Page 111 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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scientific community to accept some other paradigm, it would be false that
Electrons have
negative charge
. Furthermore, when the scientific community in fact accepted a different
paradigm, for instance during the heyday of Newtonian mechanics, it
was
false that
Electrons
have negative charge
. On the constructivist view, truths about theoretical entities are
mind
dependent
.
Contra the constructivist, the realist holds that (some) truths about theoretical entities
are
mind independent
. It is, however, no easy task to offer a satisfactory definition of “mind
independent.” Consider the following formulation:
Sentences containing theoretical terms
are not made true in virtue of anyone’s mental states.
Problematically, this definition of
“mind independence” prevents one from being a realist about any science that studies the
mind. Claims made by psychologists, cognitive scientists, and perhaps neuroscientists are
made true by mental states. Even if one is skeptical of the maturity of these disciplines, one
wants to leave open the possibility in principle that some day the claims of the mind sciences
will be treated realistically. Some other way of understanding mind independence is required.
In light of the preceding considerations, one may be tempted to move away from
understanding realism in terms of mind independence and instead take the realist to be
committed to the
theory independence
of truths about theoretical entities. We can understand
theory independence as the claim that
sentences containing theoretical terms are not made
true in virtue of anyone’s attitudes towards some theory or set of theories
. This formulation
of the realist’s ontological commitments nicely counts out versions of constructivism without
ruling out,
a priori
, the possibility of realism about psychology and cognitive science. It is,
however, ambiguous. We must take care in how we understand the phrase “in virtue of.”
Consider the following claim:
Prior to the 2008 housing bubble crash, many
Americans accepted unsustainable mortgages
. There is an important sense in which this
claim is true in virtue of Americans’ acceptance of a theory. For many years, it was widely
accepted that the value of real estate would always increase. It is in virtue of acceptance of
this theory of real estate prices that many Americans accepted unsustainable mortgages. Had
they not accepted this theory of real estate prices, they would not have accepted unsustainable
mortgages. Americans’ acceptance of a certain theory of real estate prices was
causally
responsible for their willingness to accept unsustainable mortgage prices.
There is, however, another sense of “in virtue of” – the
constitutive
sense. By way of
illustration, consider again the above claim about the 2008 housing bubble crash. It may be
that acceptance of a certain theory of real estate prices was causally responsible for
Americans accepting unsustainable mortgages; however, Americans’ acceptance of a certain
theory of real estate prices is not constitutive of their accepting unsustainable mortgage
prices.
The social sciences study human societies. It is a banal truth that the theories people
accept influence the way in which they behave. If we understand the “in virtue of” clause of
theory independence in the causal sense, realism about the social sciences is untenable. If,
however, we understand the “in virtue of” clause in the constitutive sense, we can be realists
about psychology, cognitive science, sociology, anthropology, and the rest of the social
sciences. Thus, the scientific realist is committed to the following thesis:
sentences
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