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Summary

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 listener on a grand tour of 100 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 audiences 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.

©2003 The University of Chicago (P)2017 Tantor

Critic reviews

"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)

What listeners say about Theory and Reality

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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent intro to philosophy of science, and nuanced defence of scientific realism

Peter Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher of biologist and philosopher of science; this book was based on his university lecturers, and this show, though not necessarily in a bad way. It’s most useful as a historical survey of philosophy of science, especially from the Vienna Circle to Popper to Kuhn to Lakatos and Laudan to van Fraassen. Godfrey-Smith ends up defending a very austere and humble version of scientific realism, influenced by BvF. The level of austerity is sometimes hard to pin down.

The narration was appropriate: English (though the author is Australian), professorial, a little clipped.

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Enjoyed...

... immensely.

This is another book to re-read; it covers issues I will no doubt be pondering for some time to come.

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Wide Ranging and Engaging, but Maybe Opinionated.

What I liked about this book was its breadth, covering not just the philosophical underpinnings of Science, but also the social and sociological aspects. Having said that, the book is a bit of a “personal opinion”, with the authors views sometimes distorting the account.

For example, Godfrey-Smiths rather dismissive description of Lakatos is a travesty of Lakatos’ project as a progressive synthesis on Popper and Kuhn. Does an anomalous result such as deviations in the predicted orbit of Uranus, ‘falsify’ Newton/Kepler or can we legitimately posit an ‘auxiliary hypothesis’ of a yet undiscovered planet (ie. Neptune) as explanation? When do such ‘protective belts’ merely prolong the life of a doubtful ‘degenerate’ theory, and when are they genuinely ‘progressive’ and lead to further discovery? This seems an important refinement, not to be dismissed.

The book is well narrated, never dull, and neatly organised in sections, so it could be taught as the basis of a course. IMHO, anyone working or interested in science will benefit from an appreciation of the philosophical and sociological context supporting modern science.

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  • Market Maven
  • 04-10-20

First 75% Really Great. Last Part Not as Much.

This is the fourth book on the philosophy of science that I have read. I found Prof. Godfrey-Smith's review of the field to be excellent, probably the best I have read. However, in the latter part of the book, he delves into his own beliefs, and this is where I felt the book dropped. After covering the very interesting work in the philosophy of science, he concludes the book by presenting his own beliefs, which turn out to be that of naturalism and materialism. I felt there were too many "I" statements in the latter part. He also seems to have ignored the issues involved in the hard problem of consciousness in this final section. I still find Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions to stand alone in the philosophy of science. Godfrey-Smith covers this work, but doesn't accept Kuhn's view that revolutions in science lead to truly different worlds. Our world is what we think it is. But I would still recommend this book for great review of the philosophy of science. And the narrator was quite good as well,

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  • Daniel A. Demski
  • 30-10-18

Great conceptual stew

...But could've done with more examples. There's fascinating discussion of how different scientific fields have different ideas about what an "explanation" is, yet we don't get to see what individual fields look like. Kuhn's concept of "paradigm shift" is discussed without any evocative cases being given. When examples do occur, they're the standard philosophical examples (ravens, emeralds) which the author admits are bad examples.

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  • Kevin C
  • 13-01-20

Overall excellent

Overall excellent. Some important people like Quine got glossed over however. The narration is very good and the the flow of topics well organized, I enjoyed it tremendously.

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  • Liz
  • 23-03-18

Great to follow with

Great way to get through a textbook. Concepts are easy to follow along with in the book while listening and gaining a better grasp of philosophy of science.

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  • R. C. Haynes
  • 11-08-21

Balanced history of science

This was an interesting, and I would say comprehensive account of philosophy of science including colorful anecdotes and personalities, and of course delving into major issues of epistemology, evidence, theories etc. The book was a bit dense in parts, and certain sections were unsuited for audio enjoyment, e.g. discussing Bayes theorem. Overall, I learned a lot about philosophy of science and thoroughly admired the reading of the text by Matthew Lloyd Davies.

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  • Bryan Decker
  • 11-11-18

Perfect Introduction

Highly recommended for anyone interested in both the philosophy of science and scientific thought. Great work all around.

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  • Howard Sterling
  • 24-01-19

Very hard for educated layman to comprehend

The reason is not understandable is that no real life examples are given. Mostly hypothetical letters and numbers