In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Scientific Realism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Monographs
  • Anthologies
  • Models and Idealizations
  • Alternatives to Realism

Philosophy Scientific Realism
Juha Saatsi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0007


The scientific realism debate concerns the nature of scientific knowledge. Scientific realists advocate a positive epistemic attitude towards the best scientific representations of reality, maintaining that (at least some of) these representations provide us knowledge about a mind-independent world that is unobservable to our naked senses (viz. inaccessible without scientific theories and instruments). In addition to the key epistemic commitment, realism also incorporates metaphysical and semantic commitments. Antirealist arguments attack one or another of these commitments, supporting various degrees of skepticism about scientific knowledge about the unobservable reality. The scientific realism debate is at the heart of philosophy of science, with tight connections to issues concerning the nature of scientific models and theories, inter-theory relationships, explanation, and the relationship between science and metaphysics, to name a few.

General Overviews

Ladyman 2002 provides perhaps the most accessible introduction to the topic, serving particularly well a complete newcomer. French 2007 is also very accessible and easygoing. Devitt 2008 is a good bite-size summary of the key issues, while Kitcher 2002 is an overview that offers a broader perspective.

  • Devitt, Michael. “Realism/Anti-realism.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science. Edited by Stathis Psillos and Martin Curd, 224–235. London: Routledge, 2008.

    An entry in a leading companion to philosophy of science.

  • French, Steven. Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy. London: Continuum, 2007.

    This introductory textbook is very accessible and has chapters dedicated to both realism and anti-realism.

  • Kitcher, Philip. “Scientific Knowledge.” In The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology. Edited by Paul K. Moser, 385–408. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195130057.001.0001

    A handbook entry with a broad perspective.

  • Ladyman, James. Understanding Philosophy of Science. London: Routledge, 2002.

    The second part of this introductory textbook is a good primer of the realism debate.

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