BAPS event Oct. 3, 2013

Ioannis Votsis

University of Duesseldorf

at SFSU Humanities 587 6-8 PM

to receive a copy of the paper in advance or to RSVP for dinner, email Bas van Fraassen

Title: Empiricism Unchained

Abstract: Empiricism has a long and venerable history. Aristotle, the Epicureans, Sextus Empiricus, Francis

Bacon, Locke, Hume, Mill, Mach and the Logical Empiricists, among others, represent a long line of

historically influential empiricists who, one way or another, placed an emphasis on knowledge

gained through the senses. In recent times the most highly articulated and influential edition of

empiricism is undoubtedly Bas van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism. Science, according to this

view, aims at empirically adequate theories, i.e. theories that save all and only the observable

phenomena. Roughly put, something is observable in van Fraassen’s view if a member of the human

epistemic community can detect it with their unaided senses. Critics have contested this notion,

citing, among other reasons, that most of what counts as knowledge in natural science concerns

things that are detectable only with instruments, i.e. things that are unobservable and hence

unknowable by van Fraassen’s lights. Beg-the-question accusations fly back and forth. As a

consequence a stalemate has ensued. In this talk, I put forth a liberalised conception of observability

and an associated, and accordingly liberalised, conception of empiricism. ‘Universal observability’

and ‘universal empiricism’, as I call them, unchain themselves from traditional conceptions of

experience while remaining firmly tethered to what, I argue, is the true source of epistemic merit in

the senses.