Ian Hacking’s Experimental Autonomy Route to Scientific Realism and David B. Resnik’s Objection: a Critical Mediation


Ian Hacking’s Experimental Autonomy Route to Scientific Realism and David B. Resnik’s Objection: a Critical Mediation


Christian C. Emedolu, Ph.D

Department of Philosophy, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria


Ian Hacking begins his defence of scientific realism with a preliminary attempt to establish the autonomy of scientific experiment. He believes that if an independent life (free from the constraints of scientific theory) is granted to experimentation, then it will ease the way to a robust defence of entity realism. Incidentally, several critics have tried to pin down Hacking’s discourse of experimental/entity realism as somewhat defective. In this paper I have chosen to react to one of such critics, namely, David B. Resnik. The basic aim here is to re-examine the core of Resnik’s argument against Hacking’s strand of scientific Realism. Resnik raises three major issues against Hacking. First, he says that Hacking’s experimental realism is a version of “success of science argument”. Second, he maintains that belief in unobservable entities is tied to the belief in the truth or approximate truth of the scientific theories explaining or describing the characteristics of some such entities. Then, third, Resnik maintains that, “experimentation is not nearly as theory-free as Hacking maintains”. Now, for the purposes of this paper, I took the first two criticisms of Resnik’s as less important and have addressed the third issue as most important and worthy of extensive consideration. I argue in this paper that Resnik’s third criticism is based on insufficient knowledge of Hacking’s two levels of argument in defence of the autonomy of scientific experiment which is ultimately fathered on Resnik’s hermeneutical incapacity. I endorse the view that Hacking completely failed to establish an independent life for experimentation by attempting to argue for its primacy at some historic episodes of scientific investigations. But, then, the debate continues with my argument that, Hacking’s second-tier argument, which has to do with creation of phenomenon in experimentation, is incontrovertible and provides, in the main, a sufficient basis for his Autonomy Thesis. Therefore, pace Resnik, the presence or non-presence of any definite scientific theory cannot be said to affect Hacking’s experimental realism, which ultimately focuses on the manipulation of unobservable entities. Given that this paper is purely qualitative and does not involve any empirical research, I adopted the method of textual analysis.


Keywords: Experimental Autonomy; Primacy; Phenomenon; experimental Manipulation; Theory-free

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How to cite this article:
Christian C. Emedolu. Ian Hacking’s Experimental Autonomy Route to Scientific Realism and David B. Resnik’s Objection: a Critical Mediation. International Journal of Philosophical Research, 2020; 2:6. DOI: 10.28933/ijpr-2019-06-2705


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