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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - The Unexpected Realist



There are two ways to do the unexpected. The banal way – let's call it the expectedly unexpected – is simply to chart the waters of what is and is not done, and then set out to do something different. For a philosopher, this can be done by embracing a method of non sequitor or by perhaps inverting some strongly held assumption of the field. The more interesting way – the unexpectedly unexpected – is to transform the expectations themselves; to do something new and contextualize it in such a way that it not only makes perfect sense, but has the audience scratching their heads and saying, “Of course!” To do the unexpectedly unexpected on a regular basis is the true mark of genius. It recalls Kant's characterization of the genius as the one who not merely follows or breaks the rules of art but that, “Genius is the natural endowment that gives the rule to art.”

We would not like to make the bold claim that Paul M. Churchland (PMC) is a philosophical genius of Kantian standards, but he sometimes achieves the unexpectedly unexpected and his position on the issue of scientific realism is a fine example of this. Given other views he holds and the philosophical forebears he holds dear, one might expect him to embrace an antirealism with respect to the posits of scientific theories. But, quite to the contrary, Churchland is one of the strongest contemporary philosophical voices on behalf of scientific realism.

Works Cited
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Churchland, P. M. (1985). The ontological status of observables: In praise of the superempirical virtues. Images of science: Essays on realism and empiricism, with a reply from Bas C. Van Fraassen. Churchland, P. M. and Hooker, C. A., (Eds.) Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 35–47
Churchland, P. M.. (1988). “Perceptual plasticity and theoretical neutrality: A reply to Jerry Fodor.” Philosophy of Science 55(2): 167–87
Churchland, P. M.. (1997). “To transform the phenomena: Feyerabend, proliferation, and recurrent neural networks.” Philosophy of Science 64, Supplement: S408–20
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Fraassen, B. C. (1980). The scientific image. Oxford, Clarendon Press
Fraassen, B. C.. (1981). “Critical study of: Paul Churchland: Scientific realism and the plasticity of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1979. X + 157 pages.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 11(3): 555–67
van Fraassen, B. C. (1985). Empiricism in the philosophy of science. Images of science: Essays on realism and empiricism, with a reply from Bas C. Van Fraassen. Churchland, P. M. and Hooker, C. A., (Eds.) Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 245–308