Pragmatic Realism


  • Hasok Chang University of Cambridge



Pragmatism, realism, pluralism, coherence, truth, reality


In this paper I seek to articulate and develop Roberto Torretti’s advocacy of pragmatic realism. At the core of Torrietti’s view is a rejection of the notion that the truth of scientific theories consists in their correspondence to the world. I propose to understand correspondence in that sense as a metaphorical notion. I articulate a notion of pragmatist coherence, on the basis of which I make new coherence theories of truth and reality. Then it becomes possible to say that pragmatic realism consists in the pursuit of true knowledge of reality, in a way that is also consonant with Torretti’s pluralism.

Author Biography

Hasok Chang, University of Cambridge

Hans Rausing Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

Professor Hasok Chang is the Hans Rausing Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. His research interests focus on the history and philosophy of chemistry and physics from the 18th century onward; philosophy of scientific practice; and other topics in the philosophy of science, including measurement, realism, evidence, pluralism and pragmatism.

Professor Chang served as President of the British Society for the History of Science from 2012–14. He is the Co-founder of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, an Associate Editor of the British Journal for the History of Science, and a founding member of the Committee for Integrated History and Philosophy of Science.

Professional service and academic networks

- British Society for the History of Science, Vice-President (2014–15); President (2012–14).
- Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, Co-founder.
- Committee for Integrated History and Philosophy of Science, Founding member.
- UK Integrated HPS Workshops.
- AD HOC (Association for the Discussion of the History of Chemistry)

Selected publications
(For a complete list of publications and links, see

Is Water H2O? Evidence, Pluralism and Realism, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012)

Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress, Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)

An Element of Controversy: The Life of Chlorine in Science, Medicine, Technology and War, co-editor with Catherine Jackson (BSHS Monographs, No. 13, British Society for the History of Science, 2007): a collection of studies by undergraduate students at University College London

'Operationalism', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online, published in July 2009)

'The Myth of the Boiling Point' (online hypertext paper with video links), first posted on 18 October 2007


Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bowdle, B. F. & Gentner, D. (2005). “The career of metaphor”. Psychological Review, 112, 193-216.

Chang, H. (2012). Is water H2O? Evidence, realism and pluralism. Dordrecht: Springer.

Chang, H. (2014). “Epistemic activities and systems of practice: Units of analysis in philosophy of science after the practice turn”. In L. Soler, S. Zwart, M. Lynch, & V. Israel-Jost (Eds.), Science after the practice turn in the philosophy, history and social studies of science (pp. 67-79). London and Abingdon: Routledge.

Chang, H. & Leonelli, S. (2005). “Infrared metaphysics: The elusive ontology of radiation (part 1)”. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 36, 477-508.

Durpé, J. (1993). The disorder of things: Metaphysical foundations of the disunity of science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Foley, R. (1998). “Justification, epistemic”. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (vol. 5, pp. 157-165). London: Routledge.

Hacking, I. (1983). Representing and intervening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Held, R. (1965). “Plasticity in sensory–motor systems”. Scientific American, 213 (5), 84-94.

Hesse, M. (1966). Models and analogies in science. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Holton, G. (1986). “Metaphors in science and education”. In G. Holton, The advancement of science, and its burdens (pp. 229-252). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

James, W. (1978 [1907]). Pragmatism and The meaning of truth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kant, I. (1933 [1781]). The critique of pure reason, 2nd ed. Trans. by N. Kemp Smith. London: Macmillan.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lewis, C. I. (1929). Mind and the world-order: Outline of a theory of knowledge. New York: Dover.

Lewis, C. I. (1930). [Book review] “The quest for certainty: A study of the relation of knowledge and action [by] John Dewey”. The Journal of Philosophy, 27, 14-25.

Mitchell, S. D. (2003). Biological complexity and integrative pluralism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Neurath, O. (1983 [1932/33]). “Protocol Statements”. In R. S. Cohen, & M. Neurath (Eds.), Philosophical papers 1913-1946 (pp. 91-99). Dordrecht: Reidel.

Putnam, H. (1987). The many faces of realism. Chicago and La Salle: Open Court.

Putnam, H. (1995). Pragmatism: An open question. Oxford: Blackwell.

Scheffler, I. (1999). “A Plea for Plurealism”. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 35, 425-436.

Torretti, R. (2000). “‘Scientific realism’ and scientific practice”. In E. Agazzi & M. Pauri (Eds.), The reality of the unobservable (pp. 113-122). Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Young, J. O. (2015). “The coherence theory of truth”. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.



How to Cite

Chang, H. (2016). Pragmatic Realism. Revista De Humanidades De Valparaíso, (8), 107–122.




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