Advantages and Disadvantages of Realism and Anti-realism


Realism Anti-Realism
                     Advantages
a) Accords with prima facie view of scientists' own       self-image of what science is and does: science accumulates truth over time and discovers unobservable causes.

b) Can explain increasing success of science over time, because our theories are "converging" on the truth.

c) Preserves the view that scientific explan- ations provide unobservable causes of observed phenomena.

d) Science seen as discovery, not invention

e) Theory-ladeness of observation is not a problem because if theories are approximately true the fact that observation depends on them does not weaken their probability of objective truth.

f) Explains why sciences unify to form a single account of nature because in spite of their different starting pint all science are providing an account of the same one and only "real world."

a) Minimizes ontological commitment; accords with "Occam's Razor" by not positing any more entities than are necessary to explain the observed world.

b) Can explain the increasing success of science pragmatically by the fact that those methods which prove to be successful are retained while those that prove less successful are discarded; a "survival of the fittest" with respect to scientific methods.

c) "Empirical adequacy" is the ultimate criterion for theory acceptance, not truth, which is irrelevant to theory acceptance.

d) Does not require problematic commitment to correspondence theory of truth.

e) Avoids problems of convergence on truth and/or approximate truth.

e) It allows theoretical invention to be "free" from the constraints of having to be compatible with all other theories; thereby encouraging theoretical creativity.

f) Quantum mechanics has for 75 years offered the most basic understanding of the structure of matter, yet the only interpretation that does not involve extravagant claims or paradoxes appears to require abandoning realism.

                      Disadvantages
a) Correspondence theory of truth makes truth "epistemologically utopian"; there is no way to know whether your theory corresponds to an independent reality.

b) There is no non-vague theory of approximate truth; yet without such a notion the idea of "approaching" or "converging on" the truth is meaningless. 

c) The "truth" of the non-observational parts of theories is irrelevant to theory acceptance; acceptance is a function of empirical adequacy and pragmatic considerations.

d) The "disastrous metainduction": Every past theory has ultimately been proven false, therefore it is probably that all of our present theories will eventually be falsified, therefore it is irrational to hold science aims at the truth.

e) Reference to non-observable entities must be fixed independently of theories, because we can adopt newer and better theories about the same non-observable entities; yet we have no way to know about such entities without the theories we employ; abandonment of old theoreis implies abandoning ontological commitments of these theoretical "fictions."

f) Quantum mechanics has for 75 years offered the most basic understanding of the structure of matter, yet it seems to resist any possible realistic interpretation that does not involve extravagant claims or paradoxes.

a) Commits the "pragmatist blunder" of confusing the question of why we "accept" theories with what makes them acceptable; what allows a theory to provide empirically adequate answers is its a correspondence to the nature of the world, not because we accept it.

b) The success of science is not explained by the fact that we continue to select successful methods, because the methods would not be successful if it were not for the at least partial truth of the theories on which the methods are based.

c) All empiricist anti-realisms rely on a strong distinction between the observable and the unobservable; such a distinction cannot be drawn independently of theory and is constantly changing over time.

d) Anti-realist use of "observational" as that which can be perceived by human beings does not accord with scientific use of  "observational"; the distinction is too "anthropocentric."

e) Unity of science would require a "cosmic co-incidence" that calculations of fundamental theoretical parameters yields the same answer when calculated from totally different theories.