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58. Realism and Instrumentalism


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics instrumentalism, realism, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00061.x


The debate between realism and instrumentalism is at an impasse. That is the state of the art, and the competing positions and arguments are best understood by seeing how they have produced it. When scientists familiar with a common body of evidence, and with the resources of alternative theories for handling that evidence, nevertheless disagree as to which theory is best, something has gone wrong methodologically. Standards of evidential warrant, the criteria by which theories are to be judged, and not just the theories themselves, are in dispute. When philosophers disagree about theories of science, without disputing the evidence brought to bear for or against the contenders, the legitimacy of standards of philosophical argument is similarly unresolved. In the debate over realism the central bone of contention is abductive inference. In abductive inference, the ability of a hypothesis to explain empirical facts counts in its assessment. The stronger its explanatory resources - the better the explanation it gives, the more diverse the phenomena it explains, the greater its role in larger explanatory systems - the more justified is the inference to it. A point may be reached at which explanatory success is so great, and so much greater than that which any rival hypothesis can claim, as to justify belief. On this basis, realists characteristically claim warrant for believing some ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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