Unobservables

From Academic Kids

Unobservables are entities whose existence, nature, properties, qualities or relations are not observable. In the philosophy of science typical examples of "unobservables" are atomic particles, the force of gravity, causation and beliefs or desires. However, philosophers also characterize all objects—trees, tables, other minds, microbiological things and so on to which humans ascribe as the thing causing their perception—as unobservable.

"Unobservables" is a reference similar to Immanuel Kant’s distinction between noumena (things-in-themselves, the objects being perceived) and phenomena (characteristics which humans perceive). According to Kant humans can never know noumena; all that humans know is the phenomena which they perceive. Kant’s distinction is similar to John Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Secondary qualities are what humans perceive such as redness, chirping, heat, mustiness or sweetness. Primary qualities are the actual qualities of the things themselves which give rise to the secondary qualities which humans perceive.

The ontological nature and epistemological issues concerning unobservables is a central topic in the philosophy of science. The ideology that unobservables exist is referred to as naïve or scientific realism in contrast to instrumentalism which posits that unobservables like atoms are useful models but does not affirm or deny the ontological nature of such.

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