Defense of a Modest Scientific Realism

  • Alan Sokal
  • Jean Bricmont
Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


We examine some basic epistemological problems (notably the underde-termination of theory by evidence) and discuss the difficulties faced by both realism and instrumentalism. We also offer some brief comments on radical relativism and radical redefinitions of truth. We conclude by sketching what seems to us to be a defensible modest realism, and we point out its relation with the picture of the world provided by the renormalization group in physics.


Newtonian Mechanic Empirical Adequacy Theoretical Entity Unobservable Entity Fundamental Ontology 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brandom, Robert B. (ed.; 2000 ), Rorty and His Critics. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  2. Collins, Harry M. (2001), “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home.” In: Labinger/Collins (eds.; 2001 ), pp. 156–166.Google Scholar
  3. Davidson, Donald (2000), “Truth Rehabilitated.” IN: Brandom (ED.; 2000), pp. 65–74 (with Response by Richard Rorty on pp. 74–80 ).Google Scholar
  4. Halbach, Volker (2001), “How Innocent is Deflationism?” Synthese, vol. 126, pp. 167–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Horwich, Paul (21998a), Truth. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Horwich, Paul (1998b), Meaning. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Horwich, Paul (2001), “A Defense of Minimalism,” Synthese, vol. 126, pp. 149–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Labinger, Jay A. and Harry M. Collins (eds.; 2001 ), The One Culture? AConversation about Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Mühlhölzer, Felix (2001), “Die Debatte um die Objektivität der Wissen- schaft,” Deutsche Zeitschriftfür Philosophie, vol. 49, pp. 151–166.Google Scholar
  10. Pannekoek, Anton (1953), “The Discovery of Neptune,” Centaurus, vol. 3, p. 134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Weinberg, Steven (2001), “Peace at Last?” In: LABINGER/COLLINS (eds.; 2001 ), pp. 238–240.Google Scholar
  12. Williams, Michael (1991), Unnatural Doubts: Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  13. Albert, Michael (1998), “Rorty the public philosopher,” Z Magazine, November, pp. 40–44.Google Scholar
  14. Aronowitz, Stanley (1988), Science as Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. Minnapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  15. Barnes, S. Barry and DavidBloor (1981), “Relativism, rationalism and the sociology of knowledge.” In: HOLLIS/LUKES (eds.; 1981 ), pp. 21–47.Google Scholar
  16. Boghossian, Paul (1996), “What the Sokal hoax ought to teach us,” Times Literary Supplement, December 13, pp. 14–15 [Reprinted in: Koertge (ed.; 1998), pp. 23–31].Google Scholar
  17. Bohm, David (21984), Causality and Chance in Modern Physics. London: Rout-ledge and Kegan Paul [First published in 1957 ].Google Scholar
  18. Bricmont, Jean and Alan D. Sokal (2001), “Science and Sociology of Science: Beyond War and Peace.” In: Labinger/Collins (eds.; 2001), pp. 27–47, 179–183 and 243–254.Google Scholar
  19. Brown, James R. (2001), Who Rules in Science? An Opinionated Guide to the Wars. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Collins, Harry M. (1981), “Stages in the empirical programme of relativism,” Social Studies of Science, vol. 11, pp. 3–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Crane, H. R. (1968), “The g factor of the electron,” Scientific American, vol 218, no. 1, pp. 72–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Curd, Martin and Jan A. Cover (eds.; 1998 ), Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  23. Devitt, Michael (21997), Realism and Truth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Einstein, Albert (1949), “Remarks concerning the essays brought together in this co-operative volume.” In: SCHILPP (ed.; 1949 ), pp. 665–688.Google Scholar
  25. Feigl, Herbert and GroverMaxwell (eds.; 1962 ), Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 3. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  26. Gergen, Kenneth J. (1988), “Feminist critique of science and the challenge of social epistemology.” In: Mccanney Gergen (ed.; 1988), pp. 27–48.Google Scholar
  27. Grosser, Morton (1962), The Discovery of Neptune. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Haack, Susan (1993), Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  29. Haack, Susan (1997), “We pragmatists…: Peirce and Rorty in conversation,” Partisan Review, vol. LXIV, no.1, pp. 91–107 [Reprinted in HAACK (1998), chapter 2].Google Scholar
  30. Haack, Susan (1998), Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hilgevoord, Jan (ed.; 1994 ), Physics and our View of the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Hollis, Martin and Steven Lukes (eds.; 1981 ), Rationality and Relativism. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Hume, David (1988), An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Amherst: Prometheus [First published in 1748 ].Google Scholar
  34. Kinoshita, Toichiro (1995), “New value of the 03 electron anomalous magnetic moment,” Physical Review Letters, vol. 75, pp. 4728–4731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kitcher, Philip (1998), “A plea for Science Studies.” In: Koertge (ed.; 1998 ), pp. 32–56.Google Scholar
  36. Koertge, Noretta (ed.; 1998 ), A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  37. Labinger, Jay A. and Harry M. Collins (eds.; 2001 ), The One Culture? AConversation about Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Latour, Bruno (1987), Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineersthrough Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Latour, Bruno (1998), “Ramsès II est-il mort de la tuberculose?” La Recherche, no.307, pp. 84–85. See also the errata 308 (April), p. 85 and 309 (May), p. 7.Google Scholar
  40. Laudan, Larry (1990), “Demystifying underdetermination”, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 14, pp. 267–297 [Reprinted in: Laudan (1996 ), Chapter 2].Google Scholar
  41. Laudan, Larry (1996), Beyond Positivism and Relativism: Theory, Method, and Evidence. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  42. Lautrup, Benny and HenrikZinkernagel (1999), “g-2 and the trust in experimental results,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, vol. 30B, pp. 85–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Leplin, Jarrett (ed.; 1984 ), Scientific Realism. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  44. Mawhin, Jean (1996), “La Terre tourne-t-elle? À propos de la philosophie scientifique de Poincaré.” In: STOFFEL (ed.; 1996 ), pp. 215–252.Google Scholar
  45. Maxwell, Grover (1962), “The ontological status of theoretical entities”. In: Feigl/Maxwell (eds.; 1962), pp. 3–27 [Reprinted in: CURD/COVER (eds.; 1998), pp. 1052–1063].Google Scholar
  46. Maxwell, Nicholas (1998), The Comprehensibility of the Universe: A New Conception of Science. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  47. MccanneyGergen, Mary (ed.; 1988 ), Feminist Thought and the Structure of Knowledge. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Mccormick, Brad (2001), or /group/Scipolicy-L/message/173 (22 May).Google Scholar
  49. Mcginn, Colin (1993), Problems in Philosophy The Limits of Inquiry. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  50. Mermin, N. David (1998), “The science of science: A physicist reads Barnes, Bloor and Henry,” Social Studies of Science, vol. 28, pp. 603–623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Moore, Patrick (21996), The Planet Neptune Chichester: John Wiley and Sons. Nagel, Thomas (1997), The Last Word New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Nagel, Thomas (1998), “The sleep of reason,” The New Republic, October 12, pp. 32–38.Google Scholar
  53. Poincaré, Henri (1904), “La Terre tourne-t-elle?” Bulletin de la société astronomique de France, vol. XVIII, pp. 216–217.Google Scholar
  54. Quine, WillardVanOrman (ed.; 21980a), From a Logical Point of View, revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press [First published in 1953 ].Google Scholar
  55. Quine, WillardVanOrman (21980b), “Two dogmas of empiricism.” In: QUINE (ed.; 1980a), pp. 20–46.Google Scholar
  56. Rorty, Richard (1998), Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Russell, Bertrand (21961), History of Western Philosophy. London: George Allen and Unwin [First published in 1946 ].Google Scholar
  58. Russell, Bertrand (1995), My Philosophical Development. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul [First published in 1959 ].Google Scholar
  59. Schilpp, Paul A. (ed.; 1949 ), Albert Einstein, Philosopher-Scientist. Evanston: Library of Living Philosophers.Google Scholar
  60. Sokal, Alan D. and Jean Bricmont (1998), Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science. London: Profile Books [Published in the US and Canada under the title `Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science’. New York: Picador, 1998. Published in German under the title ‘Eleganter Unsinn: Wie die Denker der Postmoderne die Wissenschaft missbrauchen’. München: C. H. Beck, 1999. Originally published in French under the title `Impostures intellectuelles’. Paris: Odile Jacob, 1997 ].Google Scholar
  61. Stoffel, Jean-François (ed.; 1996 ), Le Réalisme: Contributions au séminaire d’histoire des sciences1993–1994. Louvain-la-Neuve: Réminisciences.Google Scholar
  62. VanDyck, Robert S.,.112., PAUL B. SCHWINBERG, and HANS G. DEHMELT (1987), “New high-precision comparison of electron and positron g factors,” Physical Review Letters, vol. 59, pp. 26–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. VanFraassen, Bas C. (1994), “Discussion.” In: Hilgevoord (ed.; 1994 ), pp. 255–294.Google Scholar
  64. Weinberg, Steven (1992), Dreams of a Final Theory. New York: Pantheon. WEINBERG, STEVEN (1998), “The revolution that didn’t happen,” New York Review of Books, vol. 45, no.15, October 8, pp. 48–52.Google Scholar
  65. Wilson, Kenneth G. (1979), “Problems in physics with many scales of length,” Scientific American, vol. 241 (August), pp. 158–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Sokal
  • Jean Bricmont

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations