I note there are some questions similar to mine, e.g. the question "What is the underdetermination of theories by evidence, and how does it square with scientific realism?" But I believe they are also different in some ways so I present my question anyway.


Realism is a zoo with many strange animals.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) gives - with caveats - the definition of Scientific Realism (under the same heading): “Metaphysically, realism is committed to the mind-independent existence of the world investigated by the sciences” A more compact definition would be to say that “the real world exists independent of our consciousness” leaving out whether the world is investigated or not.

I take this as an axiom and consider some of its consequences. The first consequence is that man-made descriptions, theories and models are related to our consciousness and can therefore not be part of the objective world. Although we could imagine another objective entity accompanying the objective reality, made up by an objective true theory and model of the objective world, but we don’t have access to such thing now, so we must admit that there is no objective -and absolute - descriptions of reality in either words or formulas.

It may seem a reasonable position but it has surprising consequences in a number of fields.

1 Regarding: Philosophical view of absolute truth

An immediate, and trivial, consequence is the Duhem-Quine thesis The basic problem is that individual theoretical claims are unable to be confirmed or falsified on their own, in isolation from surrounding hypotheses. (Philpapers.org on “Quine-Duhem Thesis”)

The challenge was extended by Quine to apply to all knowledge claims. (“.…W. V. O. Quine suggested that such challenges applied not only to the confirmation of all types of scientific theories, but to all knowledge claims/ From SEP on “Underdetermination of Scientific Theory”.) According to SEP this is “His /Quine's/ incorporation and further development of these problems as part of a general account of human knowledge was one of the most significant developments of 20th Century” (SEP "Underdeterminism of scientific theory")

2 Regarding: Model-making in science

We can now (epistemologically) answer a question from an AAAS seminar about whether the flapping of a bird or butterfly’s wings in Argentina could exclusively cause a tornado in Texas some time later which wouldn’t have occurred without the particular wing-flapping. The answer is: “It depends on the model!” The search for absolute truth hidden in the question is futile.

Regarding Model-making in science 2.1: Epistemology of quantum physics - an area of great confusion.

I assume that Schrödinger’s cat experiment is well known. The experiment has been called into question regarding the rules of so-called thought experiments but we allow it for the purpose here.

The situation is that the cat is either dead or alive, it is only 50 % dead and alive to the physicist who confuses theory with reality!

(There is a challenge here. It does not refer to the dismissal of the waveform as non-real. Instead it has to do with the concepts “life”, and “death” and “cats” which are also models - descriptions - of reality and therefore cannot represent absolute truth. The solution is to arrange real-life models in a hierarchy similar to a Russian Babushka, with some layers more important than others. Indeed, Scrödinger himself contrasted the immediate - and therefore in a sense closer to reality - ideas of the "cat", and its potential "life" or "death", to his own more sophisticated equation.)


My question is whether this definition - and the axiom I infer about absolute truth - and its consequences is accepted by followers of the same philosophical direction (scientific realism as defined above).

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    If 'Realism is a zoo with many strange animals', then what about anti-realism? Re your inferred realism's position 'there is no objective -and absolute - descriptions of reality in either words or formulas', it sounds exactly the Kantian noumena which is apparently also a conclusion not from realism. Your mentioned Duhem-Quine thesis also is not a consequence of ontic realism, but a modern HD rephrase for scientific theories of the perennial epistemic holism/contextualism rejecting reductionism/scientific absolutism and the quoted SEP section seems overrates and too attached to this thesis... Aug 13, 2023 at 22:28

2 Answers 2


The Cat Experiment (and its corollary in which a physicist opens the box but doesn't tell his friend, so the cat is both definitely in one state to the physicist, but superposed for the friend) points the opposite direction from what I understand you to be contending. It demonstrates that physicists must be careful not to describe the way the universe actually is in terms of things other than the hypothetical outcomes of measurements.

A paradox in physics is an experiment involving a working model which generates an apparent contradiction. It points to a problem with the physicist's understanding of the model or the physicist's description of the measurement.

For the Schrodinger's Cat paradox, the problem is attaching the empirical claim is to something like in a superposed state which is not a physically measurable observable. As soon as you replace "is in a superposed state" with "can have future measurements of its state predicted stochastically by a superposition of states", the apparent paradox disappears.

"What, if any, real present state does the superposition describe, about which one could make empirical claims?" remains an open question.


Scientific realists face the problem of how to justify their belief in the reality of unobservable entities, such as electrons, genes, or black holes, that are postulated by scientific theories but not directly accessible to our senses. There are different ways that scientific realists try to solve this problem, but one common strategy is to appeal to the success of science as an indicator of the approximate truth or reliability of its theories. This is known as the “no miracles argument”, which states that it would be a miracle if our scientific theories were so successful in explaining and predicting the observable phenomena, but were completely false or irrelevant about the unobservable entities they invoke.


Therefore, we have good reasons to believe that our scientific theories are at least partially true or approximately true about both the observable and the unobservable aspects of reality.

However, this argument is not without its difficulties and objections. Some people argue that the success of science is not a sufficient or necessary condition for the truth of its theories, and that there may be alternative explanations for why science works without invoking realism. For example, some anti-realists propose that scientific theories are merely instruments or tools for organizing and manipulating our observations, and that they do not aim to describe reality as it is, but only as it appears to us. This is known as instrumentalism , which denies the reality or significance of unobservable entities and focuses only on the empirical adequacy or pragmatic utility of scientific theories.


Other guys challenge the notion of truth or approximation to truth that is assumed by scientific realists. They argue that there is no objective or absolute standard of truth or accuracy that can be applied to scientific theories, and that different theories may be true or false in different ways or degrees, depending on various factors such as context, perspective, purpose, convention, or interpretation. This is known as perspectivism , which emphasizes the diversity and plurality of scientific knowledge and rejects the idea of a single or unified account of reality.


Therefore, your question about whether your definition and its consequences are accepted by followers of scientific realism cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Rather, it depends on how one understands and defends scientific realism, and how one responds to the challenges and alternatives posed by anti-realists and perspectivists.

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