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Understanding Instrumentalism

Feelosofi –  Instrumentalism is a philosophical view that bases the value of a concept or theory on the practical benefits that can be obtained through its use. This concept suggests that an idea or theory has value not because of its intrinsic truth, but because of its ability to achieve practical goals or desired results. In the context of science, instrumentalism assumes that scientific theories are not accurate representations of reality, but rather effective tools or instruments for predicting and controlling natural phenomena.

In the history of philosophy, instrumentalism has become an important school of thought in epistemology and philosophy of science. This school first appeared in the 19th century with the contributions of figures such as John Stuart Mill and William James. They argued that scientific theories should be measured based on their effectiveness in explaining and predicting phenomena, not based on their absolute truth.

Instrumentalism is also applied in the field of ethics , where this view states that the ethical value of an action or decision should be assessed based on the practical results or consequences it produces, not based on absolute moral principles. This allows for flexibility in ethical decision making , taking into account the positive and negative impacts of the action.

It is important to remember that instrumentalism is not a view without controversy. Critics of it argue that this view can ignore ethical principles and fundamental values ​​in making decisions.

History Of The Development Of Instrumentalism

The history of the development of instrumentalism in the world of philosophy and science involves the evolution of views about the role and value of scientific concepts, theories, or knowledge in society. This development took root in the 19th century when thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and William James began to formulate early views on instrumentalism. They emphasized that the value of a scientific theory should be judged based on its utility in solving practical problems and predicting phenomena, not solely on its intrinsic truth.

During this period, instrumentalism developed as a reaction to the absolutist approach in science which tended to regard theory as a perfect reflection of reality. These developments influenced the development of scientific epistemology and methodology, promoting a more pragmatic scientific method. With the advent of the scientific revolution and the development of experimental methods, instrumentalism was further strengthened.

In the 20th century, instrumentalism continued to adapt to the social and scientific changes that occurred. This view became important in the development of social sciences, especially in psychology and economics, where thinkers such as BF Skinner in psychology and Milton Friedman in economics applied the principles of instrumentalism in their theories and research. They argued that scientific theories must be practical and can be applied in solving real problems in society.

Figures Of Instrumentalism

Instrumentalism figures are key thinkers who played a role in developing and formulating the concept of instrumentalism in various scientific and philosophical disciplines . One important figure was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), an English philosopher and economist. Mill views scientific theory as a tool for solving social problems and achieving societal welfare. He encouraged a pragmatic approach to scientific research, prioritizing practical benefits over absolute truth in theory development.

William James (1842-1910), an American psychologist and philosopher , was also an influential figure in instrumentalism. James views an understanding of the mind and cognitive processes as instrumental to achieving psychological problem solving and individual happiness. His approach promoted experimentation and observation as tools for understanding the human mind.

In economics, Milton Friedman (1912-2006), an American economist, developed the theory of instrumentalism in an economic context. He argued that economic theory should focus on the practical consequences and effects of economic policies on society, and not just on the overall truth of the theory itself.

All of these figures, among others, contributed to shaping the view of instrumentalism in various scientific disciplines. They put forward a practical and utilitarian approach to understanding and applying science, with an emphasis on the concrete benefits that scientific theories and concepts can provide. Their views played a role in shaping the landscape of scientific and philosophical thought , as well as providing the basis for the development of various modern theories and research methods.

Types Of Instrumentalism

Instrumentalism is a deep framework of thought, and in this context, we can identify several types of instrumentalism that vary depending on the specific domain or discipline in which they are applied. First, epistemological instrumentalism is a type of instrumentalism that is related to epistemology , that is, the branch of philosophy that is concerned with knowledge and belief. In this context, instrumentalism considers knowledge and beliefs as tools used to achieve practical goals, such as solving problems or making useful predictions.

Next, there is scientific instrumentalism which refers to the instrumentalist view of science. In this case, scientific theories are considered as tools used to predict and control natural phenomena, not as accurate representations of reality. Figures such as Pierre Duhem and Willard Van Orman Quine had a major influence on the development of scientific instrumentalism.

Apart from that, there is ethical instrumentalism which is related to ethics and morals. This type of instrumentalism emphasizes that the ethical value of an action should be judged based on its practical consequences rather than absolute moral principles. Ethical theories such as consequentialism often reflect this approach, measuring the goodness or badness of actions based on the results they can achieve.

Lastly, instrumentalism in economics is a type of instrumentalism applied in economic analysis. In economics, economic theories and models are used as tools to understand and forecast market behavior and individual economic decisions. Milton Friedman and other economists popularized this view in an economic context.

Overall, these types of instrumentalism reflect the adaptation and application of the instrumentalist thinking framework in various fields of knowledge and scientific disciplines.


Instrumentalism is a philosophical framework of thought that emphasizes the value of a concept, theory, or action based on its practical benefits and effectiveness in achieving certain goals. This means that the value of an idea or action depends not only on its intrinsic truth, but also on the extent to which it can be used to solve problems, predict phenomena, or achieve desired goals in various scientific disciplines and aspects of life. In the history of its development, instrumentalism has influenced epistemology , science, ethics, economics and various other fields. With the various types of instrumentalism that exist, this concept has provided important insights into the role and value of knowledge, theory, and action in a changing world. Despite criticism, instrumentalism remains a relevant framework for understanding and applying science and values ​​in contemporary society.


What Is Instrumentalism In The Context Of Science?

Instrumentalism in science is a philosophical view that emphasizes that scientific theories should be judged based on their practical utility and ability to predict or control natural phenomena, not based on their absolute truth.

How Does Instrumentalism Differ From The Realist View Of Science?

Realism argues that scientific theories reflect objective reality, while instrumentalism argues that theories are practical means to achieve goals and do not always accurately reflect reality.

How Is Instrumentalism Applied In Ethics?

In ethics , instrumentalism posits that the ethical value of an action should be judged based on its practical consequences, such as the benefits or harms produced by the action, rather than following absolute moral principles.

Who Are The Important Figures Associated With Instrumentalism?

Important figures in the history of instrumentalism include John Stuart Mill in epistemology , William James in psychology, Milton Friedman in economics, and many other thinkers who influenced various fields of science and philosophy.

What Are The Main Criticisms Of The Instrumentalist View?

The main criticism of instrumentalism is that it can ignore moral or ethical values ​​in decision making, focusing on practical benefits alone. In addition, this view can also raise questions about the extent to which we can understand reality correctly if scientific theories are only seen as practical tools.


  • “ A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive ” – John Stuart Mill (1843)
  • “ The Principles of Psychology ” – William James (1890)
  • “ The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ” – Thomas S. Kuhn (1962)
  • “ Word and Object ” – Willard Van Orman Quine (1960)
  • “ Science as a Vocation ” – Max Weber (1919)

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Raymond Kelvin Nando, "Instrumentalism," Feelosofi, 31 October 2023,
Raymond Kelvin Nando
Writer, Researcher, & Philosophy Enthusiast