In his innovative book, “Realism for Realistic People,” Hasok Chang constructs a philosophy of science for ‘realistic people’ interested in understanding and promoting the actual practices of inquiry in science and other knowledge-focused areas of life. Inspired by pragmatist philosophy, he reconceives the very notions of reality and truth on the basis of his concept of the ‘operational coherence’ of epistemic activities, and offers new pragmatist conceptions of truth and reality as operational ideals achievable in actual scientific practice. Rejecting the version of scientific realism that is concerned with claiming that our theories correspond to an ultimate reality, he proposes instead an ‘activist realism’: a commitment to do all that we can actually do to improve our knowledge of realities. His book will appeal to scholars and students in philosophy, science and the history of science, and all who are concerned about the place of science and empirical truth in society.
Hasok Chang is the Hans Rausing Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Born and raised in South Korea, he received his higher education in the United States.
Prior to Cambridge, he taught for 15 years at University College London, after receiving his PhD at Stanford University following an undergraduate degree at the California Institute of Technology. He is a co-founder of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP), and also the Committee for Integrated History and Philosophy of Science. He served as the President of the British Society for the History of Science from 2012 to 2014. He held a British Academy Wolfson Research Professorship from 2017 to 2020.
Professor Chang’s research focuses on taking the most obvious items of scientific knowledge and asking how we came to know such things. Usually, such a line of questioning reveals that even the most mundane piece of knowledge was hard won through the most challenging and fascinating investigations and debates, which are now mostly neglected by scientists. Currently he is working on two main research projects. One is the history of batteries, which were very easy to make once Volta announced his invention in 1800, but – for a long time – very difficult to explain. The other is a new formulation of scientific realism based on a pragmatist conception of knowledge. The two projects are being carried out in tandem, informing and enriching each other. His general philosophical outlook is a humanist pluralism concerning science: there are many valid and valuable ways for people to pursue knowledge about nature; historical and philosophical points of view can open our scientific minds for the benefit of science and society at large.