A Model-Theoretic Realism

  • Emma Ruttkamp
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 311)


The realism issue threads through all of the above, whether in the statement account context from Feigl’s form of realism to Carnap’s “neutralism”, or in the non-statement context where mostly we find various forms of anti-realism, except when the notion of truth is addressed in terms of truthlikeness, such as in Niiniluoto’s case. No examination of the nature of scientific theories can be complete without addressing the relations between these theories and reality. In a model-theoretic model of science such as mine the basic ontological assumption made is that science is about something that exists independently of it. This ontological assumption has however as little metaphysical content as is possible. Claiming that reality exists “outside” of human practice neither means that reality is unknowable nor, at the other extreme of the scale, that science simply mirrors it.


Scientific Theory Scientific Progress Scientific Realism Scientific Revolution Empirical Adequacy 
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Notes: Chapter 5

  1. 2.
    In a recent spirited defense of “causal realism” Christopher Norris (1997) also offers a criticism of the anti-realism implied by Van Fraassen’s “constructive realism”. (See Norris (1997, Chapters 6 and 7).)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    I have already briefly commented on this issue in Chapters 3 and 4.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Spurrett (1998) for a thorough discussion of this aspect of Bhaskar’s transcendental realism.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Speaking of the “contingent” nature of data is not meant to sound frivolous, but rather to refer to the verification of the validity of data via the various models of some scientific theory. (See Section 2.7 again in this context.)Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Here I agree with Kuhn’s (1977, p.267) description of the “intimate and inevitable entanglement of scientific observation with scientific theory” that leads — as Kuhn (ibid.) also remarks — to a certain skepticism concerning the production of a “neutral observation language”.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    I thank Professor Johannes Heidema of the Department of Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, and Astronomy at the University of South Africa for this metaphor.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Nancy Nersessian (1984, p.153) writes that a discussion of a concept of meaning that would be adequate for scientific theories should be given in terms of the following two factors. The study of nature and an analysis of language, as well as an analysis of “actual scientific practices concerning meaning” (ibid.). She (ibid.) claims that it is impossible to separate questions of meaning from the “network of beliefs (theoretical, methodological, metaphysical, common sense) and problems (theoretical, experimental, and metaphysical) which provides the ‘motive force’ in meaning construction” (ibid.). She (ibid., p.156) continues to describe the meaning of a scientific concept as “a two-dimensional array which is constructed on the basis of its descriptive/explanatory function as it develops over time. I will call this array a `meaning scheme”’. (This reminds somewhat of the positivists’s linguistic frameworks (see Chapter 3), and also of Davidson’s (1984) “conceptual schemes”.)Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    See Carnap (1956b), and also Chapter 3. “ See Heidema, J. and H.J. Schutte (1978).Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    In section X of The structure…, Kuhn (1970, p.126) asks: “But is sensory experience fixed and neutral? Are theories simply man-made interpretations of given data?”. And he answers: “… Yes! In the absence of a developed alternative, I find it impossible to relinquish entirely that viewpoint. Yet it no longer functions effectively, and the attempts to make it do so through the introduction of a neutral language of observations [Quine] now seem to me hopeless”. In the Postscript, Kuhn (1970, p.193) tries to solve his problem by drawing clear distinctions between sensory “stimuli” and “sensations” or “perceptions”. He (ibid.) writes: “Notice now that two groups, the members of which have systematically different sensations on receipt of the same stimuli, do in some sense live in different worlds. We posit the existence of stimuli to explain our perceptions of the world, and we posit their immutability to avoid both individual and social solipsism. About neither posit have I the slightest reservation. But our world is populated in the first instance not by stimuli but by the objects of our sensations, and these need not be the same, individual to individual or group to group”. And, he continues to say that it is because we have been conditioned to see a one-to-one mapping between stimuli and sensations, that we have such difficulty in recognising that the two viewers actually see different things. In reality, we should — and do — know that the same stimulus may produce very different sensations and that very different stimuli can produce the same sensations.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    See his article in Tauber (1997).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Kuhn describes (Tauber, 1997, p.233) the meaning of these terms as “part of what one must have in the head to use the word properly”.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    See also Cook, A. (1994). The observational foundations of physics. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Newton “did not produce mere mathematical constructs or abstractions that were devoid of any content of reality other than ‘saving the phenomena’, but he did create what he conceived to be purely mathematical counterparts of simplified and idealised physical situations that could later be brought into relation with the conditions of reality as revealed by experiment and observation” (Sarlemijn and Sparnaay, 1989, p.6). He also preferred synthetic geometry to Descartes’s analytical geometry and even to his own calculus, because both the latter have levels of proof without any clear physical interpretation. Berkeley even referred to the infmitesimals in Newton’s calculus as “the ghosts of departed quantities”.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Newton affirmed Aristotle’s inductive-deductive method — he called it the “method of analysis and synthesis” Newton declared that “although the arguing from experiments and observations by induction be no demonstration of general conclusions, yet it is the best way of arguing which the nature of things admits of (Newton, 1952, p.404).Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Note that, in principle, it is possible to deduce the movement of “Neurath’s bill” perfectly from Newton’s laws. The real system is in this case simply too complex to be able to actually make this deduction in practice.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Cartwright refers to this too.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    As the criticism of “fundamentalist realist” theories of science aptly shows.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    This notion of capacities might remind of Popper’s propensities. See Popper (1990).Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    In addressing the testability of causal claims, Cartwright uses probabilities, while the Humean tradition reduced causal laws to probabilities. She says: “I defend a very different understanding of the concept of Natural Law in modem science from the `Laws = universal regularities’ account… We aim in science, I urge, to discover the natures of things; we try to find out what powers or capacities they have and in what circumstances and in what ways these capacities can be harnessed to produce predictable behaviours. I call this the study of natures because I want to recall the Aristotelian idea that science aims to understand what things are, and a large part of understanding what they are is to understand what they can do, regularly and as a matter of course.” (Cartwright, 1995c, p.277). Ceteris paribus clauses can, however, it seems, not be escaped — “In order to generate a prediction [or, give an explanation] we must figure out how to combine the laws together and how to cash-out their ceteris paribus conditions — and we must do so in a way that takes into account the specific material circumstances of the situation under consideration” (Cartwright, 1995a, p.155). The way to do this then, is to assume the existence of capacities (as has already been pointed out) — “The point is that the fundamental facts about nature that ensure that regularities can obtain are not again themselves regularities. They are facts about what things can do” (ibid., p. 156 ).Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    See Clarke (1998) as well.Google Scholar
  22. 24.
    Note that, in principle, the language in question need not be a formal language at all. Almost any kind of scientific linguistic expression may be formalised in some first-order language and its interpretations reconstructed in a model-theoretic way.Google Scholar
  23. 25.
    Niiniluoto (1999, pp.139ff.) points out that for instance Ronald Giere’s constructive realism in which a theory is true in a model, and the model is “similar” to a real system generates truthlikeness.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    Don’t leave out Galison (1987) and (1997) who offers a treasure trove for the philosopher in this respect.Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    Think of the notion of so-called “picture theories”, and of logical atomism, for instance.Google Scholar
  26. 28.
    This seems to be the basic idea of Kripke’s Naming and necessity (1980).Google Scholar
  27. 29.
    Of course she also is referring to the idealised nature of the models interpreting the fundamental laws of physics when she speaks of the falsity of these laws. That is however a different issue, addressed in Chapters 4 and 5.Google Scholar
  28. 30.
    See Lewis (1970) for a good illustration of the syntactic scheme of things.Google Scholar
  29. 31.
    Perhaps the reason for this is simply the historical psychological “feeling” that numbers and sets are somehow unique entities (floating around somewhere).Google Scholar
  30. 35.
    Hintikka (1989, p.55) remarks that this domain can be so particular that it can be characterised as a small world, that is, a relatively short course of local events in some nook or corner of the actual world”.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma Ruttkamp
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophical Society of Southern AfricaSouth Africa

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