Realism: Metaphysical, Scientific, and Semantic

In Kenneth R. Westphal (ed.), Realism, Science, and Pragmatism. Routledge. pp. 139-158 (2014)
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Three influential forms of realism are distinguished and interrelated: realism about the external world, construed as a metaphysical doctrine; scientific realism about non-observable entities postulated in science; and semantic realism as defined by Dummett. Metaphysical realism about everyday physical objects is contrasted with idealism and phenomenalism, and several potent arguments against these latter views are reviewed. Three forms of scientific realism are then distinguished: (i) scientific theories and their existence postulates should be taken literally; (ii) the existence of unobservable entities posited by our most successful scientific theories is justified scientifically; and (iii) our best current scientific theories are at least approximately true. It is argued that only some form of scientific realism can make proper sense of certain episodes in the history of science. Finally, Dummett’s influential formulation of semantic issues about realism considered. Dummett argued that in some cases, the fundamental issue is not about the existence of entities, but rather about whether statements of some specified class (such as mathematics) have an objective truth value, independently of our means of knowing it. Dummett famously argued against such semantic realism and in favor of anti-realism. The relation of semantic realism to the metaphysical construal of realism and Dummett’s main argument against semantic realism is examined.
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