Theory and Reality An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science
by Peter Godfrey-Smith
University of Chicago Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-226-30062-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-30063-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-30061-0


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.


Peter Godfrey-Smith is an associate professor of philosophy and of history and philosophy of science at Stanford University. He is the author of Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature.


"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



A Note for Those Teaching with the Book

1.1 Setting Out

1.2 The Scope of the Theory

1.3 What Kind of Theory?

1.4 Three Answers, or Pieces of an Answer

1.5 Historical Interlude: A Sketch of the Scientific Revolution

Further Reading

2.1 The Empiricist Tradition

2.2 The Vienna Circle

2.3 Central Ideas of Logical Positivism

2.4 Problems and Changes

2.5 Logical Empiricism

Further Reading

3.1 The Mother of All Problems

3.2 Induction, Deduction, Confirmation, and Explanatory Inference

3.3 The Ravens Problem

3.4 Goodman’s “New Riddle of Induction”

Further Reading

4.2 Popper’s Theory of Science

4.3 Popper on Scientific Change

4.4 Objections to Popper on Falsification

4.5 Objections to Popper on Confirmation

4.6 Further Comments on the Demarcation Problem

Further Reading

5.1 “The Paradigm Has Shifted”

5.2 Paradigms: A Closer Look

5.3 Normal Science

5.4 Anomaly and Crisis

5.5 Wrap-up of Normal Science

Further Reading

6.1 Considerable Upset

6.2 Revolutions and Their Aftermath

6.3 Incommensurability, Relativism, and Progress

6.4 The X-Rated “Chapter X”

6.5 Final Thoughts on Kuhn

Further Reading

7.1 After Structure

7.2 Lakatos and Research Programs

7.3 Laudan and Research Traditions

7.4 Anything Goes

7.5 An Argument from History That Haunts Philosophy

7.6 Pluralism and the Ramblings of Madmen

7.7 Taking Stock: Frameworks and Two-Process Theories of Science

Further Reading

8.2 Robert Merton and the “Old” Sociology of Science

8.3 The Rise of the Strong Program

8.4 Leviathan and Latour

Further Reading

9.1 “Science Is Political”

9.2 The Man of Reason

9.3 The Case of Primatology

9.4 Feminist Epistemology

9.5 Science Studies, the Science Wars, and the Sokal Hoax

Further Reading

10.1 What Is Naturalism?

10.2 Quine, Dewey, and Others

10.3 The Theory-Ladenness of Observation

Further Reading

11.1 Science as a Process

11.2 Kitcher and the Division of Scientific Labor

11.3 Social Structure and Empiricism

Further Reading

12.1 Strange Debates

12.3 A Statement of Scientific Realism

12.4 Challenges from Traditional Empiricism

12.5 Metaphysical Constructivism

12.6 Van Fraassen’s View

12.7 Representation, Models, and Truth (Optional Section)

Further Reading

13.1 Knowing Why

13.2 The Rise and Fall of the Covering Law Theory of Explanation

13.3 Causation, Unification, and More

13.4 Laws and Causes (Optional Section)

Further Reading

14.1 New Hope

14.2 Understanding Evidence with Probability

14.3 The Subjectivist Interpretation of Probability

14.4 Assessing Bayesianism

14.5 Scientific Realism and Theories of Evidence

14.6 Procedural Naturalism (Optional Section)

Further Reading

15.1 A Muddy Paste?

15.2 The Apparent Tensions

15.3 Empiricism Reformed

15.4 A Last Challenge

15.5 The Future