Reading nature: The interpretation of scientific theories

Kyle Stanford
University of California, Irvine
1. Preliminary Reconnaissance: Realism, Instrumentalism, and Interpretation On the one hand, I think it is fair to say that philosophers recognize a special problem or question about how we are to “interpret” scientific theories only in light of their concerns about whether we are really entitled to believe what those theories say when they are interpreted in what we see as the most natural or straightforward or intuitive way. On the other hand, this fundamental worry reaches all the way back to the inception of scientific inquiry itself, no matter how liberally we conceive of that enterprise. Before the relatively recent professionalization of academic fields, such concerns were well-represented among the figures who served simultaneously as both the leading practitioners and the leading philosophers of science. This is nicely illustrated by the strident debates throughout this community in the 18th and 19th centuries concerning whether only pure inductive methods were legitimate for scientific inquiry and/or whether the competing “method of hypothesis” could produce any genuine knowledge of nature (see Laudan 1981 Ch. 8)
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