anything that contains sinkitons sinks in water Even for a medium-sized objectist these statements are theoretical . All rocks contain sinkitons 3. According to the empiricist they are meaningless and/or unverifiable. It is the theoretical statements that pose the problem. is supposed to be meaningful as it stands. on the other hand. or else she will not be clear about what the theory is actually claiming. So if the empiricist wants to keep scientific theories as a genuine source of knowledge. be translated into the latter. because of the reference to (as yet) unobservable 'sinkitons'. then W sinks in water is as follows: 1. What the reductionist is claiming. One way that I can use this theory to predict that if W is a rock. It is through this class of observation statements that the theoretical statement gets its meaning. Anything that contains sinkitons sinks in water premise premise premise -2- . W is a rock 2. and so add no empirical content to the theory. then she must give us an account of their use of theoretical statements. But they seem to be essential to it . Thus it is important for the empiricist to specify exactly what this language is. is that a scientific theory can be completely expressed in the observation language. independently of the theory in which it appears. It is important for the empiricist to make a distinction between these two languages. The reductionist claims that they are just a shorthand way of expressing a factually equivalent class of observation statements and that they can.
This is how reductionists and instrumentalists account for the use of theoretical statements . modus ponens 3.the reductionist phenomenalist.2. not materials or products themselves and hence only of instrumental value to the carpenter. W sinks in water premise 1. An analogy sometimes used to explain instrumentalism is that theoretical statements are to scientific theories as hammers are to carpentry. but is a kind of place-holder that aids the deductive process. the instrumentalist phenomenalist. The conclusion will be true as long as the theory is true. and the instrumentalist medium-sized objectist. the reductionist medium-sized objectist. W contains sinkitons 3.4. the "language" of sense data is not an autonomous language. Both can say. However. nor is it a rule of deduction. But they run into trouble elsewhere. then the thesis that all theoretical -3- . It is not a pair of factual claims that can be used as premises in a deduction . modus ponens Here I have used the theory as premises and derived the conclusion by two applications of modus ponens. Nagel discusses this problem and concludes as follows: In short. He would present the argument like this: 1. But it is not obvious that this is possible. To see why. The instrumentalist claims that this is the wrong way to use the theory.4. I will consider one problem that is faced by each of the four types of empiricist that I have mentioned . The instrumentalist claims that this is not a factual claim. the latter by claiming that they are not supposed to have meanings or to be factual claims at all. all rocks contain sinkitons 2.the former by claiming that they are meaningful and verifiable once they have been translated into equivalent observation statements. if there is indeed no such language. It takes a great deal of practice to be able to isolate individual patches of light and colour from the overall scene. anything that contains sinkitons sinks Note that this deduction contains an intermediate theoretical statement. And no one has yet succeeded in constructing such a language. one only has to attempt this translation for a statement like "there is an apple on the table beside me". that in keeping with empiricist requirements all the factual claims of a theory are really about matters of experience and nothing beyond. W is a rock 2. Then in the carpentry analogy it is the latter that correspond to the hammer. To see how difficult it is. W contains sinkitons 5. I think it's more accurate to divide theoretical statements into those that the instrumentalist thinks of as deductive rules ('All rocks contain sinkitons') and those that he thinks of as place-holders ('W contains sinkitons'). therefore. even in principle. W sinks in water 1. with the former corresponding more to a set of instructions for using the hammer.they are rules of deduction in themselves. The reductionist phenomenalist claims that every statement of a theory can be translated into equivalent statements about sense-data. Hammers are merely a tool for turning raw materials into finished products. and even then it is a difficult process. "W contains sinkitons".
the class of observation statements must contain all of the observational consequences of the original theoretical statement. Thus the set of equivalent observation statements will be infinitely numerous. Consider the theory about sinkitons presented above. The consequences of this. but he faces another (and one that also faces the phenomenalist). The instrumentalist phenomenalist. including its axioms. into a class of observation statements (whatever the observation language may be). are partitioned into two types (think of them as the observation statements and the theoretical statements) then we can replace it with a new formal system whose axioms are made up just of observation statements and such that both systems have the same set of observation statements as deductive consequences of the axioms. however. and these consequences are all presented as axioms in the new system. and then all of these will reappear as axioms. include things like "if such-and-such an object is placed in suchand-such a place then so-and-so will happen".1 The reductionist medium-sized objectist does not face this problem. within the theory of electromagnetism. it says that we can only remove the theoretical statements from the theory if we know all of their observational consequences in advance. and for every position in space around the ruler.he just takes the statements as they are). Moreover. is forced to claim that the theory has no factual content at all .statements are in principle translatable into the language of pure sense contents is questionable from the outset. This is a result from formal logic that initially appears to lend support to the reductionist thesis. -4- . Sinkitons are not. we may discover in the future that a type of object previously thought to be unaffected by electric charge is actually affected by it. A similar problem is suggested by Craig's theorem. then. Scientific language.that the theory is just a set of rules and tools of deduction. the procedure involved in forming the new deductive system only works if all of the deductive consequences of the old system are known in advance. then. But he faces another potential dilemma. This is clearly not a desirable position. Any survey of the statements of a scientific theory will make it clear that very few. without loss of content. not only is the class of observation statements vast but it is also impossible to specify completely at any point of time. But consider a statement like "there is a net electric charge on this plastic ruler". and so the relevance of Craig's theorem to the reductionist thesis is questionable. 122. That is. and so the instrumentalist medium-sized objectist is not faced with an account of the theory that renders it empirically empty. Worse still. On the other hand. p. and so we must include in our translation statements about the behaviour of these objects as well. In effect it is saying that the reductionist program is achievable in the case of a formal language. and that it contains no factual premises to deduce any factual consequences from (remember. To ensure that no content is lost. he does not require that any translation of statements into the language of sense-data should take place . does not meet the requirements of a formal language. Apples are a part of our medium-sized object language because they are a familiar feature of our daily experience. then. There will be a statement like this for every object that is effected by an electric charge. In a nutshell it says that if the sentences of a deductive system. theories do contain statements that are expressed in the language of medium-sized objects. because we haven't yet observed them and we 1 Nagel. If we apply this to a scientific theory. if any. It is claimed that a given theoretical statement can be translated. are expressed in the language of sense-data.
These particular speculations may be unreasonable. According to the empiricist. Neither option is very appealing. In fact. but my internal world projected outwards. I suspect that I never observe my sensual experience at all. and the instrumentalist is obliged to say that "All rocks contain sinkitons" is now a factual statement and not a rule of deduction. If antirealist theories about scientific language do not agree with what we actually observe in the behaviour of practising scientists. but a good deal of it comes from my other beliefs. When I make a statement like "All rocks contain sinkitons". Suppose something changes so that we can observe sinkitons. Maxwell. The instrumentalist has a choice .either fix the observation language once and for all. but a rule of deduction within the theory. but I think the suggestion that we question the empiricist starting point is not.experience is not something that precedes knowledge. I think of myself as making a claim about the way things are . What I am experiencing is not an external world. That assumption is that 'observation' is the passive process of 'viewing' things as they are presented on my 'internal screen'. but what is happening 'in here'. but also the inadequacy of the basic assumption of empiricism. in the course reader.that there really are things called sinkitons with the properties described. But in making this claim I am not committed to believing that it is true. Then sinkitons would become a part of the medium-sized object language. G. The instrumentalist is thus obliged to say that the statement "All rocks contain sinkitons" is not a statement at all. But it seems to me that often I construct a theory first and then check it against the evidence available to me. "The Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities". Typically I am more interested in its empirical adequacy . And that might be enough to give empirical justification to my use of the theory. In fact. then these theories are empirically inadequate and therefore questionable.haven't any idea what they might look like if we did. What we are viewing on our internal screens is not what is happening 'out there'. but the way that we present to ourselves the consequences of our beliefs. I suspect that reflecting on the way that I actually think when I'm using a scientific theory will not only show the inadequacy of the anti-realist account of science. -5- . I suspect that the empiricist has got things around the wrong way . "Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism". and continually reassess the factual content of the theory. nor do I think of myself as really just stipulating a rule that can be used to deduce matters of observation. Bibliography B. van Fraassen. I am not even committed to being interested in its truth or falsity at all. in the course reader. Part of this evidence comes from my senses. I am supposed to take this 'given' data and from it construct all of my beliefs and knowledge. The change comes about because the observation language . just as well as we can observe apples. but only the final products of an elaborate construction involving both the sense-data available to me and my whole system of beliefs. I don't think of myself as really just talking about sense-data or other bundles of experience. or allow the observation language to evolve. and ignore any changes in what we can observe.the criterion by which we are supposed to judge which statements are factual claims and which are not .how will it agrees with what I observe. It seems to me that both the reductionists and instrumentalists are doomed to face problems because the account they give of scientific language does not agree with the way that we typically use it. In short.has changed.
-6- . The Structure of Science. Nagel. Chapter 6.E.
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