Criticism Of Scientific Realism

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Introduction “Science aims to give us, in its theories, a literally true story of what the world is like; and acceptance of science theory involves the belief that it is true” (van Frassen 8). This is a quote Bas van Fraassen wrote to demonstrate the position held by scientific realists. One of the most significant features of contemporary science is that it is pervaded with entities that we cannot observe. According to the view of scientific realists, scientific entities like electrons and black holes really do exist. However, the central problem against that position is what arguments are there to doubt the existence of such un-observable entities, when one accepts the existence of chairs and trees? If we can’t directly see them, how do we know if they really do exist, and if so how? In this essay I will put forward the problems that have led to criticisms against scientific realism, and demonstrates how “the problem of unconceived alternatives” pose a more challenging threat than other anti-realist arguments by providing an example relating to Jared Diamond’s geographical determinism. Scientific Realism and Explanation Science realism asserts that science is dedicated to explain the existence of a variety of unobservable entities, and is mostly right in its dedications. Science is based on explaining phenomena that humans observe by postulating entities that humans do not. Many of these explanations are about entities that are too small or too big to be observed. For instance, we cannot see the electrons that illuminate certain patterns on the TV screen, nor planets that do not emit light in the universe. Some entities cannot be observed due to their nature, such as the magnetic field that causes magnetic attractions. Alth... ... middle of paper ... ...mong the world are contributed by the biological differences among peoples, even though there are firm evidences that this position is flawed. In this sense, Diamond’s theory of geographical determinism can be perceived as an example of “unconceived alternatives”. Indeed, Diamond argued that this is a very serious problem for social sciences, not only because it will create an intellectual gap of human history, but also create a more severe moral (or perhaps racist) problem (Diamond 34). In conclusion, although the problem of unconceived alternatives poses a significant threat to scientific realism, at the heart of the matter it is not to undermine science completely, but perhaps to regard scientific theories as “useful conceptual tools” for explaining and predicting the world, instead of literal descriptions of how things stand in nature itself (P. K. Stanford 5).
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