The anti-philosophical stance, the realism question and scientific practice

Foundations of Science 11 (4):369-397 (2006)
Abstract
In recent years a general consensus has been developing in the philosophy of science to the effect that strong social constructivist accounts are unable to adequately account for scientific practice. Recently, however, a number of commentators have formulated an attenuated version of constructivism that purports to avoid the difficulties that plague the stronger claims of its predecessors. Interestingly this attenuated form of constructivism finds philosophical support from a relatively recent turn in the literature concerning scientific realism. Arthur Fine and a number of other commentators have argued that the realism debate ought to be abandoned. The rationale for this argument is that the debate is sterile for it has, it is claimed, no consequence for actual scientific practice, and therefore does not advance our understanding of science or its practice. Recent “softer” accounts of social constructivism also hold a similar agnostic stance to the realism question. I provide a survey of these various agnostic stances and show how they form a general position that I shall refer to as “the anti-philosophical stance”. I then demonstrate that the anti-philosophical stance fails by identifying difficulties that attend its proposal to ban philosophical interpretation. I also provide examples of instances where philosophical stances to the realism question affect scientific practice.
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