Instrumentalism (philosophy of science)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The instrumentalism is within the philosophy of science the view that scientific theories are nothing more than tools. It is thus opposed to the epistemology of realism .

This position was represented by Ernst Mach (1838–1916), Henri Poincaré (1854–1912) and in particular Pierre Duhem (1861–1916).

Instrumentalist arguments are also not infrequently found in representatives of neoclassical economics , as well as in models in the social sciences that work with assumptions about rational action .

According to instrumentalism, the hypotheses and the theoretical laws of a theory are neither true nor false (as claimed by realism, for example), but merely serve to establish an empirical adequacy of the inferences from the premises of a theory. The instrumentalist regards the postulates of a theory only as a means to an end, i.e. as instruments.

Pierre Duhem was of the opinion that physical theories do not explain but only represent. The aim of a physical theory is not to investigate the entities that cause the phenomena. According to Duhem, a theory behaves more like a symbol to what is designated: theories are neither true nor false. However, theories not only represent the phenomena, they also order them, in Duhem's words: theories classify empirical laws.

Karl Popper advocated an explanation by means of models of situation logic and a (taken in and of itself empirically incorrect) rationality hypothesis. He wants to exclude instrumentalism by demanding a methodological decision about which model comes closest to empirical truth.

Even Hans Albert defended the position of realism by Jürgen Habermas accused in knowledge and interest to take the position of instrumentalism.


  1. ^ Karl R. Popper: Models, Instruments, and Truth. in: MA Notturno (ed.): The Myth of the Framework. London New York 1994
  2. ^ Hans Albert: Science, Technology and Politics. On the problem of the relationship between knowledge and action. in: Construction and Criticism. Hamburg 2nd ed. 1975, pp. 74 ff. Cf. also Paul Feyerabend : Realism and Instrumentalism. Comments on the Logic of Factual Support. In: The critical approach to science and philosophy. Edited by Mario Bunge in honor of Karl R. Popper. New York: Free Press of Glencoe 1964.


  • Hans Albert: Critique of the pure epistemology. Tübingen 1987
  • Jean-Louis Arni: The controversy about the realism of the assumptions in the economy. Grüsch 1989
  • Karl R. Popper: Conjectures and Refutations. Tübingen 1994/1997