David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
Analysis 66 (3):226 - 233 (2006)
There is a natural objection to the epistemic coherence of Bas van Fraassen’s use of a distinction between the observable and unobservable in his constructive empiricism, an objection that has been raised with particular clarity by Alan Musgrave. We outline Musgrave’s objection, and then consider how one might interpret and evaluate van Fraassen’s response. According to the constructive empiricist, observability for us is measured with respect to the epistemic limits of human beings qua measuring devices, limitations ‘which will be described in detail in the final physics and biology’ (van Fraassen 1980: 17). In order for the constructive empiricist to determine what counts as observable, he will have to appeal to our best scientific theories of light, human physiology, and so forth. To put the same point in a slightly more abstract way, in order to draw a distinction between observable and unobservable entities, the constructive empiricist needs to use his best scientific theory of observability – call it T* – to tell him the identity of the observable entities. This raises an interesting difficulty. Constructive empiricism is the view that ‘science aims to give us theories that are empirically adequate; and acceptance of a theory involves as belief only that it is empirically adequate’ (van Fraassen 1980:12). When he accepts a theory, the constructive empiricist only believes the statements of his scientific theories that are about observable entities. Thus, in order to know which statements of a scientific theory to believe, the constructive empiricist needs to know which statements of that theory are about observable entities. In particular then, the constructive empiricist only believes the statements of his theory of observability T* that are about observable entities. Therefore, in order to know which statements of T* he can believe, the constructive empiricist needs to know which statements of T* are about observable entities. However, it is T* that tells the constructive empiricist what counts as an observable entity: the constructive empiricist therefore needs to use T* to tell him which statements of T* he can believe. The fact that the distinction drawn by T* must also apply to itself is not an immediate cause for alarm..
|Keywords||No keywords specified (fix it)|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
No references found.
Citations of this work BETA
No citations found.
Similar books and articles
Sam Mitchell (1988). Constructive Empiricism and Anti-Realism. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1988:174 - 180.
F. A. Muller (2005). The Deep Black Sea: Observability and Modality Afloat. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (1):61-99.
Bradley Monton & Bas C. van Fraassen (2003). Constructive Empiricism and Modal Nominalism. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (3):405-422.
Sara Vollmer (2000). Two Kinds of Observation: Why Van Fraassen Was Right to Make a Distinction, but Made the Wrong One. Philosophy of Science 67 (3):355-365.
Warren Bourgeois (1987). On Rejecting Foss's Image of Van Fraassen. Philosophy of Science 54 (2):303-308.
Marc Alspector-Kelly (2001). Should the Empiricist Be a Constructive Empiricist? Philosophy of Science 68 (4):413-431.
James Ladyman (2000). What's Really Wrong with Constructive Empiricism? Van Fraassen and the Metaphysics of Modality. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 (4):837-856.
F. A. Muller (2004). Can a Constructive Empiricist Adopt the Concept of Observability? Philosophy of Science 71 (1):80-97.
Marc Alspector-Kelly (2006). Constructive Empiricism and Epistemic Modesty: Response to van Fraassen and Monton. [REVIEW] Erkenntnis 64 (3):371-379.
Adam Grobler (1991). Van Fraassen's Metaphysical Move. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 5 (1):21 – 34.
Added to index2009-09-01
Total downloads74 ( #48,787 of 1,781,042 )
Recent downloads (6 months)5 ( #122,326 of 1,781,042 )
How can I increase my downloads?