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So I'll likely be teaching an undergraduate class on Realism vs. Anti-Realism in the Philosophy of Science next fall. I figured I'd fish for some suggestions on accessible and engaging literature in the area (since I don't doubt that I'm ignorant of many great articles and since my own interests are relatively technical and so some of my favorite papers wouldn't be appropriate). Articles would likely be best, unless there is some exceptionally well written book on the matter that people think would be a good textbook (but even then I'd be hesitant; I like to save my students money by making texts freely available online, and I like to do so without breaking too many copyright laws).

What counts as accessible?

  1. No requirement of a sophisticated knowledge of science--- nothing beyond what you'd learn in high school. Obviously, examples can be discussed that students might not be familiar with, but I'd like something that is relatively self-contained.
  2. No requirement of more than an intro class worth of logic. It can go slightly beyond that since I can fill the gaps, but I'd take it that this would rule out things like Putnam's Model Theoretic Argument (against metaphysical realism, strictly speaking, but applicable in a more foundational way to scientific realism).
  3. Relatively clearly written with a clearly identifiable thesis/argument.

Any suggestions along these lines?

  • 1
    Meillassoux might be accessible to bright undergrads... – Joseph Weissman Apr 5 '13 at 17:05
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Here is what I wound up selecting for my course, grouped into the units I'll be teaching them in:


Unit 1: What is a Theory?

Hilary Putnam, "What Theories Are Not"

Bas van Fraasen, The Scientific Image ch. 3

Unit 2: What is Scientific Realism?

Richard Boyd, "What Realism Implies and What It Does Not"

Unit 3: Underdetermination of Theories by Data

Pierre Duhem, "Physical Theory and Experiment"

Larry Laudan, "Demystifying Underdetermination"

Dana Tulodziecki, "Breaking the Ties: Epistemic Significance, Bacilli, and Underdetermination"

Unit 4: Theoretical Entities and Unobservables

Grover Maxwell, "The Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities"

Bas van Fraasen, The Scientific Image, ch. 2 sec. 2

Dicken and Lipton, "What Can Bas Believe?"

Muller and van Fraasen, "How to Talk About Unobservables"

Dicken, "On the Syntax and Semantics of Observability"

Unit 5: The Pessimistic Induction

Laudan, "A Confutation of Convergent Realism"

Psillos, "Scientific Realism and the 'Pessimistic Induction'"

Unit 6: Realism's Main Rival

Gideon Rosen, "What Is Constructive Empiricism?"

Bas van Fraassen, "Gideon Rosen on Constructive Empiricism"

Unit 7: How Does Realism Stack Up?

Musgrave, "Realism Versus Constructive Empiricism"


As you can see, I settled with only one anti-realist view for reasons of time and accessibility. A few of the articles I included because of their historical significance (Putnam, Duhem, and Maxwell). The Boyd article is a great introduction to scientific realism. I also found that the Laudan article on underdetermination provided a really good overview of that topic. Most of these articles aren't too technical and should be accessible to students with only a light background in logic. A few of my favorites are the Boyd, Tulodziecki, Musgrave, and Psillos.

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Thank you for the bump, here is what I was going to provide to start you off in your search for suitable material to use in your intro course. I have found this resource to be useful in the past and also the SEP on realism. They both have very rich bibliographies that might lead to a lot of good resources for you to use, especially since you prefer papers and shorts. Additionally this one, which is also referenced on Wiki, and the SEP on moral anti-realism. This particular one I like for how it brings it together in a tidy brief fashion. This last one might serve as a good introduction.

  • 4 more votes and you should be able to comment, I think. You might also be able to comment for as many times as you want on your own posts, I think. Oh, I think you may now edit your post and more links. – Hunan Rostomyan Aug 29 '13 at 6:08
  • Unfortunately the links provided only briefly discuss scientific realism. Thanks for the effort, though. – Dennis Aug 29 '13 at 15:45
  • @Dennis I am sorry, I thought you were teaching "Philosophy of Science", is there a specific context you were looking for? I might be able to do some research for you. – GµårÐïåñ Aug 29 '13 at 17:29
  • Oh I am, the problem was that the links you provided don't touch much on philosophy of science (the first is on realism in literature, the second is just on "realism" broadly construed, the third one is anti-realism broadly construed, the SEP moral anti-realism article doesn't discuss philosophy of science at all, the last link is actually on topic but not really suitable for an assigned reading). I've actually already planned out the course and selected readings, so don't worry about finding other materials though I'll certainly take a look at anything you find though. – Dennis Aug 29 '13 at 17:57
  • I should actually type up the readings I selected and post that as an answer. – Dennis Aug 29 '13 at 17:59
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Your question immediately brought Simon Blackurn's succinct and nicely written book, Truth A Guide (2005) to mind. Given your syllabus, Chapter 7: Realism as Science; Realism About Science, would be an excellent introductory text. Also, might not your undergraduates benefit from reading a little pragmatism? Maybe not James or Rorty, but how about Dewey (possibly something from his Reconstruction in Philosophy), or Pierce (such as The Fixation of Belief).

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