Description of scientific realism
Video by Kane B: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0UxFhKOiFg
What is scientific realism, in short?
Scientific realism supports three claims:
* Ontology: The world has many entities
* Semantics: Scientific theories describe these entities
* Epistemology: Scientific theories are mostly true
What do those terms mean?
* Ontology: The nature of reality, “what is real”
* Semantics: The nature of language, “what it means to say something”
* Epistemology: The nature of knowledge, “how we know what is true”
What are some common qualifications for scientific realism?
Most scientific realists hold that:
* We should be scientific realists only for mature theories
* Mature theories are theories that have generated novel predictions which have been tested and failed to be falsified
* Even mature theories are only approximately true
* However, as theories become more mature, they come closer to the truth (and are less “approximate”); or, older theories are “wronger than wrong”
What is scientific realism, in medium?
Scientific realism supports three claims:
* A mind-independent world exists
* The mind-independent world contains entities
* Those entities are observables or unobservables
* Scientific theories should be taken literally (they refer to the entities)
* Therefore, scientific theories can either be true or false
* Most scientific theories are approximately true
* Science provides knowledge of the mind-independent world
What are observables?
* Observables: Entities that can be perceived with unaided senses
* Unobservables: Entities that can be detected with special instruments
What are some common variants of scientific realism?
Entity realism holds that we should be:
* Realists about the entities described by scientific theories
* “We’re sure that entities we call electrons exist”
* Agnostics about the structure of said entities (what scientific theories say entities do)
* “We’re unsure about the properties of electrons”
Structural realism holds that we should be:
* Agnostics about the entities described by scientific theories
* “We’re not sure that electrons exist”
* Realists about the structure of said theories (the theoretical or mathematical models of the properties/behavior of entities)
* “We’re sure that the properties of the entities we call electrons are approximately true”
Competitors to scientific realism
Main competitors summary table
Mind-independent external reality
Scientific theories literally refer to reality
Scientific theories give us knowledge
Yes or unknown
What proportion of philosophers believe in a mind-independent external reality?
* Idealism: Hold that our senses, regardless of their reliability, don’t perceive “true” reality
* 4.3% of philosophers hold this view
* Skepticism: Hold that our senses are not generally reliable
* 4.8% of philosophers hold this view
* Naive realism holds that our senses are universally/always reliable
* Not asked
* Non-skeptical realism: Non-skeptical realism holds that our senses are usually/often reliable
* 81.6% of philosophers are non-skeptical realists
Most philosophers are non-skeptical realists about the external world:
Arguments for scientific realism
Video by Kane B: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29-hvgwD7NY
What is the No Miracles Argument?
Type of argument used here: Inference to Best Explanation (IBE) -- used in science itself; scientific realism applies the same logic to science as science does to its subjects
Logical argument from Matheson 1998 (opponent of NMA):
* NMA1, science has progressed
* NMA2, scientific realism provides us with a better explanation for this progress than any other philosophy of science
* NMA3, all other things being equal, we should believe the philosophy of science that best explains facts about scientific practice
* NMA4, therefore, we should believe that scientific realism is true.
Logical argument from Kane B:
* P1: Science is extremely successful.
* P2: Scientific realism provides a better explanation for the success of science than any rival theory.
* P3: We should believe the philosophy of science that best explains the facts about science.
* C: We should believe scientific realism.
No Miracles: Quotes
van Fraassen 1980:
No Miracles: Accurate Predictions
No Miracles: Surprising Predictions
Good summary of related theories: