Academic year
José Díez and Carl Hoefer
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Master courses
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy
2021-02-09 - 2021-05-11
Tuesdays, 9:30 - 12:00
UB, Facultat de Filosofia, room 411


The goal of this course is to introduce students to contemporary philosophical debates in philosophy of science, and to build the analytical and critical skills needed to contribute to those debates. This year the topic we will focus on is scientific realism/anti-realism (as well as some related issues)Scientific realists maintain that we have good reasons to believe in the (approximate) truth of our most successful scientific theories, including what those theories say about entities and phenomena that are unobservable (e.g., what quantum physics tells us about electrons and the structure of atoms).  In addition to being intrinsically philosophically interesting (and problematic), the topic of scientific realism gets at the heart of the traditional philosophical problems of epistemology.  We will read and discuss a selection of classic papers and book excerpts arguing for/against scientific realism, as well as some recent contributions to the literature.  We will also look at specific areas of science where anti-realist concerns may seem to be justified, for example the recent “reproducibility crisis” affecting psychology and social sciences, or the problems of climate modeling.

No special mathematics or scientific knowledge is presupposed, other than high-school level mathematics.

Structure and contents:

  1. Introduction: Anti/realism, its nature and scope
  2. The problems of scientific realism
  3. The context of scientific realism: theories, entities & experiments
  4. Arguments for SR/SA
  5. Varieties of SR and their problems
  6. SR/SA in contemporary scientific controversies


Classes in the first 4 or 5 weeks will be organized as lectures with time for discussion and practice with some exercises.  In those weeks, students will be given a homework assignment, due the following class, intended to complement the lectures and solidify understanding of the basic concepts.

In the remaining sessions, students will be required to read one or more contemporary text before each class, and submit to the instructors a substantive question or comment on the reading, for discussion during class, the day before class.  This will ensure that students prepare adequately for classes and will ensure discussion in class that is both stimulating and helpful in advancing students’ understanding.

Learning outcomes:

  • Students should be conversant with the fundamental concepts arguments deployed in the debates concerning scientific realism and the production of scientific knowledge.
  • Students should be acquainted with episodes from the history of science that are frequently cited in debates about scientific realism.
  • Students should be able to critically understand central texts in contemporary philosophy of science. 
  • Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments in a clear and articulate way. 
  • Students should be able to work both independently and in a team in an international environment. 
  • Students should be able to identify fallacies and methodological errors in reasoning.
  • Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary philosophy of science.
  • Students should be able to identify and critically engage with the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.


Students will also be expected to complete two examinations during the course (format to be determined later).


Bibliography (representative)


- A. Chakravartti, 2010, A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism: Knowing the Unobservable, Cambridge U. P.

- A. Diéguez, 1998, Realismo Científico: Una introducción al debate actual en la filosofía de la ciencia, U. de Málaga.

- A. Kukla, 1998, Studies in Studies in Scientific Realism, Oxford U. P.

- J. Leplin, 1997, A Novel Defense of Scientific Realism, Oxford U. P.

- I. Niiniluoto, 2002, Critical Scientific Realism, Oxford U.P.

- S. Psillos, 1999, Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth , Routledge.

- E. Rojas, 2011, El realismo científico y el conocimiento de los inobservables: ¿estamos justificados en creer en las entidades inobservables que las teorías científicas postulan?, Ed Académica Española.

- H. Sankey, 2008, Scientific Realism and the Rationality of Science, Ashgate.

- K. Stanford, 2006, Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives, Oxford U.P.




- Boyd, R. N., 1983, ‘On the Current Status of the Issue of Scientific realism’, Erkenntnis, 19: 45–90.

- Carnap, R., 1950, ‘Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology’, Revue Intérnationale de Philosophie, 4: 20–40. Reprinted in Carnap, R. 1956: Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantic and Modal Logic, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chakravartty, A., 1998, ‘Semirealism’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29: 391–408.

- Chakravartty, A.,  2008, ‘What You Don't Know Can't Hurt You: Realism and the Unconceived’, Philosophical Studies,137: 149–158.
- Ellis, B., 1985, ‘What Science Aims to Do’, in Churchland et alt (eds.), Images of Science

- Fine, A., 1986, ‘Unnatural Attitudes: Realist and Antirealist Attachments to cience’, Mind, 95: 149–177.

 - Frigg, R. and Votsis, I.  ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Structural Realism But Were Afraid to Ask', European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1, 2011, 227–276, 

- Giere, R., 1985,  'Constructive Empiricism', in Churchland et alt (eds.), Images of Science

- Hacking, I., 1985, ‘Do We See Through a Microscope?’, in Churchland & Hooker (eds.), Images of Science: Essays on Realism and Empiricism(with a reply from Bas C. van Fraassen), Chicago: University of Chicago Press. - Laudan, L., 1981, ‘A Confutation of Convergent Realism’, Philosophy of  Science, 48: 19–48.

- Hoefer, C., 2020, ‘Scientific Realism Without the Quantum’, in Scientific Realism and the Quantum, ed. Steven French & Juha Saatsi, Oxford U.P.

- Hoefer, C. & Martí, G., forthcoming, ‘Realism, Reference & Perspective’, to appear in European Journal for Philosophy of Science.

- Ladyman, J., 1998, ‘What is Structural Realism?’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 29: 409–424.

- Laudan, L., 1981, ‘A Confutation of Convergent Realism’, Philosophy of  Science, 48: 19–48.

- Leplin, J., 1981, ‘Truth and Scientific Progress’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 12: 269–292.

- Maxwell, G., 1962, ‘On the Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities’, in H. Feigl & G. Maxwell (eds.), Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume III, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

- Papineau, D., 2010, ‘Realism, Ramsey Sentences and the Pessimistic Meta-Induction’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 41: 375–385.

- Psillos, S. 1999, 'Resisting the pessimistic induction', ch. 5 of Scientific Realism

- Psillos, S, 2000, 'Empiricism vs Scientific Realism: Belief in Truth Matters', International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 14, pp.57-75.

- Psillos, S. 2011, ‘Realism with Humean face’, in French and Saatsi (eds.) Continuum Companion to the Philosophy of Science.

- Stanford, P., 2003, 'Pyrrhic Victories for Scientific Realism’, Journal of Philosophy, 100: 553–572.

- Van Fraassen, B., 1976, ‘To Save the Phenomena’, Journal of Philosophy, 73/18, 623-32 (reprinted as ch. 3 of The Scientific Image)

- Van Fraassen, B., 1980, ‘Arguments Concerning Scientific Realism’, ch. 2 of The Scientific Image)

- Worrall, J., 1989, ‘Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?’, Dialectica, 43: 99–124

Other considerations

This course will be taught in-person by default. Depending on the development of the covid-19 sanitary crisis, and on the advice of health authorities, the course could switch to online teaching, with the same schedule and evaluation methods.