Get real!:Realism as a goal for the sciences and for HPS

A conference celebrating 60 years of HPS at Leeds.

Scientists tend to want to discover the truth about nature beyond its appearances. They want to get nature right (“scientific realism”). Historians and philosophers generally try to understand what the sciences are really like, undistorted by the views of science’s propagandists and critics. They want to get science right. This two-day conference, in commemoration of 60 years of integrated History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) at the University of Leeds will examine these two goals – getting nature right and getting science right – and the links between them.

One aim is to use the issue of realism to take stock of developments in the field since the classic writings of Stephen Toulmin (who founded Leeds HPS), Mary Hesse (who figured in its prehistory), Thomas Kuhn and others. The question of whether and how scientific knowledge latches onto reality was one of the central ones in the field well into the 1980s. Although that debate continues, the intellectual ecology around it has grown very complex. It’s not at all clear to many that a true-to-life account of the sciences, technosciences, medicine and engineering – a realistic account, in that sense – should pay anything like the level of attention formerly paid to “scientific realism,” or even that the terms of that debate make sense, historiographically or philosophically. A second, related aim of the conference is to ask what light an HPS perspective on the realism issue, broadly construed, can throw on the field itself – its past but also its present and possible futures.

The programme and registration can be found here.