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.