Putnam on realism, reference and truth: The problem with quantum mechanics

In this essay, I offer a critical evaluation of Hilary Putnam's writings on epistemology and philosophy of science, in particular his engagement with interpretative problems in quantum mechanics. I trace the development of his thinking from the late 1960s when he adopted a strong causal-realist position on issues of meaning, reference, and truth, via the "internal realist" approach of his middle-period writings, to the various forms of pragmatist, naturalized, or "commonsense" epistemology proposed in his latest books. My contention is that Putnam's retreat from a full-fledged realist outlook has been prompted in large part by his belief that it cannot possibly be reconciled with the implications of quantum mechanics for our understanding of processes and events in the subatomic domain. However, I suggest, this response should be seen as premature given the range of as-yet unresolved problems with quantum mechanics on the orthodox (Copenhagen) interpretation and also the existence of an alternative account - David Bohm's hidden-variables theory - which perfectly matches the established predictive-observational results while providing a credible realist ontology. I also examine Putnam's case for adopting a nonstandard (three-valued) "quantum logic" in relation to the thinking of other philosophers - Michael Dummett among them - who have espoused a more global or doctrinaire version of anti-realism. I conclude that Putnam's early (causal-realist) position is by no means untenable in light of the various arguments that he now takes as counting decisively against it.
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DOI 10.1080/02698590020029314
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