Realism, Instrumentalism, and Scientific Symbiosis: Psychological Theory as a search for truth and the discovery of solutions

J.T. Cacioppo, G.R. Semin, G.G. Berntson

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    Abstract

    Scientific realism holds that scientific theories are approximations of universal truths about reality, whereas scientific instrumentalism posits that scientific theories are intellectual structures that provide adequate predictions of what is observed and useful frameworks for answering questions and solving problems in a given domain. These philosophical perspectives have different strengths and weaknesses and have been regarded as incommensurate: Scientific realism fosters theoretical rigor, verifiability, parsimony, and debate, whereas scientific instrumentalism fosters theoretical innovation, synthesis, generativeness, and scope. The authors review the evolution of scientific realism and instrumentalism in psychology and propose that the categorical distinction between the 2 is overstated as a prescription for scientific practice. The authors propose that the iterative deployment of these 2 perspectives, just as the iterative application of inductive and deductive reasoning in science, may promote more rigorous, integrative, cumulative, and useful scientific theories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)214-233
    JournalAmerican Psychologist
    Volume59
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

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