In the concluding chapter of Exceeding our Grasp Kyle Stanford outlines a positive response to the central issue raised brilliantly by his book, the problem of unconceived alternatives. This response, called "epistemic instrumentalism", relies on a distinction between instrumental and literal belief. We examine this distinction and with it the viability of Stanford's instrumentalism, which may well be another case of exceeding our grasp.
Though John Dewey coined the term ‘instrumentalism’ to describe an extremely broad pragmatist attitude towards ideas or concepts in general, the distinctive application of that label within the philosophy of science is to positions that regard scientific theories not as literal and/or accurate descriptions of the natural world, but instead as mere tools or ‘instruments’ for making empirical predictions and achieving other practical ends. This general instrumentalist thesis has, however, historically been associated with a wide variety of motivations, arguments, and (...) further commitments, most centrally concerning the semantic and/or epistemic status of theoretical discourse (see below). Unifying all these positions is the insistence that one can and should make full pragmatic use of scientific theories either without believing the claims they seem to make about nature (or some parts thereof) or without regarding them as actually making such claims in the first place. This entry will leave aside the question of whether the term ‘instrumentalism’ is properly restricted to only some subset of such views, seeking instead to illustrate the historical and conceptual relations they bear to one another and to related positions in the philosophy of science. (shrink)
This document collects discussion and commentary on issues raised in the workshop by its participants. Contributors are: Greg Frost-Arnold, David Harker, P. D. Magnus, John Manchak, John D. Norton, J. Brian Pitts, Kyle Stanford, Dana Tulodziecki.
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). (shrink)
You will typically write a paper or an essay in answer to a prompt or a question. The sin of the Minimal Answer is to write the absolute minimum that could possibly be considered a complete answer to the question you have been asked. This strategy might be perfectly appropriate for exams that test factual recall, for example, because providing extra information is just an extra opportunity to be wrong about something, but essay writing (in papers or exams) is not (...) like that. An essayÕs quality is determined in large part by the depth of understanding of the issues that it exhibits, the comprehensiveness with which it treats them (within the limits specified by the assignment), and by how thorough and convincing a case the essay makes for its thesis. Thus, essay writing is always an open-ended affair in which the quality of the finished product is determined by how much you are able to do with the question or prompt, not how little you can put down that technically constitutes an answer to it. Always take the question or prompt as an opportunity to show how.. (shrink)