NOA’s Ark- Fine for Idealism, Part I

Some of my thoughts on philosophy of science, this time regarding realism and antirealism. The two articles this essay responds to are Arthur Fine’s “The Natural Ontological Attitude”, and Alan Musgrave’s response to him “NOA’s Ark- Fine for Realism.” I do not claim to be an expert in philosophy of science, but the articles were quite interesting.


In the year 1984 Dr. Arthur Fine published an article that created a new position in the philosophical and scientific battle between realism and antirealism. His article is titled “The Natural Ontological Attitude”, a title the comes to represent what he understood as a kind of third option in this ongoing debate. In his article Fine directly attacks realism, but does not go so far as to defend antirealism. Rather he advocates what he calls NOA, or Natural Ontological Attitude. Five years later in 1989, Dr. Alan Musgrave published an article in critiquing Fine. Musgrave dismisses Fine’s criticism of realism and posits that Fine’s NOA is actually realism in disguise. This paper will specifically examine Fine’s essay while bearing in mind, and some times referring to, Musgrave’s claims. In addition to this, this essay will examine whether or not it is possible to be an idealist and accept what Fine refers to as the ‘more simple and homely sort of argument’ which begins to form the foundation of Fine’s NOA.

Arthur Fine spends the beginning of his essay examining arguments for realism. Following this he addresses the progress science seemingly makes and how this progress relates to realism. It is after all this that he turns his attention to “Nonrealism”.

Fine states that he believes the realist’s heart is not so different from his own heart. Namely that it is not the abstract philosophical arguments that convince him of realism but a more homely, simple argument that convinces him of realism. According to Fine this argument begins with the statement, “I certainly trust the evidence of my senses, on the whole, with regard to the existence and features of everyday objects.”

Fine believes the realist must have similar confidence in the method of scientific investigation and takes scientists’ claims largely in the same way that he takes the evidence of his senses in regard to everyday senses. Thus Fine concludes that, “it is possible to accept the evidence of one’s senses and to accept, in the same way, the confirmed results of science only for the realist,”.

If this is accurate than what does it mean to accept something as true? Particularly, how does one do this in the same way for both ordinary sense perception and scientific theories? Here Fine distinguishes between truths and truths. Although this may seem confusing, what Fine is really doing is distinguishing between truths central to a person’s life and less central to a person’s life. The centrality of any particular truth may vary on the nature of the person who holds that truth. At this point Fine makes a rather significant move and it is necessary to examine his own words,

Could Bohr, fighting for the sake of science (against Einstein’s realism) have felt compelled either to give up the results of science, or else to assign to its “truths” some category different from the truth’s of everyday life? It seems unlikely…We might well come to question whether there is any necessary connection moving us from accepting the results of science as true to being a realist…Then, it seems to me that both the realist and the antirealist must toe what I have called “the homely line.” That is, they must both accept the certified results of science as on par with more homely and familiarly supported claims.

The acceptance of this results in what Fine terms the ‘core position.’ By which he means accepting scientific results as on par with ordinary sense perception. Now if Fine is correct in this, and both the realist and antirealist can accept this statement, than what is the nature of the difference between the two according to Fine? Fine believes the difference lies in what each is willing to add onto this core position. The realist, in particular, adds on a resounding “Really!” By this Fine means that the realist will argue that scientific statements correspond to reality, that scientific claims speak of how the world really is. As has probably already been guessed, Fine’s proposed third option is the “core position.” For Fine, the core position is the acceptance of scientific theories in the same fashion as one accepts everyday truths. So what does it mean to be true? It means that a statement or theory is true if it the entities and objects referred to in the theory or statement actually refer to actual objects in reality. Thus these statements are true referentially.

He maintains that this position does not favor the realist or the antirealist but rather lies right in the middle, being something that each side can affirm. Fine does much in the way of describing and defending this position through the remainder of his essay. However it is necessary to put Fine on hold for a moment and acknowledge the critique of his theory through the work of Musgrave.


One Response to “NOA’s Ark- Fine for Idealism, Part I”

  1. sounds cool dude

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