The semantic or model-theoretic view of theories and scientific realism

Synthese 127 (3):325 - 345 (2001)
The semantic view of theoriesis one according to which theoriesare construed as models of their linguisticformulations. The implications of thisview for scientific realism have been little discussed. Contraryto the suggestion of various champions of the semantic view,it is argued that this approach does not makesupport for a plausible scientific realism anyless problematic than it might otherwise be.Though a degree of independence of theory fromlanguage may ensure safety frompitfalls associated with logical empiricism, realism cannot be entertained unless models or (abstractedand/or idealized) aspects thereof are spelled out in terms of linguistic formulations (such as mathematical equations),which can be interpreted in terms of correspondencewith the world. The putative advantage of thesemantic approach – its linguistic independence – isthus of no help to the realist. I consider recent treatmentsof the model-theoretic view (Suppe, Giere, Smith), and find that although some of these accounts harbour the promiseof realism, this promise is deceptive.
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