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The Virtual Identity of Life

Budimir Zdravkovic
City College of New York


Information can be defined as any sequence or arrangement of things that can convey a message. Here I would like to focus on information coded by biological organisms and how that information is related to their identity. The essence of living things has been difficult to define conceptually. Living things or biological things have certain properties which are unique to them and which are absent in inanimate matter. Defining life has been an ongoing problem for scientists and philosophers, but what is more puzzling is that living organisms do not appear to be defined by the conventional rules of identity. To illustrate what is meant by conventional rules let us look at the Ship of Theseus paradox, which begins with an old boat made of old parts. As this boat is renovated and the old parts are replaced with new ones, it gradually begins to lose its identity. When all the parts of the ship are eventually replaced, can we still say this new renovated ship is the Ship of Theseus? If so, what if we reassembled the old ship from the old parts? Would Theseus now possess two ships? In this paradox it is clear that the problem of identifying the ship stems from defining it in terms of its old and/or new components. The conflict of identity exists because old components are replaced with new ones, confusing our common-sense notions of continuity.

But now let us turn to biological organisms, who constantly experience this turnover in components and materials.  The atoms and molecules in a living cell are constantly replaced; and at one point in a particular cell’s life it would have completely replaced those molecules and atoms it originally possessed with completely new ones. Despite this fact the living organism persists in terms of being the same living organism; it persists in being ‘that particular cell.’ The same is true for complex living organisms such as human beings: human tissue is constantly replaced and replenished, but a human persists in being the same person throughout his or her entire life. Biological organisms are constantly in flux but, unlike the Ship of Theseus, they do not lose their identity over time. Could it be that the identities of living organisms do not really depend on their components, but on something else? In this paper propose that the identity of living organisms depends on the nature of information they store and use. (more…)

Must We Quine Qualia?

George P. Simmonds
Oxford Brookes University


It is no secret that qualia possess a number of enemies in the philosophy of mind, and that the majority of these enemies advance from a materialist position allied to the methods of scientific reduction. Few of these opponents have done so with as much vigour as Daniel Dennett, however, who in his paper ‘Quining Qualia’ proposes we at long last put our cognitive fantasies to bed. In this paper I intend to analyse Dennett’s claim in interest of suggesting his dismissal of qualia exceeds the bounds of moderation.

Part I: Qualia

Qualia are the ‘raw feels’ of conscious experience, viz. what it is like to experience something [1]. A quale might manifest itself as a perceptual event, a bodily sensation, an emotion, a mood, or even – according to the likes of Strawson (1994) – a thought or disposition. They constitute the greenness of green, the saltiness of salt, the hotness of anger, and that thing  which ‘give[s] human consciousness the particular character that it has’ (Ramachandran & Hirstein, 1997, p.430). What is it like to gaze upon a setting sun, or a lunar eclipse? What is it like to feel joy? What is music like? These are all questions relevant to the subjective character of experience, a phenomenon which itself sits ‘at the very heart of the mind-body problem’ (Tye, 2013, preface).


The Problem of Identity in Biology

Budimir Zdravkovic
The City College of New York


I: A Discourse of Biological Concepts

In the last century great leaps in technology and scientific understanding have allowed us to thoroughly investigate our bodies and how they function. Our recent knowledge of the chemical and biological sciences has revealed some profound philosophical implications concerning our identity and the identity of other living organisms. Concepts in biology tend to neatly segregate definitions in binary terms in the same way classical logic does. Some of these concepts include the definitions of what is living and non-living, what is cancerous and non-cancerous, animal and human, male and female—and so on—but such definitions are far from clear. In the most extreme cases, binary definitions within biology that rely on classical logic and the laws of identity could perpetuate chronic illness. Such definitions could also hypothetically lead to violations of animal and human rights. We must understand that the traditional logic that has been the foundation of mainstream biological understanding for the past two thousand years has a number of shortcomings.

Living systems enjoy such a high degree of complexity that it becomes necessary to distinguish them from non-living systems. But the segregation between living and non-living entities quickly becomes vague and hazy when we consider the evolution of life or the origin of the first living organism: if the origin of life is continuous with non-living chemical and physical processes then at what point does something become living? At what point can we define a substance as a living thing?  With the rejection of vitalism, the idea that there is an essence in the constitution of all living things which is fundamentally different from the constituents of non-living things, we have found that all matter is made of the same stuff at the fundamental level of atoms and molecules.

Evidence in the field of evolutionary biology suggests that within living organisms all species had a common ancestor along with the capacity to transition into different species under environmental pressures and natural selection. Using this evidence we can also draw the conclusion that it is not only life that is defined vaguely in the biological sciences, but also the concept of species. Speciation is also a gradual process, a process of transition. Such processes are difficult to define using classical logic because they are processes that involve change. At what point does one species transition into another? Later I will illustrate the shortcomings of the biological definition of species by way of a thought experiment. What does this mean for our identity as humans and living things in general?

II: The Ship of Theseus and The Problem of The Heap

The problem with our traditional idea of identity is best illustrated by old and common philosophical thought experiments; this is why scientists ought to be speaking with philosophers of science. We can begin with the problem of the grain and the heap. Imagine we are attempting to define a heap of sand and we wish to discover when the heap of sand ceases to remain such. Of course the heap consists of grains, so if we were to one by one start removing them, it follows that at one point or another the heap will no longer fulfil its own qualifications. We might be so bold as to define a heap by an arbitrary number, say 30,000 grains. The obvious problem with this would be the lack of functional and phenomenal difference between an adequate heap and a pile of 29,999 grains. We could continue to remove grains but it would become difficult if not impossible to tell when the heap becomes just a pile: for all our merits we do not seem to be able to place a number or a concrete definition on what constitutes a ‘heap of sand.’ Even with our attempted definition we have but a vague idea of the boundary which separates a collection of grains and an adequate heap. A similar problem is encountered when we talk of the Ship of Theseus: as the ship undergoes renovations, the old parts of the ship replaced with new ones, the question of the ship’s identity is raised. If the renovated ship is a new ship, at what point is it no longer the old one?

The problematic definitions in biology have an identical form. Phenomena in biology are vaguely defined because they emerge from gradually changing events. We can reason similarly about the emergence of life or our definition of ‘living things.’ Is random DNA surrounded by a lipid bilayer a living organism? Or does that kind of organization of molecules only become living when there is some sort of metabolism involved? The ‘metabolism first’ hypothesis goes to the extreme of proposing that life began as a collection of metabolic chemical reactions that were catalyzed by simple catalysts (Prud’homme-Généreux & Rosalind Groenewoud, 2012) (Cody, 2004; pp.32). The hypothesis is bolstered by the observation that certain metabolic chemicals can be synthesized in the presence of simple catalysts like the transition metal sulfides, catalysts which existed on the Prebiotic Earth (Ibid.).

But even the ‘metabolism first’ hypothesis is unsure of when non-living things become living things. If we define something as ‘living’ just because it has a metabolism (a chemical reaction or a collection of chemical reactions that utilize energy according to the principle of steady state kinetics) then there are many things that we could, rather absurdly, deem living. We could purify a set of fatty acids and reconstitute a metabolic chemical reaction that uses steady state kinetics in a test tube, for instance, but by no means could we call this a living system (Xingye Yu, et al., 2011; pp.108). A living system as a whole has a certain degree of irreducible complexity that is hard to define in terms of its constituents. In the same way a collection of grains becomes a heap at a certain point of mass, the metabolic reactions and molecules in the living system must give rise to life at a certain point in life’s evolution. But just like the heap of sand, living things remain poorly defined if we attempt to understand them by way of classical logic and the laws of identity.

III: The Probabilistic Logic of Cancer

Cancer emerges as a result of genetic evolution. The difference between the evolution of cancer and the genetic evolution that gives rise to speciation, however, is that cancer cells (or cells predisposed to cancer) evolve quickly enough for their evolution to be observed. In cancerous cells changes in the DNA eventually accumulate until the cell’s mechanism of division is out of control. As a result cells start dividing rapidly and uncontrollably. The more rapidly a cell divides the more mutations it accumulates; and the cells that accumulate the greatest amount of mutations, that make cell division favorable, will out-compete the healthy tissues in our bodies. This is because cell division requires nutrition.

There are many kinds of cancers and not one is reducible to a single error or mutation in the DNA. At what point does a cell become cancerous? Once again this is a lot like the heap of sand problem, or that of the Ship of Theseus.  One mutation of the DNA is certainly not enough to make a cell ‘cancerous,’ but it could predispose someone to developing cancer. We know that after the cell accumulates a certain number of crucial mutations it becomes (by our definition) cancerous, but there is no clear indication as to when the cell might become cancerous. Anyone could be at risk, and researchers fail to pay attention to the mechanisms and the processes by which a cell might become cancerous, instead concentrating on cancer’s medical symptoms. It should concern us that cancers do not become ‘illnesses’ until they are virulent, by which time it is often too late for effective treatment.

It is simple to identify a malignant tumor, but not so to identify a tumor that is on its way to becoming malignant. The most effective treatment for a tumor is, as with so many things, prevention. We do not, however, seem to acknowledge them until they become malignant, and this is a very dangerous way of thinking about cancer. For the future of medicine it is just as important, if not more important, that we begin to understand how predisposed people are to developing malignant tumors than it is to detect whether they actually have them.

Classical reasoning makes a binary distinction between the cancerous and the non-cancerous; probabilistic reasoning, on the other hand, can provide information on the possibility or likelihood of a tissue becoming cancerous, or the average age at which a predisposed individual may start developing a tumor. Such information would be essential to the early detection and treatment of all forms of cancer. By abandoning the traditional laws of identity and adopting the probabilistic binary terms we may begin to think differently about the nature of well-being and disease. The term denoting the disease must become less important than the relevant statistics that indicate an individual’s predisposition towards the disease.

Mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2, for instance, increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers, as reported by A. Antoniou et al. (2003). A woman carrying inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 would certainly not be classified a cancer patient, but the probabilistic nature of the phenomenon—the fact that she is at a high risk for acquiring the disease—ought not be ignored.  Let us say she has 65% chance of acquiring breast cancer; how would one define the tissues in her body?  Are they cancerous? Are they 65% cancerous? Traditional laws of identity and classical logic would not be sufficient to properly define and understand this phenomenon or the evolution of cancer as a chronic disease. Other forms of logic, such as probabilistic logic, however, have emerged as useful methods for understanding this sort of issue.

IV: Speciation

Like many other biological concepts, speciation is problematic. Organisms tend to change over time due to mutations in their DNA; and, as I discussed previously, this process of gradual change presents a problem for static conceptions of identity. As a given species changes over time it becomes hard to define exactly when speciation occurs. At what point did hominids become humans, for example? And to what extent are our hominid ancestors human? We could say that the hominid is human to the extent that it shares common DNA with humans, but how could such a notion survive in light of the similarities of behavior and DNA between humans and chimpanzees? Chimpanzees do, after all, share more with us than with such other hominids as bonobos (Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, 2005; pp.437) (Kay Prufer et al., 2012; pp.586).

It is also apparent that humans have similar brain structures to other hominids. Though volumetric analysis shows that, overall, humans have bigger brains than hominids, that is not to say we do not have similar sorts of brains (Katerina Semendeferi  et al., 1997; pp.32). Hominids have frontal lobes, brain-areas that control social behavior, creativity, planning and emotion. According to evolutionary theory these structures found in hominid brains are identical to those found in humans.  Humans and hominids share this brain structure because a common ancestor possessed it in the past: each inherited its brain structure from the same antecedent.

It is impossible, through the use of conventional rules of identity, to separate humans from animals. As mentioned above hominids possess the same brain structures as humans. That implies that to some extent hominids are like humans, in terms of behavior and biological constitution. If we could compare our hominid ancestor to the Ship of Theseus, humans would be the equivalent of a partially renovated ship because a lot of the old hominid structures, in fact most of the old hominid structures, are still a part of the human organism: humans would be the equivalent of a slightly upgraded hominid. Biologists attempt to adumbrate speciation barriers through a focus on reproduction, but this definition of species is problematic on account of its potential to violate human rights. The term ‘human species’ is synonymous with the term ‘human’ because, according to the biological definition, humans are a type of species. But how we generally think about humans is very different to how we think about the biological definition of the human as a species:

A ‘species’ is generally defined as an organism that is able to reproduce by breeding with another organism of the same sort. This simple classification puts us into the category of ‘human’ only so long as we are capable of breeding with another of our sort, i.e. a human.  To demonstrate that our definition of ‘human’ as a species type differs from our definition of ‘human’ as an individual with moral capabilities and rights I intend to proffer another thought experiment: imagine there is a woman called Nancy. Much to Nancy’s frustration and confusion, she has been unable to conceive with her husband, Tom. Nancy and Tom have been to several different doctors and Nancy is ostensibly healthy. There is nothing wrong with her hormones nor her reproductive organs. She also ovulates regularly. Tom, too, is completely healthy. There is no reason as to why Nancy and Tom are unable to have children.

After a great deal of effort a scientist in Tom and Nancy’s town caught word of Nancy’s unusual situation. The scientist acquired one of Nancy’s eggs and studied it closely. He soon came to the conclusion that Nancy’s egg is simply incompatible with human semen. According to the biological definition of species, it seems Nancy has become another species diverged from humans. Yet she is human in every other conceivable way. If Nancy is not human in canonical biological terms should she still be subject to human privileges and treatment? Does she, in short, have human rights?

This thought experiment demonstrates the ethical issues involved in the biological definition of ‘human.’ Nancy is, in any respectable terms, a human being since she retains all the human traits we, as a species, value. The unfortunate circumstance that her egg is incompatible with human sperm seems rather trivial when set beside her overall portfolio.

V: Biology and Complexity

Biology as a science began with simple ideas and concepts. The field has become much more complex as our understanding of the biological and biochemical sciences progressed through the centuries. If there is an emerging theme within biology and biochemistry, it is that the more we know about biological and biochemical phenomena the more complex they seem to become. It is the nature of this biological complexity and its changing constituents that make classical definitions and identifications of biological phenomena difficult. These phenomena cannot be understood using traditional laws of identity and classical logic without gross oversimplification. These oversimplifications have consequences on how we think about the distinction between humans and animals, how we think about disease and risk, and might hypothetically lead to violations of human rights.


Works Cited

 Annie Prud’homme-Généreux and Rosalind Groenewoud. (2012). The Molecular Origins of Life: Replication or Metabolism-First? Introductory Version. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science George D. Cody. (2004).

Transition Metal Sulfides and the Origins of Metabolism. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. 32.Xingye Yu et al. (2011). In vitro reconstitution and steady-state analysis of the fatty acid synthase from Escherichia coli. PNAS. 108.

A. Antoniou et al. (2003). Average Risks of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Associated with BRCA1 or BRCA2 Mutations Detected in Case Series Unselected for Family History: A Combined Analysis of 22 Studies. American Journal of Human Genetics. 72.

Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium. (2005). Initial sequence of the chimpanzee genome and comparison with the human genome. Nature. 437.

The bonobo genome compared with the chimpanzee and human genomes. Nature. 486.

Katerina Semendeferi et al. (1997). The evolution of the frontal lobes: a volumetric analysis based on three-dimensional reconstructions of magnetic resonance scans of human and ape brains. Journal of Human Evolution. 32.

[feature image by ‘Biodiversity Heritage Library’]

A Case for Constructive Empiricism Over Scientific Realism

George P. Simmonds
Oxford Brookes University


1. Introduction

Scientific realism (SR) asserts that science describes an objective and real world, a world about which its theories may claim some sort of truth. Putnam describes (SR) as ‘the only philosophy that does not make the success of science a miracle,’since it explains its success in terms of its cohesion with a truthful reality. Though this has since been disputed, this quote nicely encapsulates the appeal of (SR)—it allows for an encouraging viewpoint of science. This is not to say that it is rashly optimistic; rather, it facilitates a straightforward metaphysical, semantic and epistemological theory which enables simple commitment to science’s proposed models. (SR) appears to be the most suitable theory for modern attitudes to science.

(SR) by no means enjoys universal popularity, however: a number of anti-realist ideas have risen to confront it, including those of American philosopher van Fraassen, whose constructive empiricism (CE) will be the focus of this essay.

Though (SR) and van Fraassen’s (CE) agree on semantic and metaphysical terms, they differ in their epistemological conceptions of science, namely its allusions to truth. In this van Fraassen challenges (SR)’s central cornerstone, the no-miracle argument (NMA), which serves to reinforce the theory’s epistemic principles. The (NMA) is a vital defence of (SR), and its survival against van Fraassen’s refutations is crucial to the position’s legitimacy. If (CE) is able to deny the (NMA) it would strengthen the case for (CE)’s supremacy as a philosophy of science.

This essay will aim to support van Fraassen in his (CE), proffering it as a favourable alternative to scientific realism. Sections (1) and (2) will aim to clear the decks in clarifying the (SR) and (CE) positions, while section (3) will discuss van Fraassen’s objections to the (NMA).

(1)  Scientific Realism

(2)  Constructive Empiricism

(3)  The No-Miracles Argument


2. Scientific Realism

 Van Fraassen claims that ‘truth must play an important role in the formulation of the basic realist position.’In this he was correct: an underpinning feature of (SR) in all its forms is a fundamental commitment to science as something which lays a claim to truth. That is that science reflects the reality of things, as they are and in themselves. (SR) has an important ‘dual character’ whereby ‘on one hand it is a metaphysical doctrine, claiming the independent existence of certain entities’ and ‘on the other hand… an epistemological doctrine asserting that we can know what individuals exist and that we can find out the truth of the theories or laws that govern them.’This can be condensed to the following:

(SR) holds that…

(1)  Scientific theories describe an objective, mind-independent reality and should be interpreted literally as descriptions of real things.

(2)  Scientific theories aim to provide a true account of what the world is like, and the acceptance of such theories identifies with a belief that they are true.

A full understanding of (SR) demands an elaboration of these two commitments. (1) is both a metaphysical and semantic claim. By the realist conception, the world—as investigated by science—is mind-independent and in no way subject to that which the human mind brings to it. Since the realist makes no effort to abstract the world from the investigation of science, it follows that they should interpret the discourse of scientific theories literally. This means that when a theory describes an entity or an event, it is so reflected in the objective world. A realist, then, holds that ‘what makes [a scientific theory] true or false is something external—that is to say, it is not our sense date, actual or potential, or the structure of our minds, or our language, etc.’

In addition to (1) a scientific realist must also uphold (2). The first aspect of (2) is normative, and speaks only of the aims of science, and not of its achievements or limitations. It is thus considered too weak to characterise the epistemological commitments of (SR) on its own.[ The second aspect, however, encapsulates the scientific-realist position rather nicely. The acceptance of a theory, to the realist, identifies with the belief that it is true or approximately true, entailing a positive approach to the epistemic achievements of science. This is not to suggest that the realist holds all our current theories to be true, only that they see truth as the marker of a successful scientific theory. This loose commitment to truth allows for the scientific realist to commit to theories ‘tentatively,’ or in virtue of its approximate rather than absolute truth. There is a distinct pledge in (SR) to ‘the idea that our best theories have a certain epistemic status… [that] they yield knowledge of aspects of the world.’

An anti-realist theory, then, must deny one or more of these positions. Van Fraassen, while agreeing with the metaphysical and semantic aspects of (SR), contends with its conceptions of science’s aims and what it means to accept a scientific theory. This is to say he maintains (1) while rejecting (2). (1) is to be hereon assumed with regard to (CE).


3. Constructive Empiricism

According to van Fraassen, and all constructive empiricists, ‘science aims to give us theories which are empirically adequate; and acceptance of a theory involves a belief only that it is empirically adequate.’This formulation of the normative and epistemological aspects of (CE) has earned van Fraassen the title of the ‘rehabilitator of anti-realism.’

(CE) claims that we are unable to properly account for unobservable phenomena, and that laying claim to truth in our theories regarding them is going beyond the enterprise of science. A constructive empiricist would insist that theories describing unobservable phenomena should be instead considered empirically adequate, since we are able to account for the unobservable phenomena only in terms of their explaining (or ‘saving’) the observable phenomena. This contrasts the ideas of (SR), which holds that a theory’s accounting for the phenomena entails its truth and thereby the truth of the objects it describes. Recall that when a scientific realist accepts a theory, they commit to more than just its empirical adequacy; they commit to its observable truth. (CE) does not do this, and allows for an agnostic approach to the existence of unobservables.

This can be illustrated in the example of gold. By observable means we are able to determine certain qualities possessed by gold, such as its melting point, its hardness, or its colouring. (CE) would accept theories positing the truth of these qualities, since if they were present to us under appropriate circumstances we would be able to observe them. The unobservable qualities of gold, however, such as its atomic number and molecular composition, cannot be observed in this way. (CE) would, with regard to these qualities, see the theories relevant to them as simply accounting for, or making sense of, the observable phenomena. (CE) would not agree that these theories deliver any sort of truth, in the strict sense, regarding gold’s unobservable properties.

Many believe this adoption of empirical adequacy over truth to be the more prudent, less epistemically audacious, choice.The caution of (CE), though restraining our scientific theories, allows its subscribers to remain truly faithful to the ‘spirit of empiricism.’


4. The No-Miracles Argument

As stated in my Introduction, the (NMA) is a vital cornerstone to scientific-realist thought. It was famously introduced by Putnam in 1975 (though it can be traced back to Boyd’s unpublished work) and has since been discussed somewhat widely. The (NMA) is built upon the observation of science’s extraordinary success. From our best theories we are able not only to make sense of current phenomena, but accurately predict future phenomena based on the models they present. The accuracy of our best theories can be so formidable that they become laws in themselves, to which we expect all conceivable phenomena to adhere. This is what is meant when the (SR) describes the ‘success’ of science. This does, however, raise the question of what can explain this success.

The (NMA) indicates the solution to this problem for the scientific realist. Recall this essay’s opening quote: (SR) is ‘the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success of science a miracle.’ This is because exponents of (SR) regard the observable success of science as evidence of our best theories’ truth. This idea is based on the principle that if our approved theories possessed no element of truth, their empirical success would be miraculous, since one would expect such theories to yield only false results. As far as (SR) is concerned, this observation leaves us with only two choices: to accept a theory’s congruence with the current phenomena as a miracle, or as an indication of its truth. A scientific realist would choose the latter.

To the constructive empiricist, then, (SR) would argue that we are able to secure the truth of our scientific theories—and thereby the objects they describe—on the basis that they provide the best explanation for the current phenomena. Returning to the gold example: the scientific realist would aver that because the theories surrounding gold’s unobservable properties provide the best explanation for the observable phenomena, we are justified in committing to their truth, and thereby the truth of the properties they describe. This is where the (NMA) makes reference to Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE), a notion which underpins the spirit of both the (NMA) and (SR). According to (SR), following the logical structure of (IBE) is a part of everyday life. When we experience a set of phenomena we routinely regard its best explanation as the one which is true, or at least likely to be true. The (IBE) is essential to understanding the (NMA).

The (NMA) appears to cast doubt upon (CE)’s allowing of an agnostic approach to unobservables and the theories surrounding them. Surely, the scientific realist would argue, the success of a scientific theory is a clear indication of its truth, and the truth of that which it describes.

Though a number of anti-realist authors have opposed the (NMA) this essay will for depth’s sake focus on van Fraassen’s response. He says: ‘I claim that the success of current scientific theories is no miracle. It is not even surprising to the scientific (Darwinist) mind. For any scientific theory is born into a life of fierce competition, a jungle red in tooth and claw. Only the successful theories survive — the ones which in fact latched on to actual regularities in nature.’In this van Fraassen is suggesting that our best theories appear to possess truth because those that do not simply fail to ‘survive’ the environment of scientific inquiry. He uses the analogy of natural selection to illustrate how only the theories which sport the guise of truth (those that are empirically adequate) endure the scientific process of elimination. Our ‘best’ theories, then, are simply those which best match the current phenomena, viz. those that are empirically adequate. His point here is that the success of a scientific theory need not entail its truth, since it can be empirically adequatewithout being remotely true. According to this view it would be no miracle for a scientific theory to be simultaneously successful, empirically adequate, and completely and utterly false.

This rejoinder and dismissal of (SR)’s claim to truth defends the (CE) right to be agnostic regarding the existence of unobservables and the theories which describe them.


5. Conclusion

The ramifications for (SR) as a result of this rejoinder are arguably grave. If the extraordinary success of science is unable to provide reason to believe that science is able to touch on some element of truth, then there is no way for (SR) to advance its conceptions beyond those of (CE). If our best theories are able to remain both successful and empirically adequate without referring to any sort of truth, then it becomes difficult for the scientific realist to construct any real means of deciphering where truth lies and where it does not. Here they might encounter further problems, such as that of underdeterminism, which poses that for any scientific theory there is set of empirically equivalent rival theories that are equally believable, and that belief in the truth of any one of these is ipso facto irrational. From here the scientific realist would feel himself inclined to accept van Fraassen’s supposition that ‘rationality is only bridled irrationality,’and perhaps abandon (SR) entirely.

Van Fraassen asserts that the (NMA) does not establish that the success of scientific theories is able to ratify their truth value, and it follows forthwith that (SR) is unable to support its fixed belief in unobservables from within the enterprise of science.

This leaves (SR) with the task of developing a means by which its dogmatism can be justified. Van Fraassen, meanwhile, would not only regard such measures as futile but also unnecessary, since to conceive of a successful theory as empirically adequate as opposed to true in no way inhibits the spirit of science, only absolves it of having to associate with excessive inflationary metaphysics. For these reasons, and those listed above, (CE) may be argued to be a favourable alternative to (SR).


Works Cited

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Boyd, R.N. (1971) Realism and Scientific Epistemology. Unpublished typescript.

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Kuhn, T.S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lipton, P (2004). Inference to the Best Explanation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

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