Scientific realism, Ramsey sentences and the reference of theoretical terms

It is often thought that questions of reference are crucial in assessing scientific realism, construed as the view that successful theories are at least approximately true descriptions of the unobservable; realism is justified only if terms in empirically successful theories generally refer to genuinely existing entities or properties. In this paper this view is questioned. First, it is argued that there are good reasons to think that questions of realism are largely decided by convention and carry no epistemic significance. An alternative conception of realism is then proposed, which focuses on the Ramsey sentences of scientific theories, constructed in the manner of David Lewis's 'How to define theoretical terms'. It is argued that because the Ramsey sentence of a theory preserves the epistemically significant part of the theory's content without generating commitments to any particular conclusions about reference, the realism issue is better addressed by asking whether Ramsey sentences of theories, rather than the theories themselves, are approximately true.
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DOI 10.1080/0269859042000296495
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References found in this work BETA
David Lewis (1983). New Work for a Theory of Universals. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61 (December):343-377.
Hilary Putnam (1975). The Meaning of 'Meaning'. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.
David Lewis (1979). Scorekeeping in a Language Game. Journal of Philosophical Logic 8 (1):339--359.
David Lewis (1984). Putnam's Paradox. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (3):221 – 236.

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Citations of this work BETA
Pierre Cruse (2005). Ramsey Sentences, Structural Realism and Trivial Realization. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 36 (3):557-576.

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