A cognitive perspective on scientific realism

Philosophical Psychology 32 (8):1157-1178 (2019)
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The debate about scientific realism is concerned with the relation between our scientific theories and the world. Scientific realists argue that our best theories or components of those theories correspond to the world. Anti-realists deny such a correspondence. Traditionally, this central issue in the philosophy of science has been approached by focusing on the theories themselves (e.g., by looking at theory change or the underlying experimental context). I propose a relatively unexplored way to approach this old debate. In addition to focusing on the theory, we should focus on the theorizer. More precisely, in order to determine on which component of a theory we should hinge a realist commitment, we should analyze the cognitive processes underlying scientific theorizing. In this paper I do just that. Drawing from recent developments in the cognitive sciences and evolutionary epistemology, I formulate some tentative conclusions. The aim of this paper is not so much to defend a particular position in the debate on scientific realism but to showcase the value of taking a cognitive perspective in the debate.
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