James Yu Phil 60 Final Exam 1(a) Van Fraassen emphasizes that scientific realism is concerned with the stance on observable

entities. Theories eventually tell us something about observables. In order to even come to talk about such a position, there needs to be a dividing line between unobservables and observables. His belief is that empirically adequate theories should be taken literally, and once they become adequate, we should accept them as true. He holds that empirically adequate means that it “saves the phenomenon.” Where he differs from anti-realists is that he is an agnostic when it comes to unobservable theories. I believe that Van Fraassen’s argument is quite weak, especially when it comes to his distinctions between the observable and the unobservable. Indeed, without this distinction, he would have no argument. Van Fraassen agrees that there is no clear cut boundary between the observable and the unobservable. However, he puts forth the fact that there are clear cut cases for both of these. I do not have a problem with a clear cut case for something that is observable, but I do have a problem with his clear cut cases for the unobservable. For example, Van Fraassen talks about how the particles in a cloud chamber are not observable, even though we observe their trails. He gives the metaphor of a jet and its trail in the sky. I find that this way of thinking about observables is flawed. Van Fraassen seems is very human centric when talking about observables. I think that his approach towards what is observable is from the wrong direction. The human eye responds to light as it comes in through the iris. These signals get interpreted

and transmitted in the retina. The procedure from the light entering our eyes to the perception in our brain is just as complicated (and non-direct) as the procedure of observing particles through their trails in a cloud chamber. Indeed, our eyes have an undeniable amount of distortion from the lens, air, and psychological effects. The problem is that Van Fraassen is too human-centric when it comes to the determination of observables. Much of our perception of the world is bogged down with imperfections and limitations. This is the very reason why we use instruments to help guide and highlight certain events and entities for our senses. I believe that there is controversy and arbitrariness in the so-called “clear cut” cases that Van Fraassen uses to argue his distinction. Our observing the trails of a particle gives valuable information about the particle itself—maybe even better information, since it highlights the pattern in which it moves. Without this distinction, I believe that Van Fraassen has now a weaker argument. We should be able to use the sensations we receive, whether it be through an instrument or not. This is especially true if these observed phenomena are used to further enrich and progress a theory.

2(a) Cartwright is concerned with generalized laws that occur many times in fields such as physics. Her view is that there is a trade-off between the explanatory power of a law and its truth. Unlike some of the typical realism debates, Cartwright is not worried the existence of theoretical entities. The strong realist’s argument is that theoretical entities described by our laws are real (the desk thumping kind of real). Cartwright instead focuses on the problem of the truth of these laws in themselves. She gives the example of the net force being the true force we observe on a mass. This, in general, is not the force due to gravity, but rather all the forces combined. She has problems in accepting the argument that through vector addition, these separately unobservable forces are observed. Even though we simply sum the forces, “Nature does not ‘add’ forces.” She holds that our summation is only a metaphor, and not really a guarantee on what is really happening. I believe that Cartwright has a type of logical positivist’s view on the truth of laws. She believes that we have no idea about the real laws of nature in the real world since the only laws we have are simple case laws that only work in very limited environments. There is a sense that she will not accept a law unless it points to some observables. This puts her closer to the logical positivist camp of realism. In my opinion, Cartwright’s view on laws leaves very little room for roles in explanations of natural phenomenon. Our brains are wired to deduce laws from observations. As humans, we do it all the time—whether you’re a NASA scientist, or a plumber. I disagree with Cartwright’s pessimistic stance on how the composite of

individual laws do not guarantee a whole framework of truth. As an engineer, I agree with the tenets put forth by Hacking and other experimental realists. I agree that we never do really observe the individual forces by themselves. However, it would be quite a miracle if the composite of these theoretical forces always matches well with the observed net force. Obviously, scientists have shown this many times in the laboratory. If we were to run labs under Cartwright’s stringent view on laws, we would have to run tests without considering the composite of forces. This would be a nightmare. Practically speaking, we would never get progress with our theories because we would always be worrying about the composition problem of the forces. With this, the only explanatory powers of these laws would be in the simple ideal cases that never naturally occur. I feel like we would have to start all over from scratch under these stringent guidelines. Much of the progress in physics is the beautiful way in which various laws combine and explain phenomena. I find that Cartwright’s checklist for facticity is in the wrong direction, at least as a practical way for humans to understand the world.

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