On truth and reference in postmodern science

South African Journal of Philosophy 22 (3):220-235 (2003)
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If the defenders of typical postmodern accounts of science (and their less extreme social-constructivist partners) are at one end of the scale in current philosophy of science, who shall we place at the other end? Old-style metaphysical realists? Neo-neo-positivists? ... Are the choices concerning realist issues as simple as being centered around either, on the one hand, whether it is the way reality is “constructed” in accordance with some contingent language game that determines scientific “truth”; or, on the other hand, whether it is the way things are in an independent reality that makes our theories true or false? If, in terms of realism, “strong” implies “metaphysical” in the traditional sense, and “weak” implies “non-absolutist” or “non-unique”, what – if anything – could realism after Rorty's shattering of the mirror of nature still entail? In accordance with my position as a model-theoretic realist, I shall show in this article the relevance of the assumption of an independent reality for postmodern (philosophy of) science – against Lyotard's dismissal of the necessity of this assumption for science which he interprets as a non-privileged game among many others. I shall imply that science is neither the “child” of positivist philosophy who has outgrown her mother, freeing herself from metaphysics and epistemology, nor is science, at the other end of the scale, foundationless and up for grabs. S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.22(3) 2003: 220–235
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