South African Journal of Philosophy

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Interactive Realism

E Ruttkamp


I investigate a new understanding of realism in science, referred to as ‘interactive realism’, and I suggest the ‘evolutionary progressiveness’ of a theory as novel criterion for this kind of realism. My basic claim is that we cannot be realists about anything except the progress affected by myriad science-reality interactions that are constantly moving on a continuum of increased ‘fitness’ determined according to empirical constraints. Moreover to reflect this movement accurately, there is a corresponding continuum of verdicts about the status of the knowledge conveyed by theories – ranging from stark instrumentalism to full-blown realism. This view may sound like a pessimistic inductivist's dream, but actually this is so only if one evaluates it from within a traditional context where the ‘truth’ of a single theory is the exclusive criterion for realism. I, on the other hand, want to redefine the terms of realist debate in such a way that the units of assessment of realism are sequences of theories evaluated according to their ‘evolutionary progressiveness’. I unpack ‘interactive realism’ by defining my notion of ‘evolutionary progressiveness’, the notion of ‘truth-as-historied reference’ underpinning it, and the continuum of interaction between theories and aspects of reality it affects. I conclude that, although interactive realism is a radically non-standard kind of realism, it is at least more realistic about science as a fractured complex multi-faceted enterprise than most other kinds of realism on the block, because it shows coherence amidst fragmentation.
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