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Reconciling Realism and Anti-Realism Thoughts

Abstract This paper seeks to present the debate surrounding realism anti-realism from the perspective of Ian Hackings theory that realism about science should only be held valid on experimental grounds. However, it is asserted here that anti-realism theory can only by proved by collaboration and epistemic support.

Introduction: Ian Hackings stance on realism was based on an in-depth scrutiny of experimental practice. His unusual combination of realism in relation to entities and anti-realism in relation to theories was derived from two chief components of experimental practice. Hackings entity realism can be summarized in his appropriately named quote: If you spray [e.g.] electrons then they are real (Hacking in Vamvakoussi, 55). According to him, realism about science should only be held valid on experimental grounds, known as entity realism. Hackings realism took scientific realism into scientific practice, away from the realm of scientific theory. Hacking suggests that no coherent sense can be made out the idea of a complete description about world. Yet, even if it were possible to make coherent sense of the idea, it seems unnecessary to burden the scientific realist with such potentially objectionable assumption (Hacking, 93-4). The point is not that the realist may allow that there may be more than one complete description of the world, but that the realist need not be committed to the possibility that there may be even one such description. Ian Hacking is a realist when he distinguishes between entity realism and theory realism, though his entity realism theories are not based on results of his theoretical realism (Hacking, 27). This paper

argues that in science, observations have a considerable value along with theories. There can be several combinations of realism and anti-realism within a logical space. The several conjuncts to Hackings anti-realism theory can be asserted only by collaboration and epistemic support. This forms the basis of this paper.

Combination of Realism and Anti-realism According to realism, theories claiming the existence of entities, even when they do not get close to the truth exist. Whereas anti-realism states that theories cannot always state the absolute truth. Hacking deviates from the age old debate of realism and anti-realism because he thinks that there must be some practical aspect of consulting science behind the theories of rationality, instead of epistemological, methodological, semantical considerations (Boyd). According to Hacking, there are three further sub-divisions to the debate between realism and antirealism (Boyd), which are: 1. 2. 3. An ontological ingredient A causal ingredient An epistemological ingredient

Thus, according to Hacking, anti-realism is not about instrumentalism or constructive empiricism. It can be observed from past research that the whole basis of debate between realism and anti-realism is the question of accepted truth (Boyd). While realism accepts that non-observable phenomena, such as black holes, actually exists. Though, no scientist has seen such a thing but it exists in theory and because no scientific research can be regarded as absolutely true, the boundary between theory and research is blurred by such distinctions between realism and anti-realism. Anti-realists believe that no theory can be absolutely

true as even theories presented by Newtons laws or Einsteins theory of relativity have undergone modification to become acceptable (Shuttleworth).

The four quadrants to the argument for realism and anti-realism as understood by reading Hacking (Boyd) can be stated as: 1. Realism and Anti-realism debates about the level of theories most often fail to be conclusive because they cannot readily be proved. Theories can also be interpreted in diverse ways depending on the experiments, ideas, opinion and argument. Corroboration is the only way to resolve and combine the two aspects. 2. The existence of certain things cannot be proved with experiments. It is only when we manipulate an entity that we are able to prove its existence and not by experimenting on an entity does one commit to believing in its existence. This is known as skepticism. 3. Defining an entity cannot be static but it always refers to the same thing. According to Hacking, an electron can be understood by different theories and calculations but it always refers to the same thing. 4. Fourthly, by using experimentation we can understand things as some entities lie in the continuum and are vaguely comprehended. The logic behind the reality behind macroscopic entities must also be the same logic behind the reality of microscopic entities. For example, the microscope not just allows us to view microbes but it also allows us to understand and see what we are doing to the microbe. The use of apparatus in experiments helps us to observe real entities even though we may not understand every detail of their existence (Boyd). Accordingly, the most plausible quadrant to the debate surrounding realism and anti-realism seems

to be by way of corroboration. This states that if the same entity or property can be putatively detected by employing different apparatuses and causal mechanisms then their existence can be held to be real (Hacking, 201). Hacking, (146-147) states that the dense bodies in red blood platelets of the human blood can be detected by different methods or types of microscopy (Resnik, 401). The quadrant that seems to be most unreasonable is selective optimism or skepticism. According to Hacking, the putative ability to causally manipulate unobservable entities can realize realist commitment. He states that the greater the ability to manipulate the apparent causal knowledge, the greater is the belief (Hacking, 235). However, this raises questions about entity realism of Hacking as to whether believing in entities while withholding belief with respect to the theories can be a practicable combination (Massimi). However, several objections can be raised to counteract the proposed thesis of Hacking. For instance, Hacking placed an incredible amount of prominence on the manipulability factor, which was essential in proving the existence of an invisible entity (Resnik, 398). However, the complexity of scientific practices suggests that this factor is simply not adequate to qualify the theory, based solely on manipulability (Boyd). A firm assessment of the entity in question is required prior to its manipulation from an experimental context. Another objection that can be raised against Hacking is that his tone is often psychologistic when he says in that for the experimenter, it is impossible to doubt the existence of an entity (Hacking, 263). His further statement that the reality of electrons has to be accepted due to pragmatism is doubtful (Reiner and Pierson, 65). It is clear that pragmatic considerations can bear no epistemic weight and to justify realism epistemic reasons are greatly required. However, Hackings theory of enitityrealism (1983) and prescriptions for anti-realism in astronomy (1989), leaves several holes as it lacks epistemic support (Reiner and Pierson, 68-69).

Conclusion: In conclusion, Hackings manipulability factor is insufficient to qualify for the complex and intricate nature of ideologies that are utilized by scientists for unobserved entities. In contrast to traditional realism, Hacking states that the existence of any entity can be demonstrated by its ability to manipulate towards any state. Unfortunately, Hackings argument fails to comply with any validity as it is simply non-existent. His argument in both (1983) and (1989) is simply assertions of truth that requires epistemic support for validity (Boyd). The distinction between entity and theoretical realism can only be resolved with corroboration and acceptance of pragmatism and quietism theories. Differences between anti-realists and realists are particularly based upon epistemic commitment to scientific entities, properties and relations based on observability that can be resolved by pragmatism as it states that truth exhausts our conception of reality (Van Fraassen, 182). Thus, from the above discussion we can understand that Hackings theories are not effective unless implored with new developments.

Works Cited: Boyd, Richard, Scientific Realism, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2010 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Web. 4 Dec. 2011. <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/scientific-realism/>. Hacking, I. Experimentation and Scientific Realism. Philosophical Topics, 13 (1982): 7187. Print. Hacking, I. Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (1983). Print.

Hacking, I. Extragalactic Reality: The Case of Gravitational Lensing. Philosophy of Science 56. (1989): 555-581. Print. Massimi, M. Non-Defensible Middle Ground for Experimental Realism: Why We are Justified to Believe in Colored Quarks. Philosophy of Science. 71 (2004): 3660. Print. Reiner, R. and R. Pierson. Hackings Experimental Realism: An Untenable Middle Ground. Philosophy of Science. 62. (1995):60-69. Print. Resnik, D. B. Hacking's Experimental Realism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy. 24 (1994): 395412. Print. Shuttleworth, Martyn. Realism and Antirealism, Experiment Resources, 2008. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <http://www.experiment-resources.com/realism-and-antirealism.html>. Vamvakoussi, Xenia, Vosniadou, Stella and Baltas, Aristides, ed. Reframing the Conceptual Change Approach in Learning and Instruction [Hardcover], Elsevier Science; 1 edition, 2007. Print. Van Fraassen. Constructive Empiricism Now. Philosophical Studies. 106. (2001): 151170. Print.