Three Kinds of Scientific Realism Author(s): Hilary Putnam Reviewed work(s): Source: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No.
128, Special Issue: Scientific Realism (Jul., 1982), pp. 195-200 Published by: Blackwell Publishing for The Philosophical Quarterly Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2219323 . Accessed: 01/07/2012 04:46
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Field.g. cannot agree that all properties realism" is scientific imperialism physicalism.reference) I are duced to physicalones. Lovejoy once distinguished thirteenvarietiesof pragmatism.I am no scientific is The leadingidea of semanticphysicalism by now familiar:(at leastin to to "basic" cases)x refers y ifand onlyifx is connected y bya "causal" chain type. The "reduction" Field seeks is an empirical one.. 347-75. Haugeland. The Journal of Philosophy. SCIENTIFIC REALISM AS MATERIALISM
. 32 No. The familiarproblem is that the physicalistis of the appropriate what counts as the "appropriatetype" specifying goingto have difficulty semantical notions. AmericanPhilosophical Quarterly.1 A fortiori. if but it may be helpful I distinguish three indicatemy attitudetowards and each. "Tarski's Theory of Truth". "Weak Supervenience". 128 JULY 1982
THREE KINDS OF SCIENTIFIC REALISM
BY HILARYPUTNAM A.2 There is that identity the notionused in mathematical physics:"causation" is a preciserelation the existenceof a transformation between"states" of a system. "physicalism" in this sense must not be confused with the logistic reductionismdefended by Carnap. theorists confusetwo different notionsof "cause".49 (1972). O. involving of function (derivedfromthe Hamiltonianor Lagrangiandescription the "carries" the earlierstate into the later situation)whichdeterministically
1H. without using(unreduced) I want to discuss a different JohnHaugeland has remarked difficulty. materialism. 19 2J.I thirteen of varieties scientific shallnotemulatehimby distinguishing realism. I. If "scientific realist. (1982).THE
VOL. I cannotfollow"physicalists" (e. physical. HartryField) who wouldarguethat can be re"intentional"or semanticalproperties (forexample.
state. using the notionof reference. in 4The doctrine of interest-relativity connection with explanation and causation is explained in my Meaning and theMoral Sciences (London. whichis just what the a "substantial"(non-disquotational) doesn't have .and our evolutionary past (if data are available) to that executerationalprocedures findout how the brain mechanisms were of is selectedfor.thereis the notionof the cause as the "bringer or "instigator"of an event. about" can be elucidated. 1981). In the second sense. or 'rational' could be defined elucidatedin biologicalterms. 5I argue that "rational" is not a physicalistic notion (not "reducible" in Field's sense) in "Why Reason Can't be Naturalized". physicalist
8I argue that "causation" in this sense is not a physicalisticrelation in "Why there Isn't a Ready-Made World".unlesshe can define'reference' physicalistically. withphysics. not a causal chainin the state-cum-Hamiltonian the physicalisthopes to use in defining reference are loaded with nonphysicalistcontent. (It is essential thatthe "states" themselves mathematically be precise about" objects. defined. Forms of Explanation (New Haven. withthe propensity Alvin Goldmanhas proposedto identify rationality even ifthisworked and it does not.If we knowwhat thenwe can doubtlessstudythe brainto find "rationalprocedures" out are. beset "evolutionary Similardifficulties epistemology". But the property beinga rational procedure not the same of as the property beinga procedure that promotes humansurvival. ofa notionof "bringing in terms reference of whichis itself about" explained is obviouslycircular.it would require to find truth.
.)But even if this is right. my harsh criticism a of student'spaper may be the cause of his depression. is no help if is to define reference To define 'refers' terms in the project physicalistically.the verydivision thetotal situation and "bringer It about" is interest-relative rationality-relative. Garfinkel. notionof truth. Synthese(forthcoming).) The "bringer one we pick out.by any And I see no reason to believe (and everyreason to deny5)that means. In the lecture cited in the preceding note.(As I understand this rigorously about" is the factorwe refer as such. (See also A.) Secondly. but is rather a feature of our notion of rational explanation. I make the furtherpoint that the division of situations into what is a "background condition" and what is an instigating cause is not built into nature. 1978).the to is Mackie'stack. of into"background conditions" Indeed. how it executesthem. it or that thereare no constraints. Now a "causal chain of the appropriate type" is a chain of "bringers sense. The notions about".4 may be and to as better take the criticism the "bringer about" and the student'scurrent emotional and physical state as the "backgroundconditions" fromthe but this has nothing do to point of view of what we count as explanation.but.but thereis not the reason to think (and everyreason to deny3)that thisrelationof slightest "causation" can be definedin termsof the primitive notionsof physics. (I don't mean that Mackie thinksthis is whollyarbitrary. Synthese(forthcoming).if not A physicalist could replythat "bringer it.
8) But the radiation. The two theories Jonesianphysics(unreducedpoints) and as and Smithian physics(points constructs) aremathematically empirically in assertibility the languagewe actuallyuse. forcefields. in Goodman's (whichdoes not mean they can just be conjoined. ising this (due to Whitehead) is to identify 7For a discussion of the notion of empirical equivalence. see "Equivalence" in my Philosophical Papers. 1981). Consider physical maintains that there as reallyare suchthings spatialpoints. 3 Realism and Reason (Cambridge.Who wantedthat as Kant saw.maintains regions Is (except as logical constructs6).better. one Jones. say. Numbers (Oxford. The metaphysical ifthe pictureexplaineditself.a dualist. convergentspheres).THREE
I am. equivalent.assume a Newtonianworldand let Jonesbe a same problem
6Kant proposed that points are not individuals but only limits. If (as the metaphysical notionof truth. Science without
. a reference.whilethe other. theory be right). My dualism is not one of mindsand bodies. metaphysics. in non-reducible of properties termsand statements certain contexts. But. we are stuckwithjust the sortof dualismwe neverwanted"dualities in our experience". (Field takes space-time pointsas physicalobjects. thenwe cannotsay what role it could play in transcendent in our lives (sincewe cannottell the "true" theory thissensefrom infinitely or and equivalenttheories. He pretends a notionof truthwhich(in a Newtonian what humans worldin whichall particlesare extended)whollytranscends could know. forthcoming. No argument "convergence" from success of science" could ever justify(or even give sense to) a notion of truthwhichgoes beyondthe reach of correctassertibility beingswith (by and Jonesian versions rationaland sensiblenatures)whichthe Smithian both realistclaims) we do have a recognitionpossess.eitherthereare "real" (unconstructed) spatial pointsor therearen't. Suppose we know this (as well as one can know any to two philosophers. 8H. 1983). arises.as opposed to experienceof duals.Truth.let us suppose we live in a Newtonianworld.
II. Some would reply that points are "mathematicalobjects" and that to realismshould be confined "physical objects" -particles. justification -these are emergent."There mustbe". Again. I do not mean that they are not supervenient the on physical. therea fact of the matterwho is right? A "scientific realist" who answers. etc. One way of formalpoints with sets (of. ofwhom. say what our manymathematically empirically realist asks us to "grasp" of this notion consistsin). then. Field. distinct substances.has becomea "metato physical"realist. from or "the sense. as accept a picture.7If truthis correct and the Smithiandescription "true" are then both Jonesiandescription the they are.or. but of physicalproperties intentional and properties.It does not evenyield an interesting sortof "dualism"? Ugh. pluralist. vol. that there arbitrarily are but notpoints smallfinite Smith. SCIENTIFIC REALISM AS METAPHYSICS
Since we are discussingconceptualquestions.different "versions").of coursethey are.
longed scientific This idea makes the claim that a statement about the past is true a prediction(of a most implausible kind. open-ended.Here I am a "scientific
9In particular. difficulties "metaphysical" whichare equivalent realist"says that theories Finally. one of its equivalents. I have been imagining already or realist'sone truetheory. are.) havethe I am not a "metaphysical"realist. III. to boot).thelimitof generalrelativity thesignal is to velocity allowed become infinite. electrontalk is no more derived talk about sensationsor "observablethings" than talk about sensationsor chairs is realist". answers). possessincompatible icallyequivalent interpretations. truth. in fact. David Malamenthas shownthat this version falling as of Newtonianphysicsis. as I do not have a generaltheory. In my view.a definition 'shortesttime-like of path' -which singlesout the trajectoriesof freely bodies.as Jonesclaims? force(as opposed to a "warped" (c) Is therereallya gravitational as affine structure) Jonesclaims? realist" answers'Yes' to (a) (so that questions(b) and (c) If the "scientific he have determinate.also has infinitely relative which versions. the idea that "ideal conditions" are at the "end" of indefinitely proinquiry (the "Peircian limit") seems to be biased towards exact science. thereis such.vague.and a special"affine . SCIENTIFIC REALISM AS CONVERGENCE
.ifthe "scientific may have "successortheories"(at a later time) whichare no longerequiand valent(becauseofthechanged empirical assumptions). of no space-time notionof"same place at twodifferent structure" times".9Truthis as plural.) the Now consider questions: between thesetheories? (a) Is therereallya difference an (b) Is therereally absolutespace (a senseto 'same place at different times'). Electronsexist in everysense in which statement chairs (or sensations)exist. is again stuckwiththe version-independent of realism. we (Since the problemis a conceptualone.does not go beyondcorrectassertibility (underthe right which theright are conditions? Whatdetermines Manythings:conditions).(In thesetheories thereis a 4-dimensional withthe metric special relativity.198
scientistwho comes up with Newton'stheory(absolute space plus forces) and Smithbe a scientist who comesup withone of the elegantspace-time theories whichleads to exactlytheNewtonian trajectories. derivedtalk about electrons. we Giventhe rightsetting(whichincludesthe restof the languagebeingin a that thereare electrons flowing through wiremay be place) the statement trueas the statement that thereis a chairin thisroomor the as objectively that I have a headache. thatthesuccessor answerour questions.insofaras we have the notion.we must remindhim that the one true theorymay and if manymathematically empirtheory.
some of their predictions false. O.
.But this would be a totally the "core" of Newtonianphysicsfroma Newtonian arbitrary way to define view. of Popper's growth knowledge.if futurephysicaltheoryis incompatible not will be).e. We can view special relativityas e. speeds smallin comparison tances small in comparisonwith a light-second).g. Unless the distinction belt" is drawn "core" and "protective fromthestandpoint thelatertheory of to it is unlikely be the case that "core" assumptions what lookedto be (or suchto the earlier will theorists) be preserved.THREE
of Some philosophers sciencewouldsay that 'Thereare electrons flowing the (in through wire' can be trueonlyin the sensethat this statement conor. ofmicro-entities. None of the entitiesreferred by physicists to claim" of can be said to exist at all (sincethe "empirical hundred yearsago turnedout to be these theoriesis false. Special relativity An examplemay help to clarify preserves Newtonianphysics(whilemakingthemframe-relative): manynotionsfrom kineticenergy. It has been a constantview of almostall philosophers Peirce's ideal limitof that scienceholdsto the ideal of convergent knowledge. the sense that it has a model satisfying various "constraints"(including true predictions).we expect that with tomorrow's theorywill have conceptualand empiricaldisagreements theory. this point.) None of the entities by said to exist at all in a hundred will be properly to by present-day physics with ours (as it doubtless years.. ideal of and K.g. Apel's regulative inquiry. To give up the notionthat of consensus. junctionwiththeoryand auxiliaryhypotheses) yieldstrue predictions. the "core" of Newtonianphysicsif we take the "core" to be the preserving disof approximatecorrectness the Newtonianlaws at "non-relativistic" withlight. these on to a correct successive description approximations views. force. pointof who hold that no sense can be made of the idea Thereare otherthinkers termsin incompatible theories(theorieswith no models in common) that a to refer the same entities..e.We do not exyielding pect that present-day physicswill survivewithoutchange. momentum. are expressions the same theme. views pay a high price for their "set-theoretic" These neo-positivistic accountof theories. Theoriesare "black boxes" whichyield successful predictions.and distances and speeds (i. But this is no help.and since there is no sense in which later theoriesare about the referred entitiescountenanced the earliertheories.. in a moresophisticated in version. Is thereany sense in whichtomorrow's physicsmight present-day of to Or giveus a better description (whatwerefer as) electrons? is thenotion of of an electronbound to one temporary phase in the history physics(as the Aristotle's notionof "spheres"carrying planetswas)? Sometimestheoristslike Sneed or Lakatos or David Lewis say that to theoriesjust in successortheoriesrefer the same entitiesas predecessor case the "core" assumptions the "core" applications both)are retained or (or between by the later theory.
a part ideals. Accepting view of theories. Thereis betweenthe truthof a particular statement in no algorithmic equivalence of the language of a theoryand the truthof the predictions the theory.not to accept the Principleof Charity (thatis.). 2. Mind.then. But exactly the same problemarises at the level of observation language. high HarvardUniversity
we everarriveat a description whichis stable. If you are to that it did one hundredyears willing say 'plant' has the same reference whynot say the same about ago in spite of the changein collateraltheory. of of acrossa hundred yearsof growth Equating almostany termin reference the Principleof Charityin some form:10 but scientific requires knowledge limitingthe Principle of Charityto observationlanguage is totally unmotivated. to Why shouldwe say the term'grass' refers the same entityit referred to a hundred years ago? Answer: "Because 'grass' is synonymous with facthas not changedin a hun'plant of a certainkind'. the sense of beingthe electronsflowing through would ultimately its verdicton whichinquiry settle. then 'There are preservesits reference in this wire' can be right.theneven if 'Grass is a plant' is stillan accepted it sentence. Cf. 1976). however. 'electron'?If you are not. is to abandon a verycentralpart of the scientific whichinforms scientific in methodology a host of ways. links is a relic of logical positivism. 272-90. if the term 'electron' acceptingthe "set-theoretic" across (suitable) theory change. and (2) the word 'plant' itselfis connected today with a quite different body of belieffromthat a hundredyears ago (inthe of volvingphotosynthesis. natural kind termsdo not have analytic definitions. I see no reason. and you make two mistakes! (1) 'grass' is not an analytically definableword.
.to give up the notionthat we as accept the ideal of such a description even one among otherregulative outlook.etc. my "Language and Reality". in Philosophical Papers.without beingthe case has a completely that presentday theory true "empiricalclaim". vol.incompatiblewith those we are interpreting). The neo-positivistic I to thinkers referred would replythat theyare not of it theyare simplylimiting givingup the ideal of the growth knowledge: to what can be stated in their language: observationlanguage plus set theory. I as have argued elsewhere. possibility one-celled plants. the the referents termsin different of principlethat we shouldoftenidentify too beliefsto theoriesso as to avoid imputing many false or unreasonable it is. is it The search for such algorithmic timeit wereabandoned.The Principle of Benefitof the Doubt. Language and Reality (Cambridge.and thissemantical dred years". does not mean what it did one hundredyears ago. and so one cannot argue that 'grass' means what it did one hundredyears ago from the supposed definability this term with the aid of the word 'plant'.