Natural Selections [Book Review]

Nature 371 (6499):666-667 (1994)
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How do you put both physicists and biologists on their guard? Answer: propound a philosophical theory that ignores Darwin's demolition of essentialism in species and brands any physicist who denies your theory of natural kinds as an anti-realist. A traditional division in philosophy is between metaphysics (what sorts of things exist) and epistemology (what and how we know). Some think that the core of realism is the metaphysical assumption that there is a world independent of our minds. But this core assumption is sometimes clothed in other assumptions, such as theories of truth, truth-likeness, meaning and knowledge. Scornful of what they see as an unnecessary retreat from a fully clothed realism to the naked postulate of a mind-independent reality, Harre, Aronson and Way present a realism that also embraces truth and truth-likeness, as well as their own conception of scientific method and the structure of the world. I argue that this approach, while intriguing and worth reading, leads to some insuperable difficulties.

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Ray Scott Percival
London School of Economics


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