Realism, constructivism, and the naiveté of the experimental scientist


The theory of science is as old as science itself, its beginnings going back to Aristotle and possibly further. Its history includes names as prominent as Descartes, Diderot, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Wittgenstein, among others1. It is also just as heterogeneous as science itself, as it has produced a large number of different theories which can only roughly be divided into realistic and constructivistic/relativistic ones. Realists believe in scientific truths and therefore insist that scientific objects exist in reality. Constructivists, in contrast, think that scientific objects, for example quarks, are not real but constructed fictions which are useful to formulate scientific theories which may be empirically adequate to describe experimental results, but not the real world. Each of the two groups of theories comes in a number of variants which attend to different aspects not all of which appear equally plausible to the experimental scientist and lay philosopher. I therefore restrict myself to discussing schools of thought which I conceive as major, and as of some relevance to the life sciences.


Experimental Scientist Scientific Object Scientific Methodology Bacterial Transformation Robust Knowledge 
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Further reading

  1. McCarty M (1985) The transforming principle — discovery that genes are made of DNA. W.W. Norton Comp, New YorkGoogle Scholar
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  3. Bloor D (1998) The Strengths of the Strong Programme. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 11: 173Google Scholar
  4. Carnap R (1950) Logical Foundations of Probability. University of Chicago PressGoogle Scholar
  5. Hume D (1882) Essays, Moral, Political and Literary, 1742, in David Hume, The Philosophical Works, ed. Green H, Grose HH, google.books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. MacIntyre A (1969) Hume on ‘Is’ and ‘Ought’. In: Hudson (ed): The Is-Ought Question. MacMillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Stove DC (1965) Hume, Probability, and Induction. The Philosophical Review Vol. LXXIV, No. 2Google Scholar
  8. Stove DC (1975) Hume, the Causal Principle, and Kemp Smith. Hume Studies Vol. I, No. 1Google Scholar

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