The Philosophy of Science an Encyclopedia Ed Sahotra Sarkar Instrumentalism

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  Instrumentalism (to appear in The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, ed. SahotraSarkar. New York: Routledge, nc.)P. Kyle StanfordDepartment of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of California, Irvine5100 Social Sciences PlazaIrvine, CA 92697-5100U.S.A.stanford@uci.eduThough John Dewey coined he tenn 'instrumentalism' o describe an extremelybroad Pragmatist ttitude owards deas or concepts n general, he distinctive application of that abel within the philosophy of science s to positions hat regard scientific theories not as iteral and/or accurate descriptions f the natural world, but instead as mere ools or 'instruments' or making empirical predictions and achieving other practical ends. This general nstrumentalist hesis has, however, been associated ith a variety of motivations, arguments nd urther commitments. Unifying all these positions s the insistence hat we can and should ~ scientific heories or the successful ompletion of our goals, but should either not believe he claims hey make about nature or some parts thereof) or not regard hem as actually making such claims n the flfSt place. I will leaveaside he question of whether he term 'instrumentalism' should as s sometimessuggested) e restricted o a subset of such views sharing some distinctive further characteristic, eeking nstead o illustrate he historical and conceptual elations heybear o one another and o related positions n the philosophy of science.  589). Therefore, heoretical concepts ike 'atoms' are merely provisional helps ,appearances- JQ ecause hey seek unsuccessfully o describe a reality beyond appearances ut rather because hey successfully ut only indirectly describe collections of coordinated nd systematized xperiences hemselves.The sole object of science,Mach nsists, s its economical office of replac[ing], or sav[ing], experiences, y thereproduction and anticipation of facts n thought (ibid, 577) and with the least ~ossible exoenditure f thought (ibid., 586).The instrumentalist mpetus amiliar from more recent philosophy of science,however, s rooted more fundamentally n developments ithin physics at the turn of thecentury, and n the related ogical, epistemic, and historical concerns about he status of scientific heories articulated by thinkers ike Pierre Duhem and Henri Poincare. At thistime, developments n physical science had begun o suggest hat there might be quite genuine cases f differences between actual competing scientific theories hat could not possibly be adjudicated by any straightforward appeal o empirical tests or observations: to use a famous example of Poincare's though not a case of actual competing heories), any set of measurements f the angles n a triangle marked out by appropriately oriented perfectly rigid rods can be accommodated y the assignment f any number of differentcombinations f underlying spatial geometries nd compensating congruence elations'for the rods n question; f the swn of the angles differs from 180 degrees, or instance, we could either nterpret he underlying geometry as Euclidean and conclude hat the distance marked out by each od varies with its position and/or orientation, or assume hat the distance marked out by each od remains constant and conclude hat the underlying  Furthennore, Duhem argues, t is only the explanatory efforts of theories hat arereplaced wholesale n the ongoing process of historical revolution among scientific theories, while Poincare similarly holds hat historical revolutions are confined o those parts of our theories which seek o make claims about he actual constitution of inaccessible omains of nature but which merely nam[ e]. . . he mages we substituted or the real objects which Nature will hide for ever rom our eyes (161). Duhem claims hatthe proper understanding f science ecognizes hat hypotheses are] not udgmentsabout he nature of things, only premises ntended o provide consequences onforming to experimental aws (39) and hat propositions ntroduced by a theory.. are neither we must not ask from [mathematical heories] what [they] cannot give us ; it would be an unreasonable emand o expect hem to reveal o us the real nature of things ,instead [t]heir only object s to co-ordinate he physical aws with which experimentmakes us acquainted... 211). (As these quotations llustrate, however, both Duhem and Poincare istinguish such hypotheses r mathematical heories rom experimentallaws , and hey differ from Mach in regarding he atter, qua generalizations boutobservable henomena e.g., Kepler's laws), as straightforward, ruth-valued descriptionsof nature.)Both Duhem and Poincare, hen, seem o recognize our theories as asniring o explain or de~cribe n underlying, naccessible eality, but reject hese ambitions as ultimately either unscientific or unsatisfiable n some way. Their rich and complexviews, however, anged at different times and n different works through a wide varietyof importantly divergent attitudes and not all the same ones between hem) owards he  observable vents or subjective experiences, emantic nstrumentalism ffered a naturalcommitments bout he unobservable world, even f they cannot be fully reduced oclaims about observable ntities or experiences. More specifically, hey suggested hat theoretical claims are properly regarded s mere syntactic nstruments devoid of ~ semantic ontent beyond he license hey provide o infer some observable tates romothers. In the spirit of Duhem and Poincare, his view regarded heoretical claims as oon: is like and not possessing ruth values at all.Of course, nstrumentalists might evade his counterintuitive hesis by taking themore natural view (equally n the spirit of Duhem and Poincare) hat such discourse s This alternative onD of instrumentalism lsosimply eliminable rom science altogether.gained considerable urrency among ogical positivists, especially ollowing the fonnulation and proof of an influential theorem by William Craig. Craig's Theoremshowed hat for any recursively axiomatized irst-order heory T, given any effectivelyspecified sub-vocabulary of T (mutually exclusive of and exhaustive with the remainder of the vocabulary of T), one can effectively construct another heory T' whose theorems re exactly hose ofT that contain no nonlogical expressions esides hose n O. As Hempel was he first to realize, his theorem mplies that any such scientific theorywith its nonlogical vocabulary divided nto theoretical and observational ortions can be replaced with a 'functionally equivalent' Craig-transfornl hat preserves ll the deductiverelationships etween observation entences stablished y T itself, since (by Craig'sTheorem) any chain of laws and nterpretive statements stablishing definite
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