Join us on October 26, 2018 for part of the HPS Annual Lecture Series with Hasok Chang (University of Cambridge). The lecture will be held in room 1008 in the Cathedral of Learning.
Title: Pragmatist realism: beyond metaphoric correspondence, toward operational coherence
Abstract: In this paper I lay down some groundwork for a pragmatist scientific realism. In the first half, I argue that we should move beyond the epistemological ideal of “correspondence”, namely the notion that empirical truth consists in the match between our theories and the “external world." This is not an ideal that we can actually pursue: statements cannot “correspond" to language-independent facts, and in any case we have no independent access to the “external world” that would allow us to check the alleged correspondence. The idea that a scientific theory “represents” or “corresponds to” the external world is a metaphor grounded in human activities that are actually representational. This metaphor constitutes a serious and well-entrenched obstacle in our understanding of scientific practices. In the second half, I elaborate a key component in my positive account of realism, namely the notion of operational coherence, which designates a harmony of actions conducive to the successful achievement of our aims. Operational coherence is not primarily a matter of logical consistency (or any other inferential relation) among propositions. It may consist in something as mundane as the coordination of bodily movements and material conditions in lighting a match, or something as esoteric as the integration of various material technologies and abstract theories for making GPS work. Coherence comes in degrees, with a specific scope, and it is defeasible. It must be stressed that operational coherence cannot be achieved by wishful thinking or mere interpersonal agreement. It is through operational coherence that something objective and mind-independent is brought to bear on our knowledge.