Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism

Bas C. van Fraassen

in The Scientific Image

Published in print December 1980 | ISBN: 9780198244271
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597473 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy

 Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism

Show Summary Details


This chapter examines and criticizes the main arguments offered for scientific realism, here identified as the following view: Science aims to give us, in its theories, a literally true story of what the world is like; and acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true. In contrast, constructive empiricism, which also opts for a literal understanding of scientific language, is the following view: Science aims to give us theories which are empirically adequate; and acceptance of a theory involves as belief only that it is empirically adequate (but also has a pragmatic dimension, to be elucidated). Topics examined include the ’theory/observation dichotomy’, observable versus unobservable entities, epistemology and the epistemic community, inference to the best explanation, principle of the common cause, and fictionalism. The views of Smart, Sellars, Reichenbach, Putnam, and Dummett are considered. It is argued that the arguments offered for scientific realism, though telling against logical positivism, do not support it over and against constructive empiricism.

Keywords: constructive empiricism; Dummett; empirical adequacy; explanation; fictionalism; inference to the best explanation; observation; Putnam; Reichenbach; scientific realism; Sellars; Smart; theory/observation dichotomy

Chapter.  14334 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.