Metaphysicians speak of laws of nature in terms of necessity and universality; scientists, in terms of symmetry and invariance. In this book van Fraassen argues that no metaphysical account of laws can succeed. He analyzes and rejects the arguments that there are laws of nature, or that we must believe there are, and argues that we should disregard the idea of law as an adequate clue to science. After exploring what this means for general epistemology, the author develops the empiricist (...) view of science as a construction of models to represent the phenomena. (shrink)
What is empiricism and what could it be? Bas C. van Fraassen, one of the world's foremost contributors to philosophical logic and the philosophy of science, here undertakes a fresh consideration of these questions and offers a program for renewal of the empiricist tradition. The empiricist tradition is not and could not be defined by common doctrines but embodies a certain stance in philosophy, van Fraassen says. This stance is displayed first of all in a searing recurrent critique of metaphysics, (...) and second in a focus on experience that requires a voluntarist view of belief and opinion. (shrink)
Structural realism as developed by John Worrall and others can claim philosophical roots as far back as the late 19th century, though the discussion at that time does not unambiguously favor the contemporary form, or even its realism. After a critical examination of some aspects of the historical background some severe critical challenges to both Worrall's and Ladyman's versions are highlighted, and an alternative empiricist structuralism proposed. Support for this empiricist version is provided in part by the different way in (...) which we can do justice to Worrall's original demands and in part by the viewpoint it provides (in contrast to e.g. Michael Friedman's) on the stability maintained through scientific theory change. Planck against the heretics 1.1 Poincaré on the meaning of Maxwell's equations 1.2 Two responses: reification and structuralism On the road to structuralism 2.1 The microscope 2.2 Mathematization of the world picture 2.3 The 18th–20th century The new structural realism 3.1 From scientific realism to structuralism 3.2 The Ladyman variant: objectivity and invariance 3.3 How is structural realism supported? An empiricist structuralism 4.1 Royal succession in science 4.2 Defence of the empiricist version 4.3 Structure: an empiricist view. (shrink)
This is surely a bit of Socrates' famous irony. He draws the analogy to explain how his friends should regard poetry as they regretfully banish it from the ideal state. But lovers were no more sensible then than they are now. The advice to banish poetry, undermined already by Plato's own delight and skill in drama, is perhaps undermined still further by this evocation of a 'sensible' lover who counts love so well lost. Yet Socrates' image is one of avowed (...) rationality and prudence. The sensible lover imitates the older literary example of Ulysses' tying himself to the mast. (The example belongs therefore to the class of problems treated in Elster (1979)). Both this lover and Ulysses foresee that under certain possible future conditions, their opinions, values and preferences will or would differ from what they are now, in a very definite fashion. To what extent is such foresight possible? Correspondingly (when we do not claim foreknowledge) to what extent is such opinion reasonable, rational, coherent, or consistent in some suitably broad sense? It is not easy to understand exactly what is possible or even logically permissible in this respect. In an earlier paper, "Belief and the Will", I argued for a principle ("Reflection") to govern such deliberation. Here I will both generalize the treatment of opinion in "Belief and the Will" and respond to criticism. Critical examples mainly resembled the story of Ulysses who foresaw a period of dysfunction (at the sound 2 of the sirens) in his epistemic and/or doxastic future. Other criticism focused on the model of opinion used (precise numerical subjective probability) and on the merits of Dutch Book arguments. The present argument will not rely on Dutch Book arguments and strategies, and the Reflection principle will be formulated so as to apply also to vague opinion. (shrink)
The story of how Perrin’s experimental work established the reality of atoms and molecules has been a staple in (realist) philosophy of science writings (Wesley Salmon, Clark Glymour, Peter Achinstein, Penelope Maddy, …). I’ll argue that how this story is told distorts both what the work was and its significance, and draw morals for the understanding of how theories can be or fail to be empirically grounded.
On December 9, 1908 Max Planck addressed the Student Corps of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Leiden. His announced topic was _ The Unity of the Physical World-Picture _, but the real intent was a polemic against a whole bevy of famous scientists who had turned against realism in the past fifty years. The debate concerning how science represents nature, and specifically whether it represents more than solely structural aspects of the phenomena, had begun earlier in (...) the 19th century, and would continue for the remainder of the 20th I will discuss both the scientific motivations and the philosophical reactions, including scientific realism and the new Structural Realism, as well as offer an empiricist structuralist view as alternative. (shrink)
After introducing the empiricist point of view in philosophy of science, and the concepts and methods of the semantic approach to scientific theories, van Fraassen discusses quantum theory in three stages. He first examines the question of whether and how empirical phenomena require a non-classical theory, and what sort of theory they require. He then discusses the mathematical foundations of quantum theory with special reference to developments in the modelling of interaction, composite systems, and measurement. Finally, the author broaches the (...) main questions of interpretation. After offering a critique of earlier interpretations, he develops a new one--the modal interpretation--which attempts to stay close to the original Copenhagen ideas without implying a radical incompleteness in quantum theory. He again gives special attention to the character of composite, many-body systems and especially to the peculiar character of assemblies of identical particles in quantum statistics. (shrink)
Constructive empiricism, the view introduced in The Scientific Image, is a view of science, an answer to the question "what is science?" Arthur Fine's and Paul Teller's contributions to this symposium challenge especially two key ideas required to formulate that view, namely the observable/unobservable and acceptance/belief distinctions. I wish to thank them not only for their insightful critique but also for the support they include. For they illuminate and counter some misunderstandings of Constructive Empiricism along the way. That leaves me (...) free to focus on those two main challenges. (shrink)
What does it mean to embed the phenomena in an abstract structure? Or to represent them by doing so? The semantic view of theories runs into a severe problem if these notions are construed either naively, in a metaphysical way, or too closely on the pattern of the earlier syntactic view. Constructive empiricism and structural realism will then share those difficulties. The problem will be posed as in Reichenbach's The Theory of Relativity and A Priori Knowledge, and realist reactions will (...) be examined, but they will be argued to dissolve upon scrutiny. (shrink)
Probabilism in epistemology does not have to be of the Bayesian variety. The probabilist represents a person''s opinion as a probability function; the Bayesian adds that rational change of opinion must take the form of conditionalizing on new evidence. I will argue that this is the correct procedure under certain special conditions. Those special conditions are important, and instantiated for example in scientific experimentation, but hardly universal. My argument will be related to the much maligned Reflection Principle (van Fraassen, 1984, (...) 1995), and partly inspired by the work of Brian Skyrms (1987). (shrink)
A basic aim of E. Beth's work in philosophy of science was to explore the use of formal semantic methods in the analysis of physical theories. We hope to show that a general framework for Beth's semantic analysis is provided by the theory of semi-interpreted languages, introduced in a previous paper. After developing Beth's analysis of nonrelativistic physical theories in a more general form, we turn to the notion of the 'logic' of a physical theory. Here we prove a result (...) concerning the conditions under which semantic entailment in such a theory is finitary. We argue, finally, that Beth's approach provides a characterization of physical theory which is more faithful to current practice in foundational research in the sciences than the familiar picture of a partly interpreted axiomatic theory. (shrink)
Criteria of adequacy for scientific representation of the phenomena pertain to accuracy and truth. But that representation is selective and may require distortion even in the selected parameters; this point is intimately connected with the fact that representation is intentional, and its adequacy relative to its particular purpose. Since observation and measurement are perspectival and the appearances to be saved are perspectival measurement outcomes, the question whether this “saving” is an explanatory relation provides a new focus for the realist/antirealist debate. (...) The Born rule and von Neumann's “collapse” postulate in quantum mechanics provide a telling case for this question in recent physics. (shrink)
The word "world" has in fact many ordinary uses as a count noun; I shall discuss some of them below.(2) There is however also a distinctive philosophical use found in recent ontology (in the sense in which Quine reintroduced this term in analytic philosophy, for theories about what there is). As to this philosophical use, I shall argue that there is no reason to think that it refers to anything, if indeed it is intelligible at all.
Carlo Rovelli’s inspiring “Relational Quantum Mechanics” serves several aims at once: it provides a new vision of what the world of quantum mechanics is like, and it offers a program to derive the theory’s formalism from a set of simple postulates pertaining to information processing. I propose here to concentrate entirely on the former, to explore the world of quantum mechanics as Rovelli depicts it. It is a fascinating world in part because of Rovelli’s reliance on the information-theory approach to (...) the foundations of quantum mechanics, and in part because its presentation involves taking sides on a fundamental divide within philosophy itself. (shrink)
Constructive empiricism is indeed set squarely within a common sense realism that was foreign to much of the empiricist tradition. But I do not see this common sense realism, which I take myself to share with many scientific realists, as harboring or leading to scientific realism. That is in part because of the way I separate the opposition between empiricist and realist understanding of science from other issues that divide us in epistemology. This discussion brought to light our quite different (...) conceptions of what is at issue between empiricists and realists in this area. After a response to McMullin's critique, however, I will be especially concerned to respond to his challenging proposal for a shift in the debate over realism concerning the sciences. (shrink)
The attempt to formulate a viable empiricist and non-foundationalist epistemology of science faces four problems here confronted. The first is an apparent loss of objectivity in science, in the conditions of use of models in applied science. The second derives from the theory-infection of scientific language, with an apparent loss of objective conditions of truth and reference. The third, often cited as objection to The Scientific Image, is the apparent theory-dependence of the distinction between what is and is not observable. (...) The fourth and last is the loss of the possibility of objective evaluation of rationality in scientific methodology. It is argued that each of these problems is illusory. (shrink)
What is empiricism? There can be no authoritative answer to any such question. A historian of philosophy can at best try to call what is common to philosophers who either identified themselves, or have traditionally been identified, as empiricists. But what has set those philosophers apart from others, and especially from those whom they criticized, may not be captured in common views or doctrines. The historian may, in trying to fix the label, rely tacitly on a view of what philosophical (...) positions are and how they are to be identified. Finally, it is typical of philosophers who decide to range themselves under some pre-existing banner ("empiricism", "pragmatism", "phenomenology") to change the very philosophy they take on, as much as did their historical heroes in their day. I will here try to give a sustained argument about what empiricism cannot be, and then enter upon a tentative exploration of what it should be (taken to be). (shrink)
Hilary Putnam's argument against metaphysical realism (commonly referred to as the "model theoretic argument") has now enjoyed two decades of discussion.(1) The text is rich and contains variously construable arguments against variously construed philosophical positions. David Lewis isolated one argument and called it "Putnam's Paradox".(2) That argument is clear and concise; so is the paradoxical conclusion it purports to demonstrate; and so is Lewis' paradox-avoiding solution. His solution involves a position I call "anti-nominalism": not only are classes real, but they (...) are divided into arbitrary and 'natural' classes. The natural classes 'carve nature at the joints', being (as other philosophers might say) the extensions of 'real' properties, universals, or Forms.(3) Thus the argument was turned, in effect, into support for a metaphysical realism stronger than Putnam envisaged. (shrink)
Vague subjective probability may be modeled by means of a set of probability functions, so that the represented opinion has only a lower and upper bound. The standard rule of conditionalization can be straightforwardly adapted to this. But this combination has difficulties which, though well known in the technical literature, have not been given sufficient attention in probabilist or Bayesian epistemology. Specifically, updating on apparently irrelevant bits of news can be destructive of one’s explicitly prior expectations. Stability of vague subjective (...) opinion appears to need a more complex model. (shrink)
Bas C. van Fraassen Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Princeton UniversityÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â My topics today are the relation between science and myth, and the possibility of empiricism as an approach to life as well as to science.Â But philosophy is a thoroughly historical enterprise, a dialogue that continues in the present but is always almost entirely (...) shaped by our past.Â So I will devote the first half of this talk to setting the historical stage. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the empiricism/realism debate. The initial portion of the paper is a short sketch of the nature of the enterprise of philosophy of science. What are taken as empiricist views on theory construction and experiment are described. The paper concludes with a simple recasting of the main points at issue in the empiricism/realism debate.
In The Inference That Makes Science, Ernan McMullin recounts the clear historical progress he saw toward a vision of the sciences as conclusions reached rationally on the basis of empirical evidence. Distinctive of this vision was his view of science as driven by a specific form of inference, retroduction. To understand this properly, we need to disentangle the description of retroductive inference from the claims made on its behalf. To end I will suggest that the real rival to McMullin's vision (...) of science is not the methodologies he criticizes so successfully but a more radical empiricist alternative in epistemology. (shrink)