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Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series) 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226300634
ISBN-10: 0226300633
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Editorial Reviews


"While addressing important issues (such as the difference between logical positivism and logical empiricism), Godfrey-Smith displays consistent clarity. It is truly refreshing to read a text that is thorough, clear, and penetrating. Students with little or no background in philosophy or philosophy of science will find this book to be extremely worthwhile. Professionals in other fields and other disciplines will appreciate the breadth and depth. . . .Whether you teach philosophy of science, or whether you are simple interested in issues relating science, philosophy, history, and other fields, I am confident that you'll find Theory and Reality an accessible and rewarding read."--James Sage, Metapsychology
(James Sage Metapsychology)

"Godfrey-Smith presents a clear, comprehensive, and accessible introductory survey of the major problems and movements in the philosophy of science. It is an excellent book to use on its own in a lower-level philosophy of science course or as a supplement to some anthology of primary texts in a more sophisticated upper-level course. It would also suit anyone who has interest in the subject but little patience for jargon-heavy professional philosophy. . . . His exposition is accented by insightful commentary and criticism, and by examples from the history of science all with a keen sense of humor."
(Michael Veber Science Education)

"A stimulating introduction to nearly every department of general philosophy of science. . . . Godfrey-Smith's attempt to inject new vigor and liveliness into philospohy of science is quite successful, as evidenced by the charmingly opinionated style of presentation and the ease with which he ties latter-day perspectives on science back to the classic positivist tradition and the history of sceince. . . . A very fresh and well-conceived book."
(Matthew D. Lund Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

How does science work? Does it tell us what the world is "really" like? What makes it different from other ways of understanding the universe? In Theory and Reality, Peter Godfrey-Smith addresses these questions by taking the reader on a grand tour of one hundred years of debate about science. The result is a completely accessible introduction to the main themes of the philosophy of science.

Intended for undergraduates and general readers with no prior background in philosophy, Theory and Reality covers logical positivism; the problems of induction and confirmation; Karl Popper's theory of science; Thomas Kuhn and "scientific revolutions"; the views of Imre Lakatos, Larry Laudan, and Paul Feyerabend; and challenges to the field from sociology of science, feminism, and science studies. The book then looks in more detail at some specific problems and theories, including scientific realism, the theory-ladeness of observation, scientific explanation, and Bayesianism. Finally, Godfrey-Smith defends a form of philosophical naturalism as the best way to solve the main problems in the field.

Throughout the text he points out connections between philosophical debates and wider discussions about science in recent decades, such as the infamous "science wars." Examples and asides engage the beginning student; a glossary of terms explains key concepts; and suggestions for further reading are included at the end of each chapter. However, this is a textbook that doesn't feel like a textbook because it captures the historical drama of changes in how science has been conceived over the last one hundred years.

Like no other text in this field, Theory and Reality combines a survey of recent history of the philosophy of science with current key debates in language that any beginning scholar or critical reader can follow.

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Product Details

  • Series: Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (August 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226300633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226300634
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This outstanding introduction to the philosophy of science should not only please the undergraduates for which it was designed but also a broader audience of readers who are curious as to what this enterprise is all about. Godfrey-Smith manages to cover the subject even-handedly, even as he advocates a particular view or approach to the subject. The view that he defends is an unlikely combination of naturalism, empiricism and realism. I say "unlikely" because these three attitudes are not usually found bound into one package. The tension between empiricism and realism, in particular, has traditionally been emphasized. Though I am a skeptic about realism, I found Godfrey-Smith's defense of that view to be the best there is. I do wish he had extended this defense beyond van Fraassen's particular form of anti-realism to the form of anti-realism defended by Laudan. But that is a minor quibble.
The first seven chapters follow a broadly historical logic. The two chapters on Kuhn are particularly strong and provide a very nice summary of Kuhn's thinking for those who, though curious about the man's ideas, have never managed to read his Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I also found the chapter on logical positivism a very helpful and concise treatment of this movement. Godfrey-Smith manages to make the reader aware of the shortcomings of this program without, as is often the case, being dismissive.
Godfrey-Smith is also judicious in his treatment of feminist approaches to the philosophy of science, sociological views of science, and the endeavor known as "science studies". His discussion of the Sokal Hoax strikes the right balance and avoids the triumphalism that you might expect of someone with Godfrey-Smith's views.
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Format: Paperback
This is by far the most convincing Introduction to Philosophy of Science that I've come across so far. As most previous reviewers agree, it is both deep and accessible, it makes a serious (not merely 'pro forma') attempt at being balanced and giving non-standard science studies a fair run for its money (unlike other books I have reviewed in the past). What's more, it even conveys a sense of the history of the debates that have shaped philosophy of science, while at the same time making the historical discussions relevant to the systematic interest of the philosophical argument. In this regard, it is much more of an introduction to philosophy of science than, for example, Losee's 'Historical Introduction to Philosophy of Science'. There are some minor problems, though, which means the book doesn't quite deserve five stars: first, the order of the chapters is somewhat idiosyncratic -- some crucial topics, such as scientific explanation, appear only on the last few pages of the book. Second, the discussion is sometimes too brief, especially when it comes to classic problems (e.g. D-N model of explanation); the author should have sacrificed one chapter (do we really need separate chapters on 'Feminism & Science' and 'The Challenge from SSK', and on 'Naturalistic Philosophy of Science' and 'Naturalism and the Social Structure of Science'?), thereby making room for a more complete discussion of standard material. Well, let's hope there will be second edition.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I studied a lot of philosophy of science when I was in college and graduate school, just for fun. But that was many years ago, and I needed a dispassionate overview of the field and a guide to the various philosophical problems confronting scientific explanation. This was the perfect book.
Godfrey-Smith saves his own position for the last few chapters of the book, and tries to present a variety of views in the body of the book with great tolerance for imperfections, rough edges, and infelicities. Yet, he has no qualms about proclaiming that a certain view is no longer treated seriously in the field (e.g., logical positivism, covering law theory, analytic/synthetic division).
The book covers the whole of the Twentieth Century, from logical positivism, through Quine, Goodman, and Popper, to Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Science Studies, feminism, and post-modernism. He is more balanced than I, I must say, since I really hate post-modernism and all of its fellow-travellers, whereas the author tries to find some pearls of wisdom scattered across the dross.
Godfrey-Smith comes out for versions of empiricism, naturalism, and scientific realism. I like his mix, but I am a scientist, not a philosopher, so my opinions carry no weight.
I would have liked the book to deal with creationism and intelligent design, which are burning issues in the US, though not (yet) in Europe. I would also have like the book to deal with forms of knowledge other scientific (e.g., aesthetic, street smarts, spiritual). Finally, the book doesn't deal with ethics at all. One could defend this by saying that this has nothing to do with science, but I think that is a conclusion and not a premise, and one which is in fact incorrect.
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This book has a lot of great qualities. It is a very good introduction to the concepts and the history of philosophy of science. I bought it because I wanted to know more about the essentials of philosophy of science, and it served the purpose splendidly. Logical positivism, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos etc. are all covered and discussed in a clear and concise way.

Another good thing about the book is the fact that it is very well written, and has a style that I happened to enjoy very much. It's somewhat personal, and reading the book sort of feels like having a private talk with the author - a person that knows a lot about what he's talking about. A part of this feeling comes from the fact that Godfrey-Smith constantly tells us what he feels about the themes discussed, and while some would prefer a more "pure" presentation of the facts without judgements, I think the author has managed to present his opinion in a very valuable way in this book. He is very clear about when he actually presents his own ideas, and he also lets us know that there are other views than his out there. This honesty makes sure the presentation is not plagued with bias, and Godfrey-Smith certainly seems qualified to give his opinions.

The title of this review will make it clear that the review so far has mostly been about the first 2/3 or so of the book. I personally think it all falls somewhat apart when he goes from presenting the essential ideas and persons in philosophy of science to presenting his "new" philosophy of science. Naturalism is what Godfrey-Smith prefers, and the chapters describing it feels far less strong than the previous ones. While I enjoy his input when discussing the other themes, I don't think the chapters consisting mostly of his opinions alone are as good.
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