Pragmatism and Science

Michele Marsonet
Logical empiricism gave rise to a powerful paradigm and it took some decades to overthrow it, even though it should be judged respectfully since, after all, philosophy of science and logic as we know them stemmed from that ground. The basic assumptions on which the paradigm of the “received view” rested are essentially the following. In the first place, verificationism seemed almost a truth of faith. Secondly, logical empiricists never offered good arguments in support of their thesis that assertive discourse must be preferred to more pragmatic forms of language. Thirdly, they too easily assumed that something like “objective truth” really exists. Last but certainly not least, the logical empiricists did not fully recognize the historical dimension of the scientific enterprise, which subsequently turned to be something different from the “universal science” they were talking about. In the paper it is argued that scientific realism (and the nature of scientific knowledge at large) is a theme where the originality of pragmatist positions clearly emerge. Nicholas Rescher, for example, claims - against any form of instrumentalism and many postmodern authors as well - that natural science can indeed validate a plausible commitment to the actual existence of its theoretical entities. Scientific conceptions aim at what really exists in the world, but only hit it imperfectly and “well off the mark”. What we can get is, at most, a rough consonance between our scientific ideas and reality itself. This means that the scientific knowledge at our disposal in any particular moment of the history of mankind must be held to be “putative”, while its relations to the truth (i.e. how things really stand in the world) should be conceived in terms of tentative and provisional estimation. Even the optimistic visions that see science as growingly approaching the “real” truth have, at this point, to be rejected on pragmatic grounds.

Pragmatism, Science, Scientific Realism, Ideal Science, Final Theory, Relativism

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