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Reconsidering Structural Realism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Dan McArthur
Affiliation:
Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada K1R 5M8

Extract

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 2003

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References

1 Worrall, J.Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds,’ Dialectica 43 (1989) 99-124, At 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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

5 Cf. Fraassen, B. van The Scientific Image (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Cf. J.C., Smart Philosophy and Scientific Realism (London: RK Press 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

9 Cf. Psillos, ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 27.Google Scholar

10 Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 26Google 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

12 Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 29Google Scholar

13 Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 31Google Scholar

14 Cf. Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 34-5Google Scholar.

15 Psillos, S. ‘Is Structural Realism the Best?’ 44Google 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.

17 Ladyman, J.What is Structural Realism?Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29 (1998) 409-24CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Demopoulos, W. and Friedman, M.Critical Notice: Bertrand Russell's The Analysis of Matter: Its Historical Context and Contemporary Interest,’ Philosophy of Science 52 (1985) 621-39CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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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