Ladyman’s Realism, van Fraassen’s Anti-Realism and Fine’s Middle-Way

Van der Merwe, Ragnar (2019-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The aim of this thesis is to critically analyse and evaluate the current debate between scientific realists and anti-realists. Some thinkers claim that the debate is a stalemate, with both parties appealing to self-justifying axioms. I investigate whether this is the case. I identify James Ladyman and Bas van Fraassen as exemplars for realism and for anti-realism respectively. I also include a third category - notably represented by Arthur Fine - that I label the ‘middle-way’. The debate in the current literature generally centres around epistemology. The question is whether we can have knowledge of scientific ‘unobservables’ (e.g. trilobites, blood cells and the Higgs boson). The realists generally answer ‘yes’, the anti-realists say ‘no’ and the middle-wayers are usually undecided. There is also a concomitant question about whether successful scientific theories are (at least approximately) true. The three parties concerned generally answer as before: yes, no and agnostic. In chapter 1 I introduce the three pertinent positions by briefly narrating the genealogy of each. Chapter 2 involves a lengthy exposition of Ladyman’s ontic structural realism, van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism and also the deflationism and/or pluralism of the middle-way, with particular focus on Fine’s natural ontological attitude. Ontic structural realism holds that metaphysics should be strongly continuous with science. The methods of science grant epistemic access to relational structures only, and not to essences of particulars. Furthermore, since questions beyond the limits of science are meaningless, the limits of our epistemology reveal the limits of ontology. Therefore, successful scientific theories truly represent the ontic structure of the world. Constructive empiricism holds that we cannot have epistemic access to things that lie beyond what is observable. Microscopes, and other ‘magnifying’ scientific instruments, create phenomena that are studied by scientists. Metaphysical speculation beyond the phenomena is superfluous; ontological agnosticism about unobservables is the proper attitude. Moreover, successful scientific theories are not true simpliciter, but are rather only ‘empirically adequate’. The natural ontological attitude offers a deflationary position in which we should generally remain silent about the epistemology and ontology of science, since there are no philosophical meta-criteria by which to judge these issues. The realism/anti-realism debate presents a false dichotomy, and attaching the ‘truth’ appendage to a scientific theory is redundant. I also discuss some relativist and feminist philosophers of science who can be grouped under the ‘middle-way’ umbrella. In chapter 3 I conclude by considering whether the positions discussed above represent an epistemic cul-de-sac or whether any of them allow for a way forward. I conclude that, in fact, one of them - although incomplete - does offer promising prospects for further development.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van hierdie tesis is om die debat tussen wetenskaplike realiste en anti-realiste krities te analiseer en te evalueer. Party denkers betweer dat die debat ‘n doodloopstraat bereik het, waar beide partye hulself beroep op self-regverdigende aksiomas. Ek ondersoek of dit wel die geval is. Ek identifiseer James Ladyman en Bas van Fraassen as eksemplare van realisme en anti-realisme. Ek identifiseer ook ‘n derde kategorie - verteenwoordig deur Arthur Fine - wat ek die ‘middeweg’ noem. Die huidige debat in die literatuur handel grootliks oor epistemologie. Die vraag is of ons kennis kan hê insake wetenskaplike onobserveerbare entiteite (bv.trilobeite, bloedselle en die Higgs boson. Die realiste antwoord gewoonlik ‘ja’, die anti-realiste sê ‘nee’ en die denkers wat die middeweg volg is gewoonlik agnosties. Daar is ook ‘n verwante vraag oor of suksesvolle wetenskaplike teorieë (ten minste meestal) waar is. Die drie partye vroeër genoem antwoord gewoonlik op ‘n soortgelyke manier; ‘ja’, ‘nee’ en agnosties. In hoofstuk 1 verduidelik ek die drie posisies deur elkeen se genealogie kortliks te verduidelik. Hoofstuk 2 bevat ‘n gedetailleerde verduideliking van Ladyman se ontiese strukturele realisme, van Fraassen se konstruktiewe empirisisme, asook die deflationism en/of pluralisme van die middeweg, met ‘n spesifieke fokus op Fine se natuurlike ontologiese houding. Ontiese strukturele realisme beweer dat metafikiska kontinu met die wetenskap moet wees. Wetenskaplike metodes bied ons slegs epistemiese toegang tot relasionele strukture, en nie tot essensies van partikuliere nie. Verder, gegewe dat vrae wat die perke van die wetenskap oorskry betekenisloos is, openbaar die perke van epistemologie die perke van ontologie. Suksesvolle wetenskaplike teorieë openbaar dus die ontiese struktuur van die wêreld. Konstruktiewe empirisisme beweer dat ons nie epistemiese toegang tot entiteite wat ervaring transendeer kan kry nie. Mikroskope en soortgelyke instrumente skep die fenomene wat deur wetenskaplikes bestudeer word. Metafisiese spekulasie wat die fenomene transendeer is sinneloos; die korrekte houding jeens onobserveerbare entiteite is ontologiese agnostisisme. Verder, suksesvolle wetenskaplike toerieë is nie waar simpliciter nie, maar is eerder slegs ‘empiries genoegsaam’. Die natuurlike ontologiese houding bied ‘n deflasionêre posisie wat huldig dat ons eerder moet swyg insake die epistemologie en ontologie van die wetenskap. Daar is geen filosofiese meta-kriteria wat ons kan gebruik om sulke kwessies te beoordeel nie. Die realisme/anti-realisme debat skep ‘n valse dichotomie, en om die term ‘waarheid’ aan ‘n wetenskaplike teorie te heg is onnodig. Ek bespreek ook sekere relativistiese en femisistiese filosowe wat onder die saambreelterm van die ‘middeweg’ gegroepeer kan word. In hoofstuk 3 bespreek ek of, gegewe die bogenoemde bespreking, die bogenoemde posisies ‘n epistemiese doodloopstraat is en of enige van die posisies wel die pad vorentoe aandui. My konklusie is dat een van hulle wel belowend, alhoewel steeds onvoltooid, is.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/107177
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