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“The realist seeks the ontological commitments of our best scientific theories. The
view that the physical world consists of a natural, pre-given and pre-descriptive set of
laws, entities, properties, and relations is usually called scientific realism. And,
according to the realist, the aim of science is to give a literal and objective description
of such a world, and its present success can be seen as a token of the performance of
these efforts. He holds that science eventually secures more and more knowledge
about the world as it is in itself, and hence knowledge about a world of invisible
things and properties. Likewise, the realist position is very often identified with the
thesis that the theories that at the present time are considered the best are closer to the
truth than earlier ones, and that the central terms of our best current theories are
genuinely referential.”
Where realists and constructivists differ is not on the role of models (as defined above), but
on the role of representations and descriptions, including those that may be derived from
models and their use. The constructivist will assert that a representation/description is a
human construct and is thus one step removed from that which might be called “real.” Thus,
the constructivist may share the creationists’ apprehension about evolutionary theory being
proclaimed as a representation of “the mechanism” or “truth.” The realist, by contrast, sees
no basis for such an apprehension. As Neubert (2008) says:
“We cannot know what the real really is without incorporating and assimilating it into
our symbolic and imaginative constructions of reality. The intrusions of the real that
we encounter in our lives expose the inherent gaps and fissures in the texture of our
realities. Insofar they are as much expressions of our cultural resources as are our
constructions of reality. What can (and cannot) enter our experience and observation
as a real event may therefore differ quite considerably from culture to culture, from
person to person, and even from situation to situation.” In other words, “the real? is
but a construct that we devise in order to remind us that there is a world independent
of our constructions, a world that is never totally absorbed by our observer
perspectives, however sophisticated and refined these may be.
“[T]he epistemology of pragmatist constructivism is subjectivist. Knowledge is
viewed as malleable, and experience is open to multiple interpretations. Knowing, in
pragmatist constructivism, is individually, culturally, and socially framed. There is no
fixed reality waiting to be discovered by diligent analysis. … The only independent
reality is beyond the reach of our knowledge and language.” A known world is partly
constructed by the imposition of concepts. These concepts differ from (linguistic,
social, scientific, etc.) group to group, and hence the worlds of groups differ. Each
such world exists only relative to an imposition of concepts. (Devitt, 1997)