Replacing recipe realism


Many realist writings exemplify the spirit of ‘recipe realism’. Here I characterise recipe realism, challenge it, and propose replacing it with ‘exemplar realism’. This alternative understanding of realism is more piecemeal, robust, and better in tune with scientists’ own attitude towards their best theories, and thus to be preferred.

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  1. 1.

    This ‘big picture’ paper can merely sketch this alternative vision of realism, leaving many of the details to be developed elsewhere. See Saatsi (forthcoming a, b) for related discussion.

  2. 2.

    Since the details of the positions reported here do not matter for my argument I will leave them aside.

  3. 3.

    To this extent Peters’s comments are a very much in line with my criticism of recipe realism below (§3).

    The first major objection to special accounts is that they are motivated by particular cases or types of cases that are not necessarily representative. We might concede that the mathematical structural realist and the phenomenological realist have successfully identified those theoretical elements that are intuitively essential to the Fresnel wave theory of light and the London model of superconductivity, respectively. And yet we can, and should, deny that similar analyses can be applied more generally (p. 382).

  4. 4.

    See e.g. Smeenk (2013) and Butterfield (2012) on underdetermination in cosmology, and Belot (2014) on underdetermination in geology.

  5. 5.

    An optimist may say that this only shows that the recipe is complex and difficult to figure out. I think it is more realistic to regard the whole programme of recipe realism as a degenerating one.

  6. 6.

    See also Saatsi (forthcoming a) for further discussion of Stanford’s argument in the broader context of ‘pessimistic inductions’ against realism.

  7. 7.

    My distinction between theory and attitude may have connotations of van Fraassen’s (2002) distinction between factual beliefs and epistemic stances. Examining the relationship between these distinctions calls for further work.

  8. 8.

    The statement ‘realism is correct’ is a claim not about directly about science; it is meta-level claim about the realist attitude, which itself concerns science.

  9. 9.

    For relevant ‘foundational’ treatment of the relationship between Newtonian gravity and general theory of relativity, see e.g. Malament (2012) and Fletcher (forthcoming). Barrett (2008) and Saatsi (forthcoming b) make the connection to the realism debate.


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A version of this paper was presented at New Thinking about Scientific Realism conference in Cape Town. I would like to thank the audience. Special thanks to Steven French.

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Correspondence to Juha Saatsi.

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Saatsi, J. Replacing recipe realism. Synthese 194, 3233–3244 (2017).

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  • Scientific realism
  • Selective realism
  • Pessimistic induction