Is realism dead?

I appreciate Norton Wise’s comparison of my project in Explaining Science (1988) with that of Enlightenment scientists and philosophers. When rejecting one’s immediate philosophical predecessors, it is comforting to be able to portray oneself not as a heretic who has abandoned philosophy, but as a reformer who would return philosophy to the correct path from which his predecessors had strayed. But we cannot simply return to the ideals of the Enlightenment. Some doctrines that were fundamental to the Enlightenment picture of science must be rejected. In particular, I think we must reject the idea that the content of science is encapsulated in universal laws. And we must reject the notion that there are universal principles of rationality that justify our belief in the truth of universal laws. As Wise notes, these latter are typically “postmodern” themes, and, as such, are usually posed in explicit opposition to the modernism of the Enlightenment. It is my view that this opposition must be overcome. The overall project for the philosophy of science now is to develop an image of science that is appropriately postmodern while retaining something of the Enlightenment respect for the genuine accomplishments of modern science. To many the idea of an “enlightened postmodernism” may seem contradictory. I see it merely as an example of postmodern irony.
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