Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 299–313 | Cite as

A Pragmatic Case against Pragmatic Scientific Realism



Pragmatic Scientific Realism (PSR) urges us to take up the realist aim or the goal of truth although we have good reason to think that the goal can neither be attained nor approximated. While Newton-Smith thinks that pursuing what we know we cannot achieve is clearly irrational, Rescher disagrees and contends that pursuing an unreachable goal can be rational on pragmatic grounds—if in pursuing the unreachable goal one can get indirect benefits. I have blocked this attempt at providing a pragmatic justification for the realist aim of PSR on precisely the same pragmatic grounds—since there is a competing alternative to PSR, and the alternative can provide whatever indirect benefits PSR can offer while being less risky than it is, prudential reasoning favours the alternative to PSR. This undermines the pragmatic case for the realist aim of science since the instrumentalist alternative does not aim at the truth.


Pragmatism Scientific realism Constructive empiricism Instrumentalism Nicholas Rescher 



I am grateful to Peter Lipton for his insightful comments on an early draft of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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