This article explores the relationship between epistemic relativism and Pyrrhonian scepticism. It is argued that a fundamental argument for contemporary epistemic relativism derives from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. Pyrrhonian scepticism is compared and contrasted with Cartesian scepticism about the external world and Humean scepticism about induction. Epistemic relativism is characterized as relativism due to the variation of epistemic norms, and is contrasted with other forms of cognitive relativism, such as truth relativism, conceptual relativism and ontological relativism. An argument (...) from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion to epistemic relativism is presented, and is contrasted with three other arguments for epistemic relativism. It is argued that the argument from the criterion is the most fundamental argument for epistemic relativism. Finally, it is noted how the argument of the present paper fits with the author’s previous suggestion that a particularist response to the Pyrrhonian sceptic may be combined with a naturalistic view of epistemic warrant to meet the challenge of epistemic relativism. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between scepticism and epistemic relativism in the context of recent history and philosophy of science. More specifically, it seeks to show that significant treatments of epistemic relativism by influential figures in the history and philosophy of science draw upon the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. The paper begins with a presentation of the problem of the criterion as it occurs in the work of Sextus Empiricus. It is then shown that significant treatments of epistemic relativism (...) in recent history and philosophy of science (critical rationalism, historical philosophy of science and the strong programme) draw upon the problem of the criterion. It is briefly suggested that a particularist response to the problem of the criterion may be put to good use against epistemic relativism. (shrink)
This paper is a response to an objection that Markus Seidel has made to my analysis of epistemic relativism. Seidel argues that the epistemic relativist is unable to base a relativist account of justification on the sceptical problem of the criterion in the way that I have suggested in earlier work. In response to Seidel, I distinguish between weak and strong justification, and argue that all the relativist needs is weak justification. In addition, I explain my reasons for employing the (...) idiom of objectivity rather than that of absolutism which Seidel prefers. -/- . (shrink)
This paper presents a naturalistic response to the challenge of epistemic relativism. The case of the Azande poison oracle is employed as an example of an alternative epistemic norm which may be used to justify beliefs about everyday occurrences. While a distinction is made between scepticism and relativism, an argument in support of epistemic relativism is presented that is based on the sceptical problem of the criterion. A response to the resulting relativistic position is then provided on the basis of (...) a particularist response to scepticism combined with a naturalistic approach to the warrant of epistemic norms. It is argued that it is possible to comparatively assess the ability of epistemic norms to lead to epistemic aims. As against the epistemic relativist, it is possible to provide an objective basis for the choice between alternative epistemic norms. (shrink)
This paper revisits one of the key ideas developed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In particular, it explores the methodological form of incommensurability which may be found in the original edition of Structure. It is argued that such methodological incommensurability leads to a form of epistemic relativism. In later work, Kuhn moved away from the original idea of methodological incommensurability with his idea of a set of epistemic values that provides a basis for rational theory choice, but do not (...) constitute an algorithm for such choice. The paper also explores the sceptical basis for the epistemic relativism of the original view that Kuhn proposes in Structure. It suggests that the main sceptical rationale for such relativism may be avoided by a particularist and naturalist conception of epistemic normativity. When this approach is combined with the appeal to external methodological standards endorsed by the later Kuhn and his critics, the epistemic relativism of Structure may be completely repudiated. (shrink)
Since 1962 Kuhn's concept of incommensurability has undergone a process of transformation. His current account of incommensurability has little in common with his original account of it. Originally, incommensurability was a relation of methodological, observational and conceptual disparity between paradigms. Later Kuhn restricted the notion to the semantical sphere and assimilated it to the indeterminacy of translation. Recently he has developed an account of it as localized translation failure between subsets of terms employed by theories.
This paper reviews the situation with respect to the referential approach to the problem of semantic incommensurability. It argues that the thesis of semantic incommensurability does not pose a significant threat to scientific realism. However, there exists a "non-realist" defence of incommensurability, according to which the referential approach begs the question against advocates of the incommensurability thesis. This defence is criticized, and the basis for a realist response to incommensurability is presented.
Scientific realism is the position that the aim of science is to advance on truth and increase knowledge about observable and unobservable aspects of the mind-independent world which we inhabit. This book articulates and defends that position. In presenting a clear formulation and addressing the major arguments for scientific realism Sankey appeals to philosophers beyond the community of, typically Anglo-American, analytic philosophers of science to appreciate and understand the doctrine. The book emphasizes the epistemological aspects of scientific realism and contains (...) an original solution to the problem of induction that rests on an appeal to the principle of uniformity of nature. (shrink)
In a shift of position that has gone largely unnoticed by the great majority of commentators, Thomas Kuhn's version of the incommensurability thesis underwent a major transformation over the last decade and a half of his life. In his later work, Kuhn argued that incommensurability is a relation of translation failure between local subsets of interdefined theoretical terms, which encapsulate the taxonomic structure of a theory. Incommensurability arises because it is impossible to transfer the natural categories employed within one taxonomic (...) structure into the categorial system of another such structure. Apparently on the basis of such taxonomic incommensurability, Kuhn asserted a number of antirealist theses about truth, reference and reality. In this paper, it will be argued, however, that, far from leading to antirealist consequences about the relationship between theory and reality, the taxonomic incommensurability thesis may be incorporated unproblematically within a reasonably robust scientific realist framework. (shrink)
Some think that issues to do with scientific method are last century's stale debate; Popper was an advocate of methodology, but Kuhn, Feyerabend, and others are alleged to have brought the debate about its status to an end. The papers in this volume show that issues in methodology are still very much alive. Some of the papers reinvestigate issues in the debate over methodology, while others set out new ways in which the debate has developed in the last decade. The (...) book will be of interest to philosophers and scientists alike in the reassessment it provides of earlier debates about method and current directions of research. (shrink)
This paper examines the question of whether scientific realism is committed to the inevitability of science or is consistent with claims of the contingency of science. In order to address this question, a general characterization of the position of scientific realism is presented. It is then argued that scientific realism has no evident implications with regard to the inevitability of science. A historical case study is presented in which contingency plays a significant role, and the appropriate realist response to this (...) case study is indicated. Finally, it is argued that, when conjoined with a reliabilist theory of method, realism does have implications for the inevitability of science. (shrink)
The incommensurability thesis is the thesis that the content of some alternative scientific theories is incomparable due to translation failure between the vocabulary the theories employ. This paper presents an overview of the main issues which have arisen in the debate about incommensurability. It also briefly outlines a response to the thesis based on a modified causal theory of reference which allows change of reference subsequent to initial baptism, as well as a role to description in the determination of reference. (...) On such a view. the content of theories may be compared on the basis of shared reference, despite failure of translation. Two recent developments involving the incomnensurability thesis are also examined: (i) the taxonomic version of the incomensurability thesis found in Kuhn’s later writings. (ii) Hoyningen-Huenc’s neo-Kantian interpretation of Kuhn’s metaphysics. (shrink)
This paper considers the relationship between science and common sense. It takes as its point of departure, Eddington’s distinction between the table of physics and the table of common sense, as well as Eddington’s suggestion that science shows common sense to be false. Against the suggestion that science shows common sense to be false, it is argued that there is a form of common sense, basic common sense, which is not typically overthrown by scientific research. Such basic common sense is (...) strongly confirmed by our everyday experience and may itself serve as the basic for scientific realism. (shrink)
This paper responds to criticism presented by Steven Bland of my naturalistic approach to epistemic relativism. In my view, the central argument for epistemic relativism derives from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. This opens relativism to an anti-sceptical response. I combine Roderick Chisholm’s particularist response to the problem of the criterion with a reliabilist conception of epistemic warrant. A distinction is made between epistemic norms which provide genuine warrant and those which do not. On the basis of this distinction, (...) we may reject the relativist claim that all epistemic norms have equal standing. I consider three points made by Bland against my position. These relate to epistemic pluralism, the relevance of evolution to epistemic pluralism, and empirical evidence as a basic source of knowledge. (shrink)
This paper addresses the relationship between the history and philosophy of science by way of the issue of epistemic normativity. After brief discussion of the relationship between history and philosophy of science in Kuhn’s own thinking, the paper focuses on the implications of the history of science for epistemic normativity. There may be historical evidence for change of scientific methodology, which may seem to support a position of epistemic relativism. However, the fact that the methods of science undergo variation does (...) not entail that epistemic justification varies with the methods employed by scientists. In order to arrive at the relativist conclusion, an epistemological argument is required that justification depends upon operative methods. This raises the question of epistemic normativity. Kuhn himself attempted to deal with this question on a number of occasions, but without success. Following brief discussion of Kuhn on this topic, the paper then turns to the treatment of epistemic normativity in the work of Lakatos, Laudan and Worrall. Lakatos and Laudan proposed that particular episodes from the history of science might be employed to adjudicate between alternative theories of method. Such episodes are selected on the basis of value judgements or pre-analytic intuitions, but such value judgements and intuitions are themselves problematic. Laudan later proposed the normative naturalist view that a rule of method is to be evaluated empirically on the basis of its reliability in conducing to a desired cognitive aim. Against this attempt to naturalize meta-methodology, Worrall argued that the normative force of the appeal to past reliability requires an a priori inductive principle. In my view, the problem of epistemic normativity is solved by combining the particularist focus on specific episodes in the history of science with the naturalistic account of the reliability of method. (shrink)
This paper presents a particularist and naturalist response to epistemic relativism. The response is based on an analysis of the source of epistemic relativism, according to which epistemic relativism is closely related to Pyrrhonian scepticism. The paper starts with a characterization of epistemic relativism. Such relativism is explicitly distinguished from epistemological contextualism. Next the paper presents an argument for epistemic relativism that is based on the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. It then considers a response to the problem of the (...) criterion proposed by Roderick Chisholm, which is based on epistemological particularism. After sketching Chisholm’s approach, a response to epistemic relativism is presented which combines Chisholm’s particularism with epistemic naturalism and reliabilism. A number of objections to the position are then considered. The paper ends with remarks about the relationship between particularism and the naturalistic response proposed to epistemic relativism. (shrink)
There are two chief tasks which confront the philosophy of scientific method. The first task is to specify the methodology which serves as the objective ground for scientific theory appraisal and acceptance. The second task is to explain how application of this methodology leads to advance toward the aim(s) of science. In other words, the goal of the theory of method is to provide an integrated explanation of both rational scientific theory choice and scientific progress.
This paper describes the position of scientific realism and presents the basic lines of argument for the position. Simply put, scientific realism is the view that the aim of science is knowledge of the truth about observable and unobservable aspects of a mind-independent, objective reality. Scientific realism is supported by several distinct lines of argument. It derives from a non-anthropocentric conception of our place in the natural world, and it is grounded in the epistemology and metaphysics of common sense. Further, (...) the success of science entitles us to infer both the approximate truth of mature scientific theories and the truth-conduciveness of the methods of science. (shrink)
What is it to be scientific? Is there such a thing as scientific method? And if so, how might such methods be justified? Robert Nola and Howard Sankey seek to provide answers to these fundamental questions in their exploration of the major recent theories of scientific method. Although for many scientists their understanding of method is something they just pick up in the course of being trained, Nola and Sankey argue that it is possible to be explicit about what this (...) tacit understanding of method is, rather than leave it as some unfathomable mystery. They robustly defend the idea that there is such a thing as scientific method and show how this might be legitimated. This book begins with the question of what methodology might mean and explores the notions of values, rules and principles, before investigating how methodologists have sought to show that our scientific methods are rational. Part 2 of this book sets out some principles of inductive method and examines its alternatives including abduction, IBE, and hypothetico-deductivism. Part 3 introduces probabilistic modes of reasoning, particularly Bayesianism in its various guises, and shows how it is able to give an account of many of the values and rules of method. Part 4 considers the ideas of philosophers who have proposed distinctive theories of method such as Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend and Part 5 continues this theme by considering philosophers who have proposed naturalised theories of method such as Quine, Laudan and Rescher. This book offers readers a comprehensive introduction to the idea of scientific method and a wide-ranging discussion of how historians of science, philosophers of science and scientists have grappled with the question over the last fifty years. (shrink)
The contemporary debate between scientific realism and anti-realism is conditioned by a polarity between two opposing arguments: the realist’s success argument and the anti-realist’s pessimistic induction. This polarity has skewed the debate away from the problem that lies at the source of the debate. From a realist point of view, the historical approach to the philosophy of science which came to the fore in the 1960s gave rise to an unsatisfactory conception of scientific progress. One of the main motivations for (...) the scientific realist appeal to the success of science was the need to provide a substantive account of the progress of science as an increase of knowledge about the same entities as those referred to by earlier theories in the history of science. But the idea that a substantive conception of progress requires continuity of reference has faded from the contemporary debate. In this paper, I revisit the historical movement in the philosophy of science in an attempt to resuscitate the original agenda of the debate about scientific realism. I also briefly outline the way in which the realist should employ the theory of reference as the basis for a robust account of scientific progress which will satisfy realist requirements. (shrink)
Traditional epistemology is haunted by the spectre of scepticism. Yet the more pressing concern in the contemporary intellectual scene must surely be relativism rather than scepticism. This has been the case in the history and philosophy of science since the work of Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, to say nothing of the emergence of the sociology of scientific knowledge.In Epistemic Relativism: A Constructive Critique, Markus Seidel comes firmly to grips with this modern spectre. Though Seidel devotes attention to other forms (...) of relativism, the primary focus of the book is epistemic relativism, which he understands to be relativism about epistemic justification. Relativist or relativist-tending authors such as Kuhn, Nelson Goodman, Martin Kusch, Richard Rorty and Peter Winch receive some discussion . But Seidel takes as his main relativist target the work of the founding figures of the Edinburgh “strong programme”, Barry Barnes and David Bloor. While .. (shrink)
The paper discusses the version of entity realism presented by Ian Hacking in his book, Representing and Intervening. Hacking holds that an ontological form of scientific realism, entity realism, may be defended on the basis of experimental practices which involve the manipulation of unobservable entities. There is much to be said in favour of the entity realist position that Hacking defends, especially the pragmatist orientation of his approach to realism. But there are problems with the position. The paper explores two (...) issues that reflect negatively on Hacking’s version of the entity realist position. The first issue relates to the role of description in fixing the reference of theoretical terms. The second issue relates to Hacking’s claim that the argument for entity realism based on experiment is a different kind of argument from the standard argument for scientific realism based on the success of science. (shrink)
At stake in the classical realism-debate is the clash between realist and anti-realist positions. In recent years, the classical form of this debate has undergone a double transformation. On the one hand, the champions of realism began to pay more attention to the interpretative dimensions of scientific research. On the other hand, anti-realists of various sorts realized that the rejection of the hypostatization of a “reality out there” does not imply the denial of working out a philosophically adequate concept of (...) reality. Against the background of this double transformation, new arguments in the realism-debate emerged. The present Introduction is an attempt at systematizing these arguments within the spectrum of doctrines between the poles of scientific realism (exposed and defended by Howard Sankey) and hermeneutic realism (advocated by Dimitri Ginev). The authors try also to demonstrate that after the classical debates the issue of scientism has to be addressed in new ways. (shrink)
This paper presents a response to the question of the relationship between science and reality. It rejects the anti-realist claim that we are unable to acquire knowledge of reality in favour of the realist view that science yields knowledge of the external world. But what world is that? Some argue that science leads to the overthrow of our commonsense view of the world. Common sense is “stone-age metaphysics” to be rejected as the false theory of our primitive ancestors. Against such (...) eliminativists about common sense, it is argued that science both preserves and explains commonsense experience of the world. Though science may lead to the overthrow of deeply held beliefs, common sense reflects a more basic and durable level of experience. Commonsense beliefs are well-confirmed beliefs which are vindicated by their role in successful practical action each and every day. Common sense provides a firm basis on which to establish the realist approach to science. (shrink)
The paper sketches an ontological solution to an epistemological problem in the philosophy of science. Taking the work of Hilary Kornblith and Brian Ellis as a point of departure, it presents a realist solution to the Humean problem of induction, which is based on a scientific essentialist interpretation of the principle of the uniformity of nature. More specifically, it is argued that use of inductive inference in science is rationally justified because of the existence of real, natural kinds of things, (...) which are characterized as such by the essential properties which all members of a kind necessarily possess in common. The proposed response to inductive scepticism combines the insights of epistemic naturalism with a metaphysical outlook that is due to scientific realism. (shrink)
The problem of rational theory-choice is the problem of whether choice of theory by a scientist may be objectively rational in the absence of an invariant scientific method. In this paper I offer a solution to the problem, but the solution I propose may come as something of a surprise. For I wish to argue that the work of the very authors who have put the rationality of such choice in question, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, contains all that is (...) needed to solve the problem. (shrink)
In previous work, I have sought to show that the basic argument for epistemic relativism derives from the problem of the criterion that stems from ancient Pyrrhonian scepticism. Because epistemic relativism depends upon a sceptical strategy, it is possible to respond to relativism on the basis of an anti-sceptical strategy. I argue that the particularist response to scepticism proposed by Roderick Chisholm may be combined with a naturalistic and reliabilist conception of epistemic warrant as the basis for a satisfactory response (...) to epistemic relativism. In this paper, I outline this particularist response to relativism, and provide further commentary on the relationship between naturalism and particularism. In addition, I set the approach in contrast with reflective equilibrium approaches in epistemology. I also briefly explore the connection between the particularist response to relativism and G. E. Moore’s defense of an external world. (shrink)
The paper gives an overview of key themes of twentieth century philosophical treatment of the language of science, with special emphasis on the meaning variance of scientific terms and the comparison of alternative theories. These themes are dealt with via discussion of the topics of: (a) the logical positivist principle of verifiability and the problem of the meaning of theoretical terms, (b) the postpositivist thesis of semantic incommensurability, and (c) the scientific realist response to incommensurability based on the causal theory (...) of reference. (shrink)
Alan Musgrave is one of the foremost contemporary defenders of scientific realism. He is also one of the leading exponents of Karl Popper’s critical rationalist philosophy. In this paper, my main focus will be on Musgrave’s realism. However, I will emphasize epistemological aspects of realism. This will lead me to address aspects of his critical rationalism as well.
According to scientific realism, the aim of science is to discover the truth about both observable and unobservable aspects of the mind-independent, objective reality, which we inhabit. It has been objected by Putnam and others that such a metaphysically realist position presupposes a God’s Eye point of view, of which no coherent sense can be made. In this paper, I will argue for two claims. First, scientific realism does not require the adoption of a God’s Eye point of view. Instead, (...) scientific realism is a hypothesis about the relationship between scientific theory and reality which may be proposed from within our human perspective. Second, even if scientific realism did require a God’s Eye point of view, this would not necessarily be to the detriment of realism. For it is possible to develop an intelligible external perspective on human epistemic relations to our environing reality. (shrink)