A pragmatic theory that ideas are instruments that function as guides of action, their validity being determined by the success of the action.
In epistemology, it is the view that scientific theories can be true only in the sense that they enable us accurately to predict what will happen
- Unobservable entities postulated by the theory do not necessarily exist
- It helps philosophers and scientists to use assumptions to make accurate predictions
- Ex: scientists use the theory of matter and electrons to predict what will happen when they shoot bits of matter together at high speeds
- The instrumentalist view of scientific truth is a view of scientific theories and theoretical entities
- The instrumentalist view of scientific truth uses the pragmatic theory of truth to understand truth in science
- When instrumentalists say that their scientific theory is true, they mean that it works
- Unobservable theoretical entities in a scientific theory are not real
- These unobservable entities are only used to help describe their theories
- If we act like the unobservable entities exist, it is easier to make accurate scientific decisions
Terms associated with Instrumentalist View
- Neutrino: elementary particles with no charge and almost no mass and are able to pass through objects almost undetected
- Electron: subatomic particle with a negative charge
- Quark: are not made of matter. The are energy forces
Realism, at the most general level, is the view that there are entities in this world that exist independently of our mind. From a scientific perspective, scientific realism means that the world studied by science really exists and has the property independently of our beliefs, and that the aim of science is to describe and explain the world including parts of it that are not directly observable. Moreover, scientific realism also means that to accept scientific theory is to think that it is at least approximately true, and that later and more successful theories are closer approximations of truth. Instrumentalism, on the other hand, treats science as an instrument to explain and predict phenomena rather than an approximation of the objective reality.
The first difference between realism and instrumentalism can be unfolded by their treatments of unobservable entities. According to instrumentalism, there is a distinction to be drawn between observable and unobservable entities. Although instrumentalism agrees with the realist account regarding observable entities, it nevertheless differs from realism when it comes to unobservable entities in the sense that instrumental-ism treats unobservable objects as merely posited entities on theoretical grounds, or “convenient fictions.” Realism, on the other hand, argues against instrumentalism that no arbitrary distinction can be maintained between unobservable and observable entities. Instead, there is a continuum between the two ends. Therefore, realism and instrumental-ism differ from each other in terms of their agreement on drawing a definite distinction between observable and observable entities.
The second difference is brought up by Larry Laudan in his essay “A Confutation of Convergent Realism,” in which he argues that there is no way to account for the success of science unless one assumes that scientific theories and terms refer to theory-independent realities. In other words, realism and instrumentalism also differ in their capability of explaining the success of science: while realism proposes that scientific theories converge toward the truth and accounts for the success of science, instrumentalism, by denying the possibility of describing objective reality, makes the success of science utterly miraculous.
Nevertheless, although Laudan points out the difference between realism and instrumental-ism by alluding to the former’s ability to account for the success of science, he is by no means satisfied with the so-called “no miracles argument” by the convergent realists. In a nutshell, Laudan is suspicious of the realist’s assertion about the interrelations between truth, reference, and success. According to convergent realism, a theory is true only if its terms refer, and if its terms refer, there is reason to think that the theory is true. Furthermore, if a theory is approximately true, then it will be explanatory successful, and if a theory is explanatory successful, then it is probably approximately true. However, Laudan argues that there is no necessary connection between reference and success. By showing such counterexamples as atom-ism and the ether theory, Laudan argues that a referring theory is not necessarily successful and that a successful theory does not necessarily refer either. Moreover, Laudan also argues that there is no necessary connection between truth and success either. Convergent realism has two characterizations of the term truth. On the one hand, a weak characterization argues that truth is equivalent to “approximate truth,” meaning that a successful scientific theory, even if strictly false, is nonetheless close to the truth or verisimilitude. On the other hand, a strong characterization argues that truth means that the main terms in a theory genuinely refer. As for the former, Laudan argues that the term “approximate truth” is too vague to make any sense in this context. As for the latter, Laudan’s criticism of the connection between reference and success works the same here. Therefore, although Laudan agrees that realism indeed offers an account for the success of science, convergent realism and its “no miracles argument” are nevertheless inadequate.