Bas C. van Fraassen

in The Scientific Image

Published in print December 1980 | ISBN: 9780198244271
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597473 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy


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The opposition between empiricism and realism with respect to science is old: it appeared clearly in the seventeenth century sense of superiority of the ‘mechanical philosophy’ to Scholastic metaphysics, and continued for the next three centuries’ debates over the philosophical foundations of physics. Empiricist views developed by the logical positivists of Vienna and

Berlin were defeated by the emergence of scientific realism in the mid‐twentieth century. This defeat was largely due to the inadequacy of the positivist theories of meaning and language. To present a viable empiricist account of science, we need conceptions of theory structure, truth, and empirical adequacy that are essentially independent of a theory's linguistic formulation. Correlative to this discussion of the relationship between theory and world is the question what it is to accept a scientific theory––how much belief is involved? And what is involved other than belief? The position to be developed here (given the momentary name ‘constructive empiricism’) will view scientific activity as one of construction rather than discovery: construction of models that must be adequate to the observable phenomena, and not discovery of the truth about postulated unobservable parts of nature. Acceptance of a scientific theory so viewed will have an irreducible pragmatic dimension in addition to involving only a modest amount of belief.

Keywords: empirical adequacy; empiricism; logical positivism; metaphysics; model; phenomena; pragmatic; realism; scientific realism; scientific theory; truth

Chapter.  2153 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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