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scientific realism

Scientific realism says that scientific methods are adequate for determining what really objectively exists. When we take this to be a simple common sense statement which is held for no other reason than its blatantly apparent truth, we call the position "naive realism." However there have been a number of philosophical debates during the 20th century that make the picture much more complex. They have served to define more clearly what scientific realism means.

A number of different issues have been raised by people such as N.R. Hanson and T.S. Kuhn. Perhaps the main problem with giving realism a solid foundation is defining how theory can reference reality. Since science rests on observation, arguments have been put forth that question how such a system could deal with unobservable events - i.e. how one could know that a theory concerning (at least partially) unobservable events was truly correct (see underdetermination ). Other objections question how science can be taken as truth so confidently even though history has shown that theories are often found to be wrong and superseded by other theories (see fallibilism ). Realists have countered this by showing that in many cases each successive theory is a better approximation of the truth than its predecessor. One of the other main objections is to say that science is primarily a social phenomenon and hence cannot claim to be bound to truth (see relativism ). However, none of the arguments have been strong enough to resolve the debate and to convince all scientific realists to abandon their position.

--Jesse Merriman

Sources:
Boyd, Richard, "Scientific Realism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2002/entries/scientific-realism

Hanson, N.R. Patterns of Discovery. Cambridge University Press, 1958.

Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Psillos, Stathis. Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth. Routledge, 1999.

"Scientific Realism," Wikipedia, 19:27, 7 Feb 2004 revision, URL = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_realism