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Preview: Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science

Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science



Spontaneous Generations is an online, peer-reviewed academic journal established to provide a platform for interdisciplinary discussion and debate about issues that concern the community of scholars in the history and philosophy of science and related fie



 



Editor's Introduction

2018-02-15

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."



What is Scientific Realism?

2018-02-15

Decades of debate about scientific realism notwithstanding, we find ourselves bemused by what different philosophers appear to think it is, exactly. Does it require any sort of belief in relation to scientific theories and, if so, what sort? Is it rather typified by a certain understanding of the rationality of such beliefs? In the following dialogue we explore these questions in hopes of clarifying some convictions about what scientific realism is, and what it could or should be. En route, we encounter some profoundly divergent conceptions of the nature of science and of philosophy.



Feyerabendian Pragmatism

2018-02-15

In the not-too-distant future the scientific realism debate will be absorbed into the far more ancient-and-venerable, old-and-unqualified, realism debate. The first efficient mover of this absorption will be the fact that scientific ontology is a growing and very mixed bag, including not just rocks, plants, animals, and stars, but the Higgs boson, the Big Bang, evolutionary pressures, teenage anxieties, economic growth, social trends, countries, industrial toxins, and hedge funds. Trying to hedge off these ever-stranger newcomers by such moves as castling the debate within well- (or best-) established, mature (two decades old? five?), basic physics is to submit to a biased umpire, with a narrow strike-zone, to get to an arbitrary first base.






Engaging philosophically with the history of science: two challenges for scientific realism

2018-02-15

I raise two challenges for scientific realists. The first is a pessimistic meta-induction (PMI), but not of the more common type, which focuses on rejected theories and abandoned entities. Rather, the PMI I have in mind departs from conceptual change, which is ubiquitous in science. Scientific concepts change over time, often to a degree that is difficult to square with the stability of their referents, a sine qua non for realists. The second challenge is to make sense of successful scientific practice that was centered on entities that have turned out to be fictitious






Motives for Research

2018-02-15

none



Beyond Realism and Antirealism ---At Last?

2018-02-15

This paper recapitulates my four primary lines of argument that what is wrong with scientific realism is not realist answers to questions to which various anti-realists give different answers, but instead assumptions shared by realists and anti-realists in framing the question. Each strategy incorporates its predecessors as a consequence. A first, minimalist challenge, taken over from Arthur Fine and Michael Williams, rejects the assumption that the sciences have a general aim or goal. A second consideration is that realists and antirealists undertake a mistaken, substantive commitment to a separation between mind and world, which allows them to frame the issue in terms of how epistemic “access” to the world is mediated. A third strategy for dissolving the realism question challenges its underlying commitment to the independence of meaning and truth, a strategy pursued in different ways by Donald Davidson, Robert Brandom, John McDowell, John Haugeland, and myself. The fourth and most encompassing strategy shows that realists and antirealists are thereby committed to an objectionably antinaturalist conception of scientific understanding, in conflict with what the sciences themselves have to say about our own conceptual capacities.






A Dilemma for the Scientific Realist

2018-02-15

This note poses a dilemma for scientific realism which stems from the apparent conflict between science and common sense. On the one hand, we may accept scientific realism and agree that there is a conflict between science and common sense. If we do this, we remove the evidential basis for science and have no reason to accept science in the first place. On the other hand, we may accept scientific realism and endorse common sense. If we do this, we must reject the conflict between science and common sense. The dilemma is to be resolved by distinguishing between basic common sense and widely held beliefs. Basic common sense survives the advance of science and may serve as the evidential basis for science.



Tolstoy’s argument: realism and the history of science

2018-02-15

In his intervention to the ‘bankruptcy of science debate’, which raged in Paris in the turn of the twentieth century, Leo Tolstoy was one of the first to use the past record of science as a weapon against current science. It is not inductive. It does not conclude that all current scientific theories will be abandoned; nor that most of them will be abandoned; not even that it is more likely than not that all or most of them will be abandoned. Its conclusion is modest: some of presently accepted theories will have the fate of those past theories that once dominated the scene but subsequently were abandoned.



A Fond Farewell to "Approximate Truth"?

2018-02-15

Most commonly, the scientific realism debate is seen as dividing those who do and do not think that the striking empirical and practical successes of at least our best scientific theories indicate with high probability that those theories are ‘approximately true’. But I want to suggest that this characterization of the debate has far outlived its usefulness. Not only does it obscure the central differences between two profoundly different types of contemporary scientific realist, but even more importantly it serves to disguise the most substantial points of actual disagreement between these two kinds of realists and those who instead think the historical record of scientific inquiry itself reveals that such realism is untenable in either form.



Why the Realism Debate Matters for Science Policy: The Case of the Human Brain Project

2018-02-15

There has been a great deal of skepticism towards the value of the realism/anti-realism debate. More specifically, many have argued that plausible formulations of realism and anti-realism do not differ substantially in any way (Fine 1986; Stein 1989; Blackburn 2002). In this paper, I argue against this trend by demonstrating how a hypothetical resolution of the debate, through deeper engagement with the historical record, has important implications for our criterion of theory pursuit and science policy. I do this by revisiting Arthur Fine’s ‘small handful’ argument for realism and show how the debate centers on whether continuity (either ontological or structural) should be an indicator for the future fruitfulness of a theory. I then demonstrate how these debates work in practice by considering the case of the Human Brain Project. I close by considering some potential practical considerations of formulating meta-inductions. By doing this, I contribute three insights to the current debate: 1) demonstrate how the realism/anti-realism debate is a substantive debate, 2) connect debates about realism/anti-realism to debates about theory choice and pursuit, and 3) show the practical significance of meta-inductions.



Scientific Realism Again

2018-02-15

The present paper concerns how scientific realism is formulated and defended. It is argued that van Fraassen is fundamentally right that scientific realism requires metaphysics in general, and modality in particular. This is because of several relationships that raise problems for the ontology of scientific realism, namely those between: scientific realism and common sense realism; past and current theories; the sciences of different scales; and the ontologies of the special sciences and fundamental physics. These problems are related. It is argued that ontic structural realism, in the form of the real-patterns account of ontology, offers a unified solution to them all (or at least that it is required to do so, if it is to make good on the promise of naturalised metaphysics).






Quo Vadis Selective Scientific Realism?

2018-02-15

My current opinion is that the selective realist is in a strong position vis-à-vis the historical challenges. Certainly the realist needs to invoke some careful criteria for realist commitment, and various nuances concerning the nature of her epistemic commitment, and this may raise the ‘death by a thousand qualifications’ question mark. But the concern is unfounded: the qualifications are all independently motivated, and indeed necessary given the philosophical complexity. Qualifications are to be welcomed here; often the truth is far from simple!



How Deployment Realism withstands Doppelt's Criticisms

2018-02-15

Gerald Doppelt claims that Deployment Realism cannot withstand the antirealist objections based on the “pessimistic meta-induction” and Laudan’s historical counterexamples. Moreover it is incomplete, as it purports to explain the predictive success of theories, but overlooks the necessity to explain also their explanatory success. Accordingly, he proposes a new version of realism, presented as the best explanation of both predictive and explanatory success, and committed only to the truth of best current theories, not of the discarded ones (Doppelt (2007, 2011, 2013, 2014). Elsewhere I criticized his new brand of realism. Here instead I argue that (a) Doppelt has not shown that Deployment Realism cannot solve the problems raised by the history of science, (b) explaining explanatory success does not add much to explaining novel predictive success, and (c) Doppelt is right that truth is not a sufficient explanans, but for different reasons, and this does not refute Deployment Realism, but helps to detail it better. In a more explicit formulation, the realist IBE concludes not only to the truth of theories, but also to the reliability of scientists and scientific method, the order and simplicity of nature, and the approximate truth of background theories.



Being realistic: the challenge of theory change for a metaphysics of scientific realism

2018-02-15

Chakravartty (2007) and others have pressed that the defender of scientific realism needs to supply a metaphysical story, most saliently a modal story, of how knowledge of the unobservable can be possible. Here I consider the challenge the problem of theory change poses to theories of modal metaphysics.



The Relevance of Evidence from the History of Science in the Contemporary Realism/Anti-realism Debate

2018-02-15

It is widely assumed that it is the anti-realist who stakes his case on evidence from the history of science. I argue that (i) realists have failed to recognize the need to collect evidence from the history of science to support their methodological claims, and (ii) anti-realists do not rely on evidence from the history of science to the extent that many suggest.



Four Challenges to Epistemic Scientific Realism—and the Socratic Alternative.

2018-02-15

Four Challenges to Epistemic Scientific Realism—and the Socratic Alternative.



Referential and Perspectival Realism

2018-02-15

Ronald Giere (2006) has argued that at its best science gives us knowledge only from different “perspectives,” but that this knowledge still counts as scientific realism. Others have noted that his “perspectival realism” is in tension with scientific realism as traditionally understood: How can different, even conflicting, perspectives give us what there is really? This essay outlines a program (some published, much forthcoming) that makes good on Giere’s idea with a fresh understanding of “realism” that eases this tension.