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PHIL202: Philosophy of Science

Unit 5: Interpretations of Scientific Knowledge   “Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” [1]
 
Science seems to be our best guide to determining the way the world is.  But does the real world actually contain atoms or genes, for example, or is a literal interpretation of our scientific theories unwarranted?  Instrumentalism about science is the view that science aims only to develop effective instruments for prediction and control of nature.  Scientific realism, in contrast, is the view that science aims to discover the truth about the world and that we have good reason to believe that our current theories are at least approximately true.  If realism is correct, a literal interpretation of our best available theories is warranted.  However, the underdetermination of theory by evidence, and science’s historical track record of failure, suggest that realism is overly optimistic.  Alternative interpretations of scientific knowledge diverge on the extent to which we ought to believe that the world is the way our scientific theories represent it as being.


[1] Attributed to Richard Feynman in Anton Z. Capra, From Quanta to Quarks: More Anecdotal History of Physics (Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2007), 37.

Unit 5 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 16 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 5.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 5.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 5.3: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 5.4: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 5.5: 3 hours
 

☐    Reading: 1 hour

☐    Assessment 7: 2 hours

Unit5 Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Define scientific realism. - Summarize the key arguments in favor of scientific realism – namely, the “miracle” argument and the argument from independent corroboration. - Summarize the main objections to scientific realism – namely, the underdetermination problem and the “pessimistic induction.” - Compare realist concessions to these objections: entity realism and structural realism. - Compare key variants of scientific antirealism: instrumentalism, constructive empiricism, and social constructivism. - Assess the preceding philosophical interpretations of scientific knowledge.

5.1 Scientific Realism   5.1.1 What Scientific Realism Is   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “What Is Scientific Realism?”; and University of Michigan-Dearborn: Daniel Little’s “What Is Scientific Realism?” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “What Is Scientific Realism?” (HTML); and University of Michigan-Dearborn: Daniel Little’s “What Is Scientific Realism?” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read Section
1 of Chakravartty’s longer encyclopedia entry in its entirety.  

 Please click on the second link above and read the entry in its
entirety.  

 These entries present the dominant interpretation of scientific
knowledge among contemporary philosophers of science.  As you read,
attempt to answer the following questions: What are the central
theses of scientific realism, especially regarding the aims of
science, the achievements of science, and the proper interpretation
of scientific hypotheses?  What are some general reasons one might
be attracted to scientific realism in the first place?  

 Reading these entries and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.1.2 The “Miracle” Argument   - Reading: The Rutherford Journal: Alan Musgrave’s “The ‘Miracle Argument’ for Scientific Realism”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Miracle Argument” Link: The Rutherford Journal: Alan Musgrave’s “The ‘Miracle Argument’ for Scientific Realism” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Miracle Argument” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read the
article in its entirety.  Focus especially on the introduction as
well as the sections titled “Inference to the Best Explanation” and
“The Miracle Argument.”  

 Please click on the second link above and read Section 2.1 of
Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.  

 These readings present one of the standard arguments in favor of
scientific realism: the so-called “miracle argument.”  In his essay,
Musgrave explains the kind of inference upon which this argument
relies (*inference to the best explanation*), presents the argument
itself, and offers his assessment of whether the argument succeeds. 
His exposition of the argument invokes the notion of *empirical
adequacy*: a theory is empirically adequate to the extent that it
makes correct predictions about all observable phenomena (including
unobserved phenomena, but without regard to the truth or falsity of
the claims it makes concerning unobservable entities such as quarks
or DNA).  Chakravartty’s exposition does not invoke this notion;
however, his exposition is much more concise and does not elaborate
upon the motivation for the argument.  

 As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What do
realists mean when they talk about the “success of science”?  Why do
realists suppose that the “success of science” deserves an
explanation?  What is an “inference to the best explanation”?  What
do realists propose as the best explanation of the success of
science?  How does this differ from alternative proposals, and why
do realists maintain that their proposal is superior to the
alternatives?  

 Reading this material and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.1.3 Corroboration   - Reading: Scientific American: George Bodner’s “How was Avogadro’s Number Determined?”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “Corroboration” Link: Scientific American: George Bodner’s “How was Avogadro’s Number Determined?” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “Corroboration” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read
Bodner’s article in its entirety.  

 Please click on the second link above and read Section 2.2 of
Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.  

 There are roughly twelve different methods for measuring
*Avogadro’s number* – the number of protons in a gram of pure
protons.  These methods yield remarkably similar results, and this
agreement – or corroboration among methods – motivates a different
argument for scientific realism.  Bodner briefly discusses some of
the methods for determining Avogadro’s number, and Chakravartty
briefly presents an argument that takes the kind of corroboration
exhibited in the measurement of Avogadro’s number to be support for
scientific realism.  

 As you read, attempt to answer the following questions: What are
some examples of *corroboration* regarding unobservable entities? 
Why would this corroboration be “an extraordinary coincidence” if
the unobservable entities did not exist?  How does the argument from
corroboration differ from the “miracles” argument for scientific
realism?  

 Reading these essays and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.2 Objections to Scientific Realism   5.2.1 The Underdetermination Problem   - Reading: The Galilean Library: Paul Newall’s “Underdetermination”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Underdetermination of Theory by Data” Link: The Galilean Library: Paul Newall’s “Underdetermination” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Underdetermination of Theory by Data” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read
Newall’s essay in its entirety.  Focus on understanding what
underdetermination is.  

 Please click on the second link above and read Section 3.1 of
Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.  Focus on understanding the
significance of underdetermination for scientific realism.  

 Some of the preceding readings in this course have mentioned the
notion of *underdetermination*.  Newall explains this notion in more
detail.  Chakravartty’s entry provides an exposition of the way in
which underdetermination presents a challenge to the realist
interpretation of scientific knowledge.  

 As you read this material, attempt to answer the following
questions: What is underdetermination?  What kinds of
underdetermination are there?  What are some examples of
underdetermination from actual science?  How does underdetermination
constitute an objection to scientific realism, or to arguments for
scientific realism?  

 Reading this material and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.2.2 The Pessimistic Induction   - Reading: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “The Argument for Realism from the Success of Science and Laudan’s Criticism of It”; and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Pessimistic Induction” Link: Loyola University New Orleans: Henry Folse’s “The Argument for Realism from the Success of Science and Laudan’s Criticism of It” (HTML); and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “The Pessimistic Induction” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read Folse’s
lecture notes in their entirety.  

 Please click on the second link above and read Section 3.3 of
Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.  

 After summarizing the significance of underdetermination for
scientific realism, Folse presents a second objection to scientific
realism popularized by Larry Laudan.  Rather than appealing to
possibilities regarding alternatives to our current scientific
theories, this argument—known as the *pessimistic induction*—appeals
to facts regarding our prior scientific theories.  Chakravartty’s
entry also briefly presents this argument.  

 As you read this material, attempt to answer the following
questions: What is the argument known as the “pessimistic
induction”?  In what way is this argument an inductive argument? 
What evidence, regarding the history of science, is available to
support (or refute) the premises of this induction?  How does the
induction constitute an objection to scientific realism, or to
arguments for scientific realism?  

 Reading this material and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.3 Realist Responses   5.3.1 Stubborn Realism   - Reading: The Richmond Journal of Philosophy: Pierre Cruse’s “On Scientific Realism” Link: The Richmond Journal of Philosophy: Pierre Cruse’s “On Scientific Realism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above.  Scroll down to find
the heading for “Issue 3 – Spring 2003,” and then click on the link
that follows “On Scientific Realism” to open a PDF file.  Read the
article in its entirety.  

 Rather than concede their commitment to scientific realism in light
of objections to their view, some philosophers of science maintain
that the objections fail to pose a significant challenge to their
view.  After reviewing the “miracle” argument and the pessimistic
induction, Cruse argues that the pessimistic induction does not
refute scientific realism.  

 Read this article in order to deepen your understanding of the
“miracle” argument and the pessimistic induction, as well as to
deepen your understanding of the way in which scientific realism
advocates interpreting the history of science and scientific
knowledge.  

 Reading this article will take approximately 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.2 Entity Realism   - Reading: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 19 – Entity Realism (Hacking & Cartwright)” Link: Iowa State University: Lyle Zynda’s “Lecture 19 – Entity Realism (Hacking & Cartwright)” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the notes in
their entirety.  

 In these lecture notes, Zynda summarizes arguments that favor a
limited form of realism known as *entity realism*.  This kind of
realism fits nicely with the argument from corroboration.  

 As you read the notes, attempt to answer the following questions:
What is entity realism?  In what ways does entity realism differ
from full-blown scientific realism?  What are some arguments in
favor of entity realism?  How might entity realism avoid some of the
objections to realism (underdetermination, pessimistic induction)?  

 Reading these notes and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.3.3 Structural Realism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: James Ladyman’s “Structural Realism” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: James Ladyman’s “Structural Realism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the entry in
its entirety.  

 Scientific realists who do not reject the argument from
underdetermination and the pessimistic induction tend to limit their
realism in some way.  Entity realism (see prior subunit) offers one
way to implement this strategy.  Structural realism, the topic of
Ladyman’s entry, offers another.  

 As you read this entry, attempt to answer the following questions:
What is structural realism?  How does it differ from full-blown
scientific realism, and from entity realism?  What are some
arguments in favor of structural realism?  How might structural
realism avoid some of the objections to realism (underdetermination,
pessimistic induction)?  

 Reading this entry and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.4 Antirealism   5.4.1 Instrumentalism   - Reading: Central Connecticut State University: Nicolas Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres:Osiander’s “Introduction”; Humanists of Utah: Eric Palmer’s “Copernicus’ Astronomy and Scientific Argument in the Renaissance”; and Iqbal Review: Ibrahim Kalin’s “Scientific and Religious Instrumentalism: Some Considerations on Science-Religion Controversy” Link: Central Connecticut State University: Nicolas Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres: Osiander’s “Preface” (HTML); Humanists of Utah: Eric Palmer’s “Copernicus’ Astronomy and Scientific Argument in the Renaissance” (HTML); and Iqbal Review: Ibrahim Kalin’s “Scientific and Religious Instrumentalism: Some Considerations on Science-Religion Controversy” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read the
section “Preface” (by Osiander) in its entirety.  Please click on
the second link above and read Palmer’s essay in its entirety. 
Please click on the third link above and read the section in Kalin’s
essay labeled “Scientific Instrumentalism.”  

 Osiander’s preface to Copernicus’ *On the Revolutions of the
Heavenly Spheres* is a classic example of an instrumentalist
interpretation of scientific knowledge, and in particular an
instrumentalist interpretation of astronomical theory.  Palmer’s
essay provides historical context for Copernicus’ work and explains
Osiander’s motivation for his instrumentalist interpretation of that
work.  Kalin’s essay complements Palmer’s by explaining the basic
theses of instrumentalism and general reasons instrumentalists offer
in favor of their view.  

 As you read these materials, attempt to answer the following
questions: What is instrumentalism?  How does instrumentalism differ
from scientific realism?  What reasons or evidence support or
motivate instrumentalism?  In what ways does Osiander’s introduction
to Copernicus’ work exhibit an instrumentalist interpretation of
astronomical theory?  

 Reading these materials and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.4.2 Constructive Empiricism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Bradley Monton and Chad Mohler’s “Constructive Empiricism”; and Tim Thornton’s “Remarks on Constructive Empiricism” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Bradley Monton and Chad Mohler’s “Constructive Empiricism” (HTML); and Tim Thornton’s “Remarks on Constructive Empiricism” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read the
entry in its entirety.  Focus especially on Sections 1 and 2,
“Understanding Constructive Empiricism” and “Arguments for
Constructive Empiricism.”  

 Please click on the second link above and read Thornton’s notes in
their entirety.  

 Instrumentalists reject the idea that scientific theories aim to
give us literally true stories about what the world is like.  For
this reason, it is an anti-realist interpretation of scientific
knowledge.  But not all anti-realist interpretations reject this
idea.  One such anti-realism is constructive empiricism.  Monton and
Mohler’s encyclopedia entry explains the details of this position,
contrasts it with scientific realism, and summarizes arguments that
favor constructive empiricism over scientific realism.  Thornton’s
brief notes concisely summarize one of these arguments and offer a
very compressed criticism of the constructive empiricist
interpretation of scientific knowledge.  

 As you read these materials, attempt to answer the following
questions: How does constructive empiricism differ from scientific
realism?  How does constructive empiricism differ from
instrumentalism?  What reasons or evidence support or motivate
constructive empiricism?  How might scientific realists respond to
these arguments or object to constructive empiricism?  

 Reading this material and answering these questions will take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.4.3 Social Constructivism   - Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “Social Constructivism”; Carnegie Mellon University: David Bloor’s “The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge”; and Virginia Tech Digital Library and Archives: Society for Philosophy and Technology: Adelaida Ambrogi Alvarez’s “Sociological Studies and Philosophical Studies: Twenty Years of Controversy” Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anjan Chakravartty’s “Social Constructivism” (HTML); Carnegie Mellon University: David Bloor’s “The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge” (HTML); and Virginia Tech Digital Library and Archives: Society for Philosophy and Technology: Adelaida Ambrogi Alvarez’s “Sociological Studies and Philosophical Studies: Twenty Years of Controversy” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the first link above and read Section
4.3 of Chakravartty’s entry in its entirety.  Please click on the
second link above and read Bloor’s chapter in its entirety.  Please
click on the third link above and read Alvarez’s article in its
entirety.  

 As Chakravartty explains in his article, one of the outcomes of the
Kuhnian-inspired focus on history in the philosophy of science was a
focus on the significance of social factors for the interpretation
of scientific knowledge.  This focus gave rise to a variety of
social constructivist interpretations of scientific knowledge. 
While Chakravartty’s entry sketches the basic ideas of these
interpretations, the chapter by Bloor is a primary source from one
of the initial advocates of this interpretative approach.  Alvarez’s
article, finally, summarizes a partial history of the relationship
between social constructivism and mainstream philosophy of
science.  

 As you read these materials, attempt to answer the following
questions: How does social constructivism differ from scientific
realism, instrumentalism, and constructive empiricism?  What are the
basic tenets of the sociology of science (as Bloor understands this
discipline)?  What is the “strong programme” in the sociology of
scientific knowledge?  What might motivate this programme?  What are
some objections to this programme, and how might an advocate of the
programme respond?  What are some specific interpretations of
scientific knowledge that follow from the strong programme?  

 Reading this material and answering these questions will take
approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

5.5 Review of Interpretations of Scientific Knowledge   - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation: “Assessment 7” Link: The Saylor Foundation: “Assessment 7” (PDF)

 Instructions: This assessment will ask you to examine a popular
news story about recent physics research for its attitudes regarding
the proper interpretation of scientific knowledge, and to critically
examine those attitudes in light of the readings in Unit 5.  Use the
[“Assessment 7 – Guide to
Responding”](http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/PHIL202-Unit5-Assessment7-Guide-FINAL.pdf)
(PDF) to help you.  Please check your essays against the
[“Assessment 7 – Self-Assessment
Rubric”](http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/PHIL202-Unit5-Assessment7-Rubric-FINAL.pdf)
(PDF).  

 Completing this assessment will take approximately 2 hours.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: American Scientist: Kenji Kaneyuki and Kate Scholberg’s “Neutrino Oscillations” Link: American Scientist: Kenji Kaneyuki and Kate Scholberg’s “Neutrino Oscillations” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the link above and read the article in its entirety.  The following assessment references this article.

    Reading this article will take approximately 1 hour.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.