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Do subatomic particles really exist? Or are they convenient fictions that explain observable phenomena? David Papineau discusses arguments for and against scientific realism in this episode of Philosophy Bites.
Listen to David Papineau on Scientific Realism
Posted at 04:25 PM in Science | Permalink
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David Papineau's avoidance of epistemology causes him to misrepresent the history of philosophy and science and to misuse the term sckepticism accordingly. He sees the modern and post-modern rejection of correspondence theories of science as somehow the product of a loss of faith in scientific method due to early limitations on its capicity to answer questions regarding things that cannot be observed. For example, he mentions DesCartes without any reference to his efforts to find a foundation for scientific knowledge, let alone DesCartes' methodology of radical doubt.
The fact is that both philosophy and science were driven, starting with DesCartes, through most of modernism, to find a foundation for the sciences. This effort resulted in an increasing level of reflexivity, an increasing insight into the need to observe not only the thing observed/discussed, but also our method of observation/discussion, when attempting to discern what we know. In high modernism, we find Kant and Husserl, for example, seeking the foundation for science in what they saw as the necessary structure of subjectivity. The understanding necessarily apprehends the world in certain terms, and given the necessity of those terms, science is indeed knowledge, but only of the world as we encounter it. As is taught in basic philosophy courses, these mediating terms become historicized in Hegel and Marx (and their revisitation after Husserl), and as we move into Post-Modernity, they become liquisticized. But the point is, it wasn't a loss of faith due to science's early failings that brought about "sckepticism", as Papineau uses the term. What brought it about was an increasing insight into the roll of subjectivity (modernism) and language (post-modernism), and this increasing insight was the result of inquiries into the nature of knowledge that were driven by inherent demand that rigorous science (in the broad sense of the term) discern "the truth about truth", to borrow a phrase from Nietzsche.
Of course, as is evident from my approach to this issue, this writing is steeped in "continental" modern and post-modern criticism, which is to say my articulation of the issue is no less mediated than that of the realists or the sciences in which they put their faith. Can I say that I know this to be the case? Do I need to know it to make an important point or set of points by stating it?
January 29, 2009 at 07:18 AM
These issues are of a much older vintage than mentioned in "Doof-Scholar" fascinating though flawed analysis.
The point: "The fact is that both philosophy and science were driven, starting with DesCartes, through most of modernism, to find a foundation for the sciences. This effort resulted in an increasing level of reflexivity, an increasing insight into the need to observe not only the thing observed/discussed, but also our method of observation/discussion, when attempting to discern what we know." is incorrect.
Indeed the foundations issue is addressed particularly well in, for example, "Theaetetus".
You will no doubt be aware of Wittgenstein's observation on reading Theaetetus that "this dialogue is concerned with precisely the problems I am writing about"
It is actually Doof-Scholar who misrepresents the history of philosophy and science.
Everard izard |
February 01, 2009 at 12:23 PM
We discussed this interesting podcast in my Philosophy of Natural and Social Science course and an interesting question came up: Papineau does not clarify whether the realism/anti-realism debate applies to theories or entities or both. It seems that he is discussing the distinction at the level of theory, but this could be clearer. Do the terms of the debate change when we are focused on the level of entities rather than the level of theories?
Corey McCall |
January 28, 2013 at 08:10 PM
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