Scientific Realism
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Scientific Realism



QMB 6603: Data Analysis for Managers

QMB 6603: Data Analysis for Managers



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Scientific Realism Scientific Realism Presentation Transcript

  • Scientific Realism Brian Galvin Kevin Bernhardt Troy Buckner
  • What is scientific realism? • Positive epistemic attitude towards the content of our best scientific theories and models • Basically, it‟s the idea that science, although not perfect, is doing a decent job of explaining the world
  • Observable vs. Unobservable • Observable – things that can be perceived by our unaided senses (planets, platypuses) • Unobservable – cannot be perceived by our unaided senses (proteins, protons, etc.) • Scientific realism does not discriminate between the two
  • Varying Definitions • Most define scientific realism in terms of the truth or approximate truth of scientific theories or certain aspects of theories • Some define it in terms of the successful reference of theoretical terms to things in the world, both observable and unobservable • Others define it not in terms of truth or reference, but in terms of belief in the ontology of scientific theories.
  • What do they have in common? • A commitment to the idea that our best theories have a certain epistemic status • They yield knowledge of aspects of the world, including unobservable aspects.
  • What is a scientific realist? • Someone who believes that science aims to produce true descriptions of things in the world
  • Three Dimensions of Realist Commitment • Metaphysical – idea that the world exists outside of our minds • Semantic – literal interpretation of scientific claims made about the world. Any claims should be stated as fact, whether true or not. • Epistemological – theoretical claims constitute knowledge of the world
  • What does scientific realism mean? • Our best scientific theories give true or approximately true descriptions of observable and unobservable aspects of a mindindependent world
  • Qualifications and Variations • What theories should realists be realist about? • Many of our theories are likely false in the strictest sense, but they might be very close to true
  • Maturity of theories • Theories suitable for realist commitment are called “mature” • Came from a well-established field • Has been around a while • Has survived scrutiny and scientific testing • The more mature, the greater the commitment from realists • Realists believe that as science develops over time, theories converge closer to truth
  • Three Variations of Realism • Explanationist – reserves greatest commitment to components of a theory that are indispensible to explaining their empirical success • Entity – causal knowledge of an unobservable entity is enough to support realism regarding it • Structural – One should be a realist because of the physical structure of things, not because of descriptions of their nature
  • Considerations in Favor of Scientific Realism (and Responses) • 1. The Miracle Argument: ▫ Best theories are extremely successful. ▫ Why? ▫ Realist: Because they are true! If not, it must be a miracle that they work so well. • Rebuttal: Why do we need an explanation of success? ▫ Theories = Well-adapted organisms • What makes a particular theory successful (not just in general)? ▫ Identify specific features, explanation of unobservables • Base rate fallacy ▫ If a theory is successful, we cannot claim it as true since we do not know the base rate of true theories (could be a false positive)
  • Considerations in Favor of Scientific Realism (and Responses) • 2. Corroboration ▫ Unobservables detected through multiple techniques. ▫ Light vs. ▫ electron microscopy • Rebuttal: Intention of reproducing existing output.
  • Considerations in Favor of Scientific Realism (and Responses) • 3. Selective Optimism/Skepticism ▫ A. Explanationism  Focus on parts of theories worthy of realist commitment  True theoretical components survive and live in current theories  Problem: Realists must provide a objective measure to pick out crucial parts, not post-hoc.
  • Considerations in Favor of Scientific Realism (and Responses) ▫ B. Entity Realism  The more you can manipulate the unobservable and produce predicted outcomes, the more believable a theory is.  Entity Realist: Belief of entity vs. belief of theory describing it – 2 different things. Disputed claim... ▫ C. Structural Realism  Epistemic view: Describes relationships between unobservables, not their nature.  Ontic view: Knowledge of unobservables‟ structure.  Problem: Can you know structure without relationships?
  • Considerations Against Scientific Realism (and Responses) Fish caught • Underdetermination of Theory by Data ▫ Hypotheses (i.e. testable predictions) cannot stand alone – they require “auxiliary” assumptions. ▫ Hypothesis = incorrect. Error may not exist in claim, per se ▫ Problem to Realists: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 Day 6 7 8 9 10
  • Considerations Against Scientific Realism (and Responses) ... Underdetermination of Theory by Data • Rebuttal: Realism rely on two explanations: ▫ A “wait and see” mentality ▫ Data is apt to change over time
  • Considerations Against Scientific Realism (and Responses) • Skepticism about Inference to the Best Explanation ▫ Realist: Although many theories exist, one will have explanatory superiority (i.e. provide the “best” explanation) ▫ But will this thinking yield knowledge? ▫ 2 problems:  A. How to judge theories in relation to being true (criteria and meaning)  B. “Best of a bad lot” argument • Rebuttal: The “best of a bad lot” may still describe unobservables in a way to meet standards of realism....
  • Considerations Against Scientific Realism (and Responses) • The Pessimistic Induction ▫ If most previous theories are false, so are current ones! • Rebuttal: ▫ Considering only the mature theories. ▫ Base rate fallacy ▫ A few good examples should lead antirealists to reconsider....
  • Considerations Against Scientific Realism (and Responses) • Skepticism about Approximate Truth ▫ Abstraction and idealization seen in even our best theories..... ▫ Gradually converging on truth – theories are open to improvement ▫ Problem: Defining approximate truth  Formally: Comparing true/false consequences, world‟s approach, type hierarchy approach  Informally: “theories build on „limiting cases‟ from their predeccesors”
  • Antirealism - Realism vs. the ism’s • Any position apposed to Realism via one or more of the following ▫ Mind is not independent of reality ▫ Theories may not be interpreted literally ▫ Theories may not constitute knowledge of observable and unobservable
  • Realism vs. the ism’s • Empiricism ▫ Doesn't like the idea that one can gain knowledge of the unobservable ▫ This position believes knowledge can only be acquired through experience.
  • Realism vs. the ism’s • Constructive Empiricism ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ (Sometimes referred to as Instrumentalism) Van Fraassens revision of Empiricism A more realistic view – not as picky Can believe theories that include the unobservable only if nothing is concluded about the unobservable Still kind of picky and still antirealism
  • Realism vs. the ism’s • Historicism ▫ Two concepts can only be understood in correctly historicized manner - from the perspectives of the paradigms in which they occur ▫ Kuhn brought this ism about with “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” ▫ Antirealism due to mind not existing independent of the world
  • Realism vs. the ism’s • Social Constructivism ▫ States any knowledge generating process is influenced by social factors ▫ SSK - sociology of scientific knowledge – studies the social aspects of how science studies the world ▫ Because all knowledge is influenced by social factors, the mind is not independent of reality
  • Realism vs. the ism’s • Pragmatism & Quietism ▫ Does anyone really know? ▫ Dialectical Paralysis – too many isim‟s ▫ Quietism states that nothing sensible can be said. Wittgenstein ▫ The competition between isim‟s causes a problem within its self
  • Realism & the ism’s vs. NOA • NOA – Natural Ontological Attitude ▫ A compromise of the core common realist and antirealist theories ▫ NOA argues neither realism or antirealism is tenable ▫ Are disputes between realism and antirealism resolvable? No because all positions come with their own rules ▫ But this exercise in futility does lead to a great deal of insight of how knowledge comes about