Stance relativism: empiricism versus metaphysics

Abstract
In The empirical stance, Bas van Fraassen argues for a reconceptualization of empiricism, and a rejection of its traditional rival, speculative metaphysics, as part of a larger and provocative study in epistemology. Central to his account is the notion of voluntarism in epistemology, and a concomitant understanding of the nature of rationality. In this paper I give a critical assessment of these ideas, with the ultimate goal of clarifying the nature of debate between metaphysicians and empiricists, and more specifically, between scientific realists and empiricist antirealists. Despite van Fraassen’s assertion to the contrary, voluntarism leads to a form of epistemic relativism. Rather than stifling debate, however, this ‘stance’ relativism places precise constraints on possibilities for constructive engagement between metaphysicians and empiricists, and thus distinguishes, in broad terms, paths along which this debate may usefully proceed from routes which offer no hope of progress.  2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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