Fraassen introduced the idea of a philosophical ‘stance’ as a solution to what
he took to be a self-refutation worry for empiricism. According to the
empiricist’s own position, all factual beliefs are contingent and a posteriori.
It follows that if empiricism is a factual belief, it must itself be contingent
and a posteriori, and thus, by the empiricist’s own lights, it may turn out to
be false. But since this conclusion was reached by presupposing the truth of
empiricism, empiricism threatens to be self-undermining, if construed as a
factual belief. For the empiricist, empiricism seemingly must be both
unquestioned presupposition, and vulnerable empirical hypothesis, which is an untenable
situation. The solution, van Fraassen argued, is to construe empiricism as a
‘stance’: roughly, a cluster of attitudes, values, goals, and commitments. He then extended this to other philosophical positions, including
materialism and naturalism. Stances are not true or false, like propositions,
and are not believed or disbelieved. They are adopted, like an approach or
policy, and are heavily value-laden.