Is Water H2O? pp 203-251 | Cite as

Active Realism and the Reality of H2O

  • Hasok Chang
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 293)


Is water really H2O? Did that become a secure piece of scientific knowledge by the 1860s, after the developments that were discussed in the first three chapters of this book? I conclude that water is H2O, but also other things, really. Inspired by the history of water, I take a new approach to the debate on scientific realism, which argues that realism should be taken as a commitment to maximize our learning from reality, exploring and preserving any promising paths of inquiry. I designate my position as active scientific realism, which differs from standard scientific realism but accommodates useful insights from all sides of the realism debate and incorporates key epistemological insights from a wide variety of traditions from falsificationism to pragmatism. I take reality as whatever is not subject to one’s will, and knowledge as an ability to act without being frustrated by resistance from reality. This perspective allows an optimistic rendition of the pessimistic induction, which celebrates the fact that we can be successful in science without even knowing the truth. The standard realist argument from success to truth is shown to be ill-defined and flawed. I also reconsider what it means for science to be “mature”, and identify humility rather than hubris as the proper basis of maturity. The active realist ideal is not truth or certainty, but a continual and pluralistic pursuit of knowledge.


Active Realism Scientific Realism Correspondence Theory External Reality Realist Argument 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hasok Chang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of Science Free School LaneUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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