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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)

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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.

6 people found this helpful

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 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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  • 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