Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact, and truth which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, (...) as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism. (shrink)
In artificial intelligence, recent research has demonstrated the remarkable potential of Deep Convolutional Neural Networks (DCNNs), which seem to exceed state-of-the-art performance in new domains weekly, especially on the sorts of very difficult perceptual discrimination tasks that skeptics thought would remain beyond the reach of artificial intelligence. However, it has proven difficult to explain why DCNNs perform so well. In philosophy of mind, empiricists have long suggested that complex cognition is based on information derived from sensory experience, often appealing to (...) a faculty of abstraction. Rationalists have frequently complained, however, that empiricists never adequately explained how this faculty of abstraction actually works. In this paper, I tie these two questions together, to the mutual benefit of both disciplines. I argue that the architectural features that distinguish DCNNs from earlier neural networks allow them to implement a form of hierarchical processing that I call “transformational abstraction”. Transformational abstraction iteratively converts sensory-based representations of category exemplars into new formats that are increasingly tolerant to “nuisance variation” in input. Reflecting upon the way that DCNNs leverage a combination of linear and non-linear processing to efficiently accomplish this feat allows us to understand how the brain is capable of bi-directional travel between exemplars and abstractions, addressing longstanding problems in empiricist philosophy of mind. I end by considering the prospects for future research on DCNNs, arguing that rather than simply implementing 80s connectionism with more brute-force computation, transformational abstraction counts as a qualitatively distinct form of processing ripe with philosophical and psychological significance, because it is significantly better suited to depict the generic mechanism responsible for this important kind of psychological processing in the brain. (shrink)
This book offers a novel account of the relationship of experience to knowledge. The account builds on the intuitive idea that our ordinary perceptual judgments are not autonomous, that an interdependence obtains between our view of the world and our perceptual judgments. Anil Gupta shows in this important study that this interdependence is the key to a satisfactory account of experience. He uses tools from logic and the philosophy of language to argue that his account of experience makes available an (...) attractive and feasible empiricism. (shrink)
At last available in paperback, this book anticipates and explains the post-structuralist turn to empiricism. Presenting a challenging reading of David Hume's philosophy, the work is invaluable for understanding the progress of Deleuze's thought.
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)
Constructive empiricism is not just a view regarding the aim of science; it is also a view regarding the epistemological framework in which one should debate the aim of science. This is the focus of this book -- not with scientific truth, but with how one should argue about scientific truth.
This paper traces the ancestry of a familiar historiographical narrative, according to which early modern philosophy was marked by the development of empiricism, rationalism, and their synthesis by Immanuel Kant. It is often claimed that this narrative became standard in the nineteenth century, due to the influence of Thomas Reid, Kant and his disciples, or German Hegelians and British Idealists. The paper argues that the narrative became standard only at the turn of the twentieth century. This was not due (...) to the influence of Reid, German Hegelians, or British Idealists as they did not endorse the narrative, although Thomas Hill Green may have facilitated its uptake. The narrative is based on Kant’s historiographical sketches, as corrected and integrated by Karl Leonhard Reinhold. It was first fleshed out into full-fledged histories by two Kantians, Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann and Johann Gottlieb Buhle. Numerous historians, several of whom were not Kantians, spread it in the English-speaking world. They include Kuno Fischer, Friedrich Ueberweg, Richard Falckenberg, and Wilhelm Windelband. However, the wide availability of their works did not suffice to make the narrative standard because, until the 1890s, the Hegelian account was at least as popular as theirs. Among the factors that allowed the narrative to become standard are its aptness to be adopted by philosophers of the most diverse persuasions, its simplicity and suitability for teaching. (shrink)
Constructive empiricism implies that if van Fraassen does not believe that scientific theories and his positive philosophical theories, including his contextual theory of explanation, are empirically adequate, he cannot accept them, and hence he cannot use them for scientific and philosophical purposes. Moreover, his epistemic colleagues, who embrace epistemic reciprocalism, would not believe that his positive philosophical theories are empirically adequate. This epistemic disadvantage comes with practical disadvantages in a social world.
Leading philosophers from both sides of the Atlantic present essays on Wilfrid Sellars's Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, one of the crowning achievements of 20th-century analytic philosophy. They discuss empiricism, perception, epistemology, realism, and normativity, showing how vibrant Sellarsian philosophy remains in the 21st century.
According to modal empiricism, our justification for believing possibility and necessity claims is a posteriori. That is, experience does not merely play an enabling role in modal justification; it isn’t simply that experience explains how, say, we acquire the relevant concepts. Rather, the view is that modal claims answer to the tribunal of experience in roughly the way that claims about quarks and quails answer to it. One serious objection to modal empiricism is the problem of empirical conservativeness: (...) it doesn’t seem that experience can distinguish between modal claims. And if experience can’t manage that, it’s hard to see how it can provide evidence for one claim over the other. So if modal empiricism is true, we ought to be modal skeptics. On the assumption that we shouldn’t be modal skeptics, we should reject modal empiricism. I have two aims here: first, to reply to this objection to modal empiricism; second, to sketch a modal epistemology that fits with the reply I offer. (shrink)
Beginning with a group of essays on education, the author shows the constricting and limiting effects of empirical assumptions. In his essays on values, he makes it clear that the ethics of empiricism so pervade modern moral philosophy that it can find no place for the notion of absolute value.
It is argued that, contrary to prevailing opinion, Bas van Fraassen nowhere uses the argument from underdetermination in his argument for constructive empiricism. It is explained that van Fraassen’s use of the notion of empirical equivalence in The Scientific Image has been widely misunderstood. A reconstruction of the main arguments for constructive empiricism is offered, showing how the passages that have been taken to be part of an appeal to the argument from underdetermination should actually be interpreted.
According to Bas van Fraassen, scientific realists and anti-realists disagree about whether accepting a scientific theory involves believing that the theory is true. On van Fraassen’s own anti-realist empiricist position, accepting a theory involves believing only that the theory is correct in its claims about observable aspects of the world. However, a number of philosophers have argued that acceptance and belief cannot be distinguished and thus that the debate is either confused or trivially settled in favor of the realist. In (...) addition, another set of philosophers have argued that van Fraassen’s empiricist position appeals to an unmotivated distinction between observable and unobservable aspects of the world. This paper aims to reconstruct a van Fraassen-style empiricism about scientific acceptance that avoids these two objections – reconstructed empiricism. (shrink)
Voluntarism about beliefs is the view that persons can be free to choose their beliefs for non-epistemic (truth-related) reasons (cf. Williams 1973). One problem for belief voluntarism is that it can lead to Moore-paradoxality. The person might believe that -/- a.) there are also good epistemic reasons for her belief, or that b.) there are no epistemic reasons one way or the other, or that c.) there are good epistemic reasons against her belief. -/- If the person is aware of (...) the fact that she chose her belief for non-epistemic reasons, then she would believe one of the following three things (using "evidence" as a term for all kinds of epistemic reasons): -/- a.) I believe that p but not because of the good evidence in favour of it; b.) I believe that p but that has nothing to do with the evidence; c.) I believe that p but the evidence speaks against it. -/- We could add a fourth case in which the person suspends belief on the subject matter despite the evidence: -/- d.) The evidence supports "p" but I have no view on the matter. -/- All the different versions a-d are somehow Moore-paradoxical. They constitute different ways of mistrusting one's own belief (cf. Wittgenstein 1958, p.190). Given that one cannot, for conceptual reasons, mistrust one's beliefs, it follows that a person cannot be in one of the above predicaments described by a-d. Hence, voluntarism about beliefs is false, at least if we are dealing with cases in which the person is aware of the fact that she chose her belief for non-epistemic reasons. It won't help to focus on cases in which the person is not aware of that fact, either because she has forgotten the genesis of her belief or because the process of belief acquisition was unconscious. -/- Bas van Fraassen's conception of a stance (cf. van Fraassen 2002)-a mix of commitments, values, goals-gives us reason to rethink the possibility of voluntarism. Might we be free to choose our stances for non-epistemic reasons? I argue here that the answer is negative. First, it is not clear at all whether stances can be objects of choice, properly speaking. And: Can we make sense of the idea of a free choice here? Furthermore, I argue that similar problems of Moore-paradoxality would arise for voluntarism about stances. If one does not want to completely devalue the idea of a stance, one should avoid voluntarism. (shrink)
In this paper I will set out my understanding of Bas van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism, some of the difficulties which I believe beset the current version, and, very briefly, some valuable lessons I believe are nonetheless to be learned by considering this view.We’ll need to begin with a review of how van Fraassen conceives of this kind of discussion.
Realism and empiricism have always been contradictory tendencies in the philosophy of science. The view I will sketch is a synthesis, which I call Contrastive Empiricism. Realism and empiricism are incompatible, so a synthesis that merely conjoined them would be a contradiction. Rather, I propose to isolate important elements in each and show that they combine harmoniously. I will leave behind what I regard as confusions and excesses. The result, I hope, will be neither contradiction nor mishmash.
James Ladyman has argued that constructive empiricism entails modal realism, and that this renders constructive empiricism untenable. We maintain that constructive empiricism is compatible with modal nominalism. Although the central term 'observable' has been analyzed in terms of counterfactuals, and in general counterfactuals do not have objective truth conditions, the property of being observable is not a modal property, and hence there are objective, non-modal facts about what is observable. Both modal nominalism and constructive empiricism require (...) clarification in the face of Ladyman's argument. But we also argue that, even if Ladyman were right that constructive empiricism entails modal realism, this would not be a problem for constructive empiricism. (shrink)
This interdisciplinary new work explores one of the central theoretical problems in linguistics: learnability. The authors, from different backgrounds---linguistics, philosophy, computer science, psychology and cognitive science-explore the idea that language acquisition proceeds through general purpose learning mechanisms, an approach that is broadly empiricist both methodologically and psychologically. Written by four researchers in the full range of relevant fields: linguistics, psychology, computer science, and cognitive science, the book sheds light on the central problems of learnability and language, and traces their implications (...) for key questions of theoretical linguistics and the study of language acquisition. (shrink)
In this paper we suggest a revisionist perspective on two significant figures in early modern life science and philosophy: William Harvey and John Locke. Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, is often named as one of the rare representatives of the ‘life sciences’ who was a major figure in the Scientific Revolution. While this status itself is problematic, we would like to call attention to a different kind of problem: Harvey dislikes abstraction and controlled experiments (aside from (...) the ligature experiment in De Motu Cordis), tends to dismiss the value of instruments such as the microscope, and emphasizes instead the privileged status of ‘observed experience’. To use a contemporary term, Harvey appears to rely on, and chiefly value, ‘tacit knowledge’. Secondly, Locke’s project is often explained with reference to the image he uses in the Epistle to the Reader of his Essay, that he was an “underlabourer” of the sciences. In fact, despite the significant medical phase of his career, Locke’s ‘empiricism’ turns out to be above all a practical (i.e. ‘moral’) project, which focuses on the delimitation of our powers in order to achieve happiness, and rejects the possibility of naturalizing knowledge. When combined, these two cases suggest a different view of some canonical moments in early modern natural philosophy. (shrink)
Concept empiricists are committed to the claim that the vehicles of thought are re-activated perceptual representations. Evidence for empiricism comes from a range of neuroscientific studies showing that perceptual regions of the brain are employed during cognitive tasks such as categorization and inference. I examine the extant neuroscientific evidence and argue that it falls short of establishing this core empiricist claim. During conceptual tasks, the causal structure of the brain produces widespread activity in both perceptual and non-perceptual systems. I (...) lay out several conditions on what is required for a neural state to be a realizer of the functional role played by concepts, and argue that no subset of this activity can be singled out as the unique neural vehicle of conceptual thought. Finally, I suggest that, while the strongest form of empiricism is probably false, the evidence is consistent with several weaker forms of empiricism. (shrink)
The logical empiricists expressed a consistent attitude to racial categorisation in both the ethical and scientific spheres. Their attitude may be captured in the following slogan: human racial taxonomy is an empirically meaningful mode of classifying persons that we should refrain from deploying. I offer an interpretation of their position that would render coherent their remarks on race with positions they adopted on the scientific status of taxonomy in general, together with their potential moral or political motivations for adopting that (...) position. (shrink)
In this paper, I defend an empiricist account of modality that keeps a substantive account of modal commitment, but throws out the metaphysics. I suggest that if we pair a deflationary attitude toward representation with a substantive account of how scientific models are constructed and put to use, the result is an account that deflates the metaphysics of modal commitment without deflating the content of modal claims.
Professor Monro presents an original view of ethics based on empiricism, which leads him to a subjectivist position about moral values. He starts by examining the central problem in moral philosophy: are moral statements objectively true, or are they expressions of preference? The first view conflicts with the empiricist beliefs current in modern thought; the opposing naturalistic theory seems to lead to moral scepticism. After discussing both views, the author presents a detailed defence of the subjectivist position. In the (...) course of his argument he gives a detailed analysis and criticism of the 'universalisability thesis', the theory that moral aspirations differ from others in being applicable to all men, and that it is this that makes them moral. He then offers an alternative account of the nature of moral attitudes. The author illustrates his explanations with straightforward analogies and examples. His clear exposition of the fundamental concepts arising in his argument makes this a book for students as well as for professional moral philosophers. (shrink)
One important debate between scientific realists and constructive empiricists concerns whether we observe things using instruments. This paper offers a new perspective on the debate over instruments by looking to recent discussion in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Realists often speak of instruments as ‘extensions’ to our senses. I ask whether the realist may strengthen her view by drawing on the extended mind thesis. Proponents of the extended mind thesis claim that cognitive processes can sometimes extend beyond our brains (...) and bodies into the environment. I suggest that the extended mind thesis offers a way to make sense of realists’ talk of instruments as extensions to the senses and that it provides the realist with a new argument against the constructive empiricist view of instruments. (shrink)
This book sets the empiricist philosophers in context and examines their various approaches to philosophy. It concentrates primarily on the major figures - Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume - but also discusses the unjustly neglected French philosopher Pierre Gassendi and devotes a chapter to the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, which was founded in the 1660s.
Philosophy of biology is often said to have emerged in the last third of the twentieth century. Prior to this time, it has been alleged that the only authors who engaged philosophically with the life sciences were either logical empiricists who sought to impose the explanatory ideals of the physical sciences onto biology, or vitalists who invoked mystical agencies in an attempt to ward off the threat of physicochemical reduction. These schools paid little attention to actual biological science, and as (...) a result philosophy of biology languished in a state of futility for much of the twentieth century. The situation, we are told, only began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a new generation of researchers began to focus on problems internal to biology, leading to the consolidation of the discipline. In this paper we challenge this widely accepted narrative of the history of philosophy of biology. We do so by arguing that the most important tradition within early twentieth-century philosophy of biology was neither logical empiricism nor vitalism, but the organicist movement that flourished between the First and Second World Wars. We show that the organicist corpus is thematically and methodologically continuous with the contemporary literature in order to discredit the view that early work in the philosophy of biology was unproductive, and we emphasize the desirability of integrating the historical and contemporary conversations into a single, unified discourse. (shrink)
Concepts are the constituents of thoughts. Therefore, concepts are vital to any theory of cognition. However, despite their widely accepted importance, there is little consensus about the nature and origin of concepts. Thanks to the work of Lawrence Barsalou, Jesse Prinz and others concept empiricism has been gaining momentum within the philosophy and psychology literature. Concept empiricism maintains that all concepts are copies, or combinations of copies, of perceptual representations—that is, all concepts are couched in the codes of (...) perceptual representation systems. It is widely agreed that any satisfactory theory of concepts must account for how concepts semantically compose (the compositionality requirement) and explain how their intentional content is determined (the content determination requirement). In this paper, I argue that concept empiricism has serious problems satisfying these two requirements. Therefore, although stored perceptual representations may facilitate some traditionally conceptual tasks, concepts should not be identified with copies of perceptual representations. (shrink)
This paper aims to defend scientific realism against two versions of agnostic empiricism: a naive agnostic position, which suggests that the only rational option is to remain agnostic as to the truth of theoretical assertions, and van Fraassen's more sophisticated agnostic empiricism - which may be called "Hypercritical Empiricism". It first argues that given semantic realism, naive agnostic empiricism cannot be maintained: there is no relevant epistemic difference between theoretical assertions and observational ones. It then focuses (...) on van Fraassen's more sophisticated alternative to scientific realism and suggests that an attitude towards science which involves less than aiming at theoretical truth and believing in theories would be, in some concrete respect that empiricists should recognize, worse off than the recommended realist attitude. To this end, the paper develops the so-called conjunction argument into a diachronic argument for scientific realism. (shrink)
This book explores the complexity of two philosophical traditions, extending from their origins to the current developments in neopragmatism. Chapters deal with the first encounters of these traditions and beyond, looking at metaphysics and the Vienna circle as well as semantics and the principle of tolerance. There is a general consensus that North-American pragmatism and European Logical Empiricism were converging philosophical traditions, especially after the forced migration of the European Philosophers. But readers will discover a pluralist image of this (...) relation and interaction with an obvious family resemblance. This work clarifies and specifies the common features and differences of these currents since the beginning of their mutual scientific communication in the 19th century. The book draws on collaboration between authors and philosophers from Vienna, Tübingen, and Helsinki, and their networks. It will appeal to philosophers, scholars in the history of philosophy, philosophers of science, pragmatists and beyond. (shrink)
Having assigned experience this exclusive role in justification, empiricists then have a range of views concerning the character of experience, the semantics of our claims about unobservable entities, the nature of empirical confirmation, and the possibility of non-empirical warrant for some further class of claims, such as those accepted on the basis of linguistic or logical rules. Given the definitive principle of their position, empiricists can allow that we have knowledge independent of experience only where what is known is not (...) some objective fact about the world, but something about our way of conceptualizing or describing things. Some empiricists say we have knowledge of verbal equivalences or trivialities; some argue that any non-empirical tenets are not even properly called knowledge, but should be seen as notions accepted on pragmatic rather than properly epistemic grounds. What no empiricist will allow is substantive a priori knowledge: according to empiricism we have no pure rational insight into real necessities or the inner structure of nature, but must rely on the deliverances of our senses for all of our information about external reality. Some versions of empiricism argue against the very notion of real necessities or metaphysical structure behind the phenomena; other versions take a more agnostic approach, arguing that if there is a metaphysical structure behind the phenomena it is either out of our epistemic reach, or known only to the extent that it can be grasped through experience, rather than through rational reflection. (shrink)
constructive empiricism asserts that it is not for science to reach a verdict on whether a theory is true or false, if the theory is about unobservable entities; science's only interest here, says Van Fraassen, is to discover whether the theory is ‘empirically adequate’. However, if a theory is soley about observables, empirical adequacy and truth are said to ‘coincide’, here discovering the theory's truth value is an appropriate scientific goal. Constructive empiricism thus rests an epistemological thesis on (...) a semantical distinction. This paper critically examines the notion of aboutness and its epistemological significance. * I am grateful to members of my philosophy of science seminar during Spring, 1983 for useful discussion and to the two anonymous referees of this journal for providing helpful suggestions. I also thank the University of Wisconsin, Madison Graduate School for support in the form of a Romnes Faculty Fellowship. (shrink)
In his recent book, The Empirical Stance, Bas van Fraassen forcefully raises the question of what a philosophical position can or should be. He mainly discusses this question with regard to empiricism but his discussion makes it clear that he takes his proposed answer to be generalizable: not only empiricism but philosophical positions in general should be understood as stances rather than dogmata. The first part of this essay is devoted to an examination of van Fraassen’s critique of (...) ‘naïve’ or dogmatic empiricism, which represents an integral part of his argument for ‘stance’ empiricism. It will be argued that, contrary to van Fraassen’s view, not all versions of naïve empiricism run into the problems identified by him. In the second part of the paper the case will be made that, contrary to van Fraassen’s thesis, the stance empiricist is in at least as bad a position as the naïve empiricist with regard to the task of providing a radical critique of metaphysics, which van Fraassen takes to be an essential task that any empiricist should be able to accomplish. The third part of this essay concerns van Fraassen’s general proposal, and examines the question whether a philosophical position can possibly consist in a stance. It will be suggested that this is not the case. With regard to empiricism this has the implication that if one wants to be a philosopher and an empiricist at the same time one needs to subscribe to a form of naïve empiricism. Furthermore, it will be proposed that as a philosopher-empiricist one should want, or, at least, allow some form of metaphysical theorizing to be part of the philosophical enterprise after all. (shrink)
Logical Empiricism is commonly regarded as uninterested in, if not hostile to sociological investigations of science. This paper reconstructs the views of Otto Neurath and Philipp Frank on the legitimacy and relevance of sociological investigations of theory choice. It is argued that while there obtains a surprising degree of convergence between their programmatic pronouncements and the Strong Programme, the two types of project nevertheless remain distinct. The key to this differences lies in the different assessment of a supposed dilemma (...) facing post-Mertonian sociologists of science. (shrink)
Radical empiricism is the view that a person's experiences (sensory and introspective), or a person's observations, constitute the person's evidence. This view leads to epistemic self-defeat. There are three arguments, concerning respectively: (1) epistemic starting points; (2) epistemic norms; (3) terms of epistemic appraisal. The source of self-defeat is traced to the fact that empiricism does not count a priori intuition as evidence (where a priori intuition is not a form of belief but rather a form of seeming, (...) specifically intellectual as opposed to sensory). Moderate rationalism, by contrast, avoids self-defeat. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to provide a unified account of scientific and mathematical change in a thoroughly empiricist setting. After providing a formal modelling in terms of embedding, and criticising it for being too restrictive, a second modelling is advanced. It generalises the first, providing a more open-ended pattern of theory development, and is articulated in terms of da Costa and French's partial structures approach. The crucial component of scientific and mathematical change is spelled out in terms of (...) partial embeddings. Finally, an application of this second pattern is made, with the examination of the early formulation of set theory. (shrink)
Much feminist philosophy of science has been developed as a reaction against logical empiricism and the associated view that social factors play no role in good science. Recent accounts of the Vienna Circle that highlighted the ways in which some of its members attempted to combine their empiricism with emancipatory politics are used here as a basis on which to reassess the relationship between logical empiricism and feminism. The focus is chiefly on Otto Neurath.
"An essential overview of an important intellectual movement, Logical Empiricism in North America offers the first significant, sustained, and multidisciplinary attempt to understand the intellectual, cultural, and political dimensions of ...