Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2020
In the lengthy debate over the question of scientific realism one of the least discussed positions is structural realism. However, this position ought to attract critical attention because it purports to preserve the central insights of the best arguments for both realism and anti-realism. John Worrall has in fact described it as being ‘the best of both worlds’ that recognizes the discontinuous nature of scientific change as well as the ‘no-miracles’ argument for scientific realism. However, the validity of this claim has been called into question by Stathis Psillos. He questions its ability to correctly account for the examples of scientific change that its supporters, like Worrall (following Poincaré), claim ought to be understood in a structural realist light.
In this paper I examine these arguments for and against structural realism and demonstrate that neither Worrall nor Psillos is fully correct. I agree with Psillos’ claim that realism with regards to a theory ought not to be ‘all or nothing,’ that one should not always take the whole of a theory to be true or else commit only to the belief in its directly empirical content.
2 Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism the Best of Both Worlds?’ Dialectica 49 (1995) 15-46, At 44Google Scholar
3 Cf. Laudan, L. ‘The Confutation of Convergent Realism,’ in Leplin, J. ed., Scientific Realism (Berkeley: University of California Press 1984).Google Scholar
4 E.g. Boyd, R. ‘Realism, Underdetermination and a Causal Theory of Evidence,’ Nous 7 (1973) 1-12CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and ‘Scientific Realism and Naturalistic Epistemology,’ Philosophy of Science Association 2 (1981) 613-62; Devitt, M. Realism and Truth (Oxford: Blackwell 1994)Google Scholar; Putnam, H. Mathematics, Matter, and Method (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press 1975)Google Scholar; W., Sellars Science, Perception, and Reality (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1963)Google Scholar
7 Poincare, H. ‘Science and Hypothesis,’ reprinted in The Foundations of Science (Lancaster: The Science Press 1913)Google Scholar
8 Cf. S., Psillos Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth (London: Routledge 1999), 137-40 and 296-8.Google Scholar
11 Worrall, J. ‘Scientific Revolutions and Scientific Rationality: The Case of “Elderly Holdout,”’ in Savage, C.W. ed., Scientific Theories, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 14 (1990), 343Google Scholar
16 Cf. Sismondo, S. ‘Deflationary Metaphysics and the Construction of Laboratory Mice,’ Metaphilosophy 28 (1997) 221-32CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and McArthur, D. ‘The Methodological Implications of Resolving the Realism Debate,’ Science Studies 15 (2002) 59-78Google Scholar for characteristic presentations of the view.
19 Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism Possible?’ Philosophy of Science Association 68 (2001) S13-S24, at S22Google Scholar
20 ‘Is Structural Realism Possible?’
21 Cf. ‘Is Structural Realism Possible?’ S23.
22 ‘Is Structural Realism Possible?’ S22-3
23 ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 20, my emphasis
24 I would like to thank Idil Boran, the participants of the 2003 CSHPS conference in Halifax, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
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