Hunt for reality: perspectives, models, and plurality in the physical sciences
Jacoby, Franklin Robert
This thesis tackles the problem of realism in science by examining the analyses and insights that pluralism and perspectivism might o0fer. Scientific perspectivism was introduced by Giere (2006) as a way to use insights from the semantic analysis of theories to strike a middle ground between realism and anti-realism about science, which I discuss in chapter 1. The project here attempts a similar balance in the context of disagreement in specific scientific-historical contexts. It does so by suggesting we think of some forms of disagreement as taxonomic, or identity, disagreements. Scientists use perspectival taxonomies and when problems with a given taxonomy arise, rival “perspectives” emerge (hence perspectivism is a form of pluralism). Such problems can be resolved by appeal to trans-perspectival standards of assessment. This approach has the advantage of being sensitive to the historical context in which past theories were used, a virtue that anti-realist views typically have. At the same time, perspectivism does not fall into an anti-realist attitude toward science because it is compatible with stronger realist commitments to the interpretation of scientific theories. To make this argument, I first discuss how data and data-to-phenomena inferences depend upon perspectival taxonomy (in chapter 2) and hence cannot always be used unambiguously to resolve disagreements. I next articulate the perspectival view, defend it, and situate it within the literature on scientific pluralism in chapter 3. Chapter 4 provides a perspectival interpretation of a paradigmatic case of historical disagreement: the Chemical Revolution and the debate between Lavoisier and Priestley on oxygen and phlogiston. In chapter 5 I distinguish and defend my own view against two influential alternatives (relativism and pragmatism) that also aspire to provide insightful analyses of disagreement in science.