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Hasok Chang (University of Cambridge): Realism for Realistic People

2 February 2023, 12:00 pm1:30 pm

Abstract: In this talk I will present the main steps in my attempt to re-conceive realism on the basis of new pragmatist notions of knowledge, truth and reality. I focus on ‘active knowledge’, which consists in knowing how to do things; active knowledge both enables and utilizes propositional knowledge. The quality of active knowledge consists in ‘operational coherence’, which is a matter of designing our activities so that they make sense as plans for achieving our aims. I understand the very notions of reality and truth in terms of operational coherence, thereby rendering them as concepts operative in actual practices. True propositions facilitate operationally coherent activities, which deal in real entities. Empirical truth is not a matter of correspondence to an inaccessible sort of mind-independent reality; the correspondence achieved in real practices is among accessible realities that are ‘mind-framed’ yet not ‘mind-controlled’. I take realism in and about science as a kind of activism: a commitment to do whatever we can in order to improve knowledge. And I take this in a realistic spirit, focusing on what we can do in actual processes of learning. Some implications of activist realism are contrary to the instincts of standard scientific realists. Following the imperative of progress inherent in activist realism naturally results in a plurality of systems of practice, each with its real entities and its true propositions. And the activist stance allows us to condemn those who work against empirical learning, while not claiming for ourselves any supernatural access to ‘external reality’.

Hasok Chang is a historian and philosopher of science currently serving as the Hans Rausing Professor at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and board member of the Philosophy of Science Association.


2 February 2023
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Event Category:


LAK 2.06
Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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