Posts tagged ‘instrumentalism’

December 14th, 2013

Is Constructive Empiricism a Viable Option between Realism and Anti-Realism?

by Max Andrews

Constructive empiricism (CE), primarily developed by Bas van Fraassen, regards theoretical identities rather than realistically. CE allows an empiricist approach to science without requiring the language and formulation of theory that the positivist uses.  When one affirms accepts CE one must believe what the theory says about observables, that is, one must believe that the theory is empirically adequate; but one does not have to believe the whole theory, including what it says about unobservables.  Van Fraassen argues that science can be understood without the strong realist approach.  Science’s aim becomes set on empirical adequacy rather than the full-blown truth.[1]

Van Fraassen defines an ‘observable’ as:

X is observable if there are circumstances such that, if X is present to us under those circumstances then we observe it.[2]

That which serves as an observation is not necessarily in the scope of philosophy.  The limits of observation are a subject for empirical science, and not for philosophical analysis.[3] Thus, a theory is empirically adequate if and only if what it says about the observable things and events in this world is true.

Empiricism set limits on what one is rationally obligated to believe.  Van Fraassen makes the distinction between acceptance and belief.  There is no commitment, under CE, to believe the truth of the theory but one can accept the empirical data.  This is very modest in its commitment to the informative power of a theory. 

May 1st, 2012

Scientific Theology and Evidentialism

by Max Andrews

I am approaching the world as a realist. (For a background of my epistemology please see: My Evidentialist Epistemology).  What I mean by this is that the external reality is how it appears to be to an observer making an epistemic inquiry, the measurements from science accurately depicts reality.  This is in contrast to instrumentalism, which suggests that our inquiry of the world, scientifically, do not accurately depict reality but as useful fictions.  An instrumentalist is more concerned about data fitting theories and predictions than with an accurate depiction of reality.

For the realist-evidentialist, the ontology of the world determines one’s epistemology.  They congruently correspond.  It is important to note the order of entailment.  Antecedently, reality determines our epistemology.  It would be illicit to reverse the term order and as Roy Bhaskar notes, it would be the epistemic fallacy.  I am not advocating a naïve realism where reality acts on the human mind without personal inquiry nor am I advocating postmodern anti-realism where one can construct whatever type of reality is desired.  I am advocating a form of critical realism.

Lorenzo Valla’s (1406-1457) interrogative (interrogatio) form of inquiry.  Valla’s mode of inquiry yield results that are entirely new, giving rise to knowledge that cannot be derived by an inferential process from what was already known.  Valla transitioned from not only using this method for historical knowledge but also applied it as “logic for scientific discovery.”[1] 

September 5th, 2011

Living in the Multiverse–Is it Science?

by Max Andrews

Is the multiverse hypothesis a legitimate scientific theory?  That is, are there regularities that illuminate and reflect underlying laws of nature by testing these laws and making predictions that can be either verified or refuted by experimentation and observation?  Generally, these are the guidelines for something to be scientific, can it be verified and falsified?  Before I continue, we need to make a distinction in two fundamental philosophies of science: instrumentalism and realism.

Instrumentalism:  Scientific theories are not intended to be literally true and accepting a theory requires us to believe only that its observational consequences are true.  Observation statements are literally true and science is only about these statements and the observations that verify them.  A few strengths of this philosophy is that it doesn’t conflict with common sense realism; we can believe in straightforward observations.  Plus, it’s more modest and non-commital than scientific realism.  A few weaknesses are that scientists seem to assume the realist view of the world in their “un-thinking” moments.  The instrumentalist should be able to draw a clear cut distinction between what is and what is not observable, which creates limitations on what really is observable (i.e. naked eye, magnifying glass, microscope, electron microscope, cloud chamber, etc.). This also raises the question, at what point is the objecting being observed really being observed, and so real, but then one bit smaller is not observable and thus not really existent?

Scientific Realism:  Scientific theories are intended to be literally true, and accepting a theory involves believing that it gives a true description of reality, “as it really is.”  A few strengths of this is that it makes the aspect of explanatory power superior to instrumentalism because explanation requires real things that cause the chain of causality.  Explanation by means of fictitious entity is not explanation at all.  Instrumentalism cannot explain the actual success of science, especially science’s making predictions, which are empirically adequate (i.e. Boyles-Charles Law, pv=k).

I’m going to argue that we should adopt the realist position partly because it is common sense and because it means and ends in explanation provide a robust sense of explanatory power that lacks instrumentalism and the metaphysical baggage it may carry is less deleterious than instrumentalism.