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Scientific Realism

Scientific realism versus antirealism.

In your discussion this week, you debated scientific realism and antirealism. In a two- to three-page journal, summarize the results of this discussion. What were the strengths and weaknesses of scientific realism that emerged from the debate? What were the strengths and weaknesses of antirealism?  Which side did the majority of the class seem to support?  Did you agree with the majority? Why or why not? Did you change your mind about anything as a result of the discussion?

Realism holds that scientific theory’s approximate objective reality. Many scientific predictions and technological developments demonstrate that scientific models can capture nature’s reality. These theories can forecast planet orbits and subatomic particle behavior, proving scientific realism’s reliability. Scientific Realism holds that scientific predictions imply a link between scientific ideas and reality. Because scientific theories can reveal truths about reality despite their imperfections, this empirical outcome favors realists. GPS, which uses general relativity for precise position computations, shows how science may match objective facts (Huq 2021).

The realism stance faces obstacles. Explaining anomalies and paradigm shifts is difficult. New facts or conceptual revolutions have toppled many scientific hypotheses. The Copernican revolution overthrew the geocentric model, demonstrating the fragility of scientific paradigms and the need for a nuanced knowledge of their limitations. Moreover, realists also struggle with underdetermination, which holds that multiple theories can explain the same evidence. This phenomenon adds ambiguity to the realist framework, raising problems regarding the uniqueness and determinacy of scientific theories and the objective world they pretend to represent. The realism perspective is complicated by the fact that diverse theories can explain empirical facts equally well, challenging the unambiguous relationship between scientific theories and an independently existing reality.

The antirealist perspective questions the idea that scientific theories lead to objective reality by emphasizing the theory-ladenness of observations and scientific language. Antirealists believe our theoretical frameworks shape our worldview (Heidemann 1). This confirms the philosophical idea of theory-laden observation, which says our conceptual glasses filter everything we observe. Additionally, antirealists also explain scientific theories’ historical and social contexts. All theories are developed in their cultural, social, and political context, they say. The 17th-century scientific revolution led by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton was anchored in intellectual and social norms. Recognition of science as contextualized knowledge promotes the antirealist perspective, inviting us to see scientific theories as human creations rather than reality.

However, antirealism has limitations. Explaining scientific theories’ predictive power is difficult. Science may reliably forecast technology advances and practical applications, making the notion of lacking objectivity impossible. However, scientific theories’ unique ability to anticipate and explain natural facts would remain an antirealist enigma if they were verbal creations. Radical relativism by antirealists might inhibit scientific progress by undermining objectivity. When all scientific concepts are equally valid in their cultural and historical settings, science advances insecurely. Thus, the antirealist must balance social and historical forces on scientific ideas and their advancement through scientific theories about external truth assertions.

To fully evaluate scientific realism and antirealism, their pros and cons must be considered. Scientific ideas predict and match nature. However, exceptions and paradigm shifts cast doubt on the flawless link between scientific ideas and reality. However, antirealists emphasize the theory-ladenness of observations and the social implications of scientific knowledge, challenging the idea that theories and the world are directly related. Antirealists must account for how scientific theories affect practice and anticipate accurately without slipping into severe relativism that could harm science.

Nevertheless, from multiple perspectives, things are complicated. Scientific realism holds that scientific hypotheses must be near to an objective world to be relevant. The commitment questions this reality and science’s access. Rethinking language, perception, and reality lets antirealism question scientific knowledge. This argument is vital to science’s growth. Realistic science evolves its theories over time to achieve objective reality, promoting continuity and advancement. Antirealists argue that contextuality underpins scientific knowledge, challenging the assumption that objective reality evolves over time.

Scientific realism-antirealism is complicated, as our class argument reveals. Careful appraisal of all sides’ strengths and shortcomings reveals complex scientific knowledge. Scientific realism accepts that science can predict, explain, or depict reality. Strange abnormality, paradigm shifts, and underdetermination require a distinct realism. Antirealism claims that observation is theory-laden and science is socially created, hence theories do not match objective reality. Antirealists must explain scientific notions’ empirical success without absolute relativism.

I feel like there can be no exact measure for which perspective of science is best. To me, I see them as views and mindsets that can be applied contextually. Both scientific realism and anti-realism have their strengths and weaknesses, for example, scientific realism relies on empirical evidence and successful theories offering an accurate understanding of reality which provides practical applications of the information spawned. But this view lacks the more human aspect of science and neglects human interpretation, observation, and how the instruments associated influence data. Due to its more pragmatic nature, antirealism can remedy some of the weaknesses that scientific realism has, but in its very nature conflicts with the strengths of scientific realism.

With that said, we can unfortunately not have both at the same time. So as such, I believe anti-realism has the most general purpose and would be the “best” view of science. While scientific realism offers a very strong view of science, it lacks the humanity of science, thus making it more difficult for a human perspective. I see them this way, scientific realism is the metaphorical Vulcan from Star Trek’s view, logical and precise. But anti-realism is the more human view, displaying more out-of-the-box and unconventional views.

I also have a hard time deciding which perspective makes more sense as I think that it depends on the context. It reminds me of a previous class that I took where it was said in the Instructor Guidance video that no one fits perfectly into a single worldview because of the details in between. Overall, I think that I lean a bit more towards antirealism because it feels less restrictive. I also think that antirealism may lend itself to a larger number of possibilities when it comes to science. Observation is an essential part of science, but if we only focus on what can be observed, we are going to miss other aspects of discovery such as philosophy. Many scientists find philosophy to be a waste of time, but it challenges so-called facts and connects science to humanity. As much as science is meant to be about pushing boundaries and discovering new things, a common thing amongst scientists seems to be shutting down concepts that go outside of observation, direct evidentiary support, logic, and reasoning. Abstract ideas are harder to agree on and experience than ideas that can be observed. It is difficult to come to a conclusion because not everything that is discovered will become the definitive truth. Perspectives can change with newly discovered information. As time goes on, theories are dismissed due to either lack of evidence or contradictory information. It seems that there are no true conclusions when anything can be proven wrong. “We cannot know that our current theories are true, but they are truer than earlier theories, and will retain at least approximate truth when they are replaced by something more accurate in the future.” (Chalmers, 2013, p. 219) Even when theories or ideas aren’t as structurally sound as initially thought, they can still be used as scaffolding for other ideas and concepts. 

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