Scientific Realism: A Critical Reappraisal

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Springer Science & Business Media, Jul 31, 1987 - Philosophy - 169 pages
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The increasingly lively controversy over scientific realism has become one of the principal themes of recent philosophy. 1 In watching this controversy unfold in the rather technical way currently in vogue, it has seemed to me that it would be useful to view these contemporary disputes against the background of such older epistemological issues as fallibilism, scepticism, relativism, and the traditional realism/idealism debate. This, then, is the object of the present book, which will recon sider the newer concerns about scientific realism in the context of these older philosophical themes. Historically, realism concerns itself with the real existence of things that do not "meet the eye" - with suprasensible entities that lie beyond the reach of human perception. In medieval times, discussions about realism focused upon universals. Recognizing that there are physical objects such as cats and triangular objects and red tomatoes, the medievels debated whether such "abstract objects" as cathood and triangularity and redness also exist by way of having a reality indepen dent of the concretely real things that exhibit them. Three fundamen tally different positions were defended: (1) Nominalism. Abstracta have no independent existence as such: they only "exist" in and through the objects that exhibit them. Only particulars (individual substances) exist. Abstract "objects" are existents in name only, mere thought fictions by whose means we address concrete particular things. (2) Realism. Abstracta have an independent existence as such.
 

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Contents

CHAPTER TWO SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS AS NONCONVERGENT
10
CHAPTER THREE IDEALSCIENCE REALISM
26
REALISM
33
CHAPTER FIVE SCHOOLBOOK SCIENCE AS A BASIS
55
CHAPTER SIX DISCONNECTING THEIR APPLICATIVE SUCCESS FROM THE TRUTH OF SCIENTIFIC THEORIES
65
Truth is NOT the Best Explanation of Success in Prediction and Explanation
68
Pragmatic Ambiguity
70
The Lesson
73
Our Side
101
Natures Side
104
Synthesis
106
Implications
108
CHAPTER NINE THE ROOTS OF OBJECTIVITY
111
The Cognitive Opacity of Real Things
116
The Corrigibility of Conceptions
119
Perspectives on Realism
121

CHAPTER SEVEN THE ANTHROPOMORPHIC CHARACTER OF HUMAN SCIENCE
76
The Problem of Extraterrestrial Science
78
The Potential Diversity of Science
80
The OneWorld OneScience Argument
86
The Anthropomorphic Character of Human Science
87
Relativistic Intimations
93
CHAPTER EIGHT EVOLUTIONS ROLE IN THE SUCCESS OF SCIENCE
97
The Cognitive Accessibility of Nature
98
A Closer Look at the Problem
100
CHAPTER TEN METAPHYSICAL REALISM AND THE PRAGMATIC BASIS OF OBJECTIVITY
126
Realism in its RegulativePragmatic Aspect
130
Objectivity as a Requisite of Communication and Inquiry
134
The Utilitarian Imperative
139
The Wisdom of Hindsight
141
CHAPTER ELEVEN INTIMATIONS OF IDEALISM
146
NOTES
156
BIBLIOGRAPHY
165
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About the author (1987)

Born in Germany, Nicholas Rescher moved to the United States with his parents in 1939 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1944. He attended Queens College in New York City and he received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1951. Rescher served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1952 to 1954 and was employed by the Rand Corporation from 1954 to 1956. He resumed his academic career in 1957 and in 1961 joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh, where he is now Research Professor of Philosophy. He played a major role in propelling Pittsburgh into the very top rank among graduate schools in philosophy in the United States. Rescher is the most prolific living American philosophical author, as the list of his books in print reveals. He is also the founding editor of three major philosophical journals: American Philosophical Quarterly, History of Philosophy Quarterly, and Public Affairs Quarterly. Approaching philosophy with a solid background in mathematics and science, he has also specialized in the history of philosophy, with a doctoral dissertation and early articles on Leibniz and, later, with pioneering scholarship on medieval Arabic logic. Rescher's experiences led him to seek practical applications for his philosophical expertise, and he ventured beyond academic philosophy to draw upon empirical research as well as logical method to produce significant works in social thought. He has also sought to formulate a coherent philosophical system in the great tradition. His thinking has moved in the direction of philosophical idealism as he increasingly emphasized the role of mind in constituting its objects. Of his philosophy Rescher has said:"I unhesitatingly view myself as a specifically American philosopher---for three reasons: (1) the methodology I favor is a fusion of analytical techniques with historical concerns, an approach characteristic of the tradition of those modern American philosophers I admire most (from C. S. Peirce to Clarence I. Lewis and W. V. Quine); (2) my philosophical ambience in terms of close personal and professional contacts runs heavily towards my American colleagues; and (3) the tenor of my thinking is oriented markedly towards pragmatism, which is generally---and, I think, rightly---regarded as the quintessentially American philosophy.