SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Scientific Realism - Antirealism Debate and Kuhn's Incommensurability Thesis
(Philosophy of Science, English)

One of the most popular topics in the contemporary philosophy of science is the debate between scientific realism and scientific antirealism. Scientific realism claims that all scientific theories' goal is to provide an accurate description of the world. Moreover, for any scientific theory, it is possible, at least in principle, to say if it is (probably) true or (probably) false. The term "scientific antirealism" is usually used to refer to various philosophical viewpoints which deny previously mentioned theses of scientific realism.
I shall argue that one idea from Thomas Kuhn's book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" provides a strong argument in favor of scientific antirealism. The idea in question is that scientific theories which belong to different paradigms are incommensurable, i.e. fundamentally different on a conceptual, methodological and metaphysical level. I will focus on the so-called metaphysical level because it is the most important for the realism-antirealism debate.
According to Kuhn, metaphysical incommensurability appears because each scientific paradigm separately "decides" what does and what does not count as a scientific phenomenon. Hence, there is no such thing as "objective scientific reality", independent of scientific change, which can be used as a background for an assessment of any scientific theory T in any moment t. The scientific reality is rather something flexible and scientists of different paradigms live, metaphorically speaking, in different worlds. Therefore, it does not make much sense to ask if a particular theory is true or not. In the best case, this can be asked in the scope of one scientific research tradition (paradigm). Since scientific realism presumes that theories are true or false in the most literal sense, regardless of paradigm to which they belong, metaphysical incommensurability obviously stands in the opposite to scientific realism.
Of course, even if all of this is true so far, various important questions remain unanswered: Are theories which belong to different paradigms really incommensurable? Do scientists really live in different worlds? How does it affect scientific rationality? What arguments can scientific realists give? I shall stress these questions by giving some examples from the history of science.

Chair: Albert Anglberger
Time: 11:20-11:50, 14 September 2018 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.005

Petar Srdanovic 
(University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, Serbia)

Institution: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade
Level of study: BA student (four year BA program, 4th year) (2014-2018)
Main research interests: general philosophy of science, history of early analytic philosophy


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