“Observability and Scientific Practice”
Well, the semester is finally over, after a rather crammed final three days. To commemorate the event, I have compiled my term paper for my Scientific Realism class in LaTeX and posted it on the Philosophy Writing page. It’s called ‘Observability and Scientific Practice’, and it argues that, though there may be a principled distinction between ‘observable’ and ‘unobservable’ things, that distinction does not require either scientists or philosophers to be anti-realists about unobservable things. The motivating idea is this: because “unobservable-in-principle” is a label we can only attach to things when we have enough empirical knowledge of them, simply attaching that label shouldn’t cause that knowledge to become suspect. By claiming that we shouldn’t be realists about things that we can’t observe, anti-realists like van Fraassen undermine the source of the evidence that causes us to distinguish between observables and unobservables in the first place; and without that distinction, they can’t argue that we should treat unobservables differently in our epistemology and in scientific practice.
A bit cerebral, I know; these things are easy to get lost in. In fact, I doubt that I made myself as clear anywhere in the paper as I did in that last paragraph. The paper will need a lot of revision, particularly on that last point, before it’s good for anything other than a term paper or a blog posting, but for now, it’s rather good to get it off my chest and onto someone else’s server.
With summer starting now, I’m hoping to work out some more of my own thoughts, so watch for postings, particularly in the “Shooting the Bull” category. That is, if you’re watching at all; and my blog stats say you’re not. But never mind that! The sun is out, and I have time now to go out in it, which is good enough for me.