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Van Fraassen’s Constructive Empiricism and the Concept of Probability

  • G. Roussopoulos
Part of the Fundamental Theories of Physics book series (FTPH, volume 24)

Abstract

This paper contrasts van Fraassen’s conception of probability and his general philosophy of science to realism.Van Fraassen provides his antirealistic philosophy of science with a modal frequency interpretation of probability.The objective of the present paper then is to show that the modal frequency interpretation of probability can well be embedded within the realist framework of science:we could still hold on to the view that a realism about entities is a viable option for a philosophy of science.This realism is grounded on our ability to causally interact with,or be causally affected by, the world.

Keywords

Scientific Theory Scientific Realism Empirical Adequacy Theoretical Entity Constructive Empiricism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Ian Hacking, Representing and Interveving,Cambridge UP,Cambridge 1983 (RI thereafter),p.XIVGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bas van Fraassen,The Scientific Image,Clarendon Press,Oxford 1980.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. E. Hooker and P. Churchland (eds),Images of Science,University of Chicago Press 1985.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A. Fine ’Unnatural Attitudes: Realist and Instrumentalist Attachments to Science’, Mind XCV (1986), pp.149-74 and bibliography given thereGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago UP 1970, p.206: There is I think no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like ’really true’;the notion of a match between the ontology of a theory and its ’real’ counterpart in nature now seems to me illusive in principle.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Major theme in van Fraassen’s critique of realism.But cf. also N. Cartwright,How the Laws of Physics lie,Clarendon Press,Oxford 1983 (HLPL thereafter).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    A definition of what is meant by the vague term ’observable’ is the following: X is observable if there are circumstances which are such that if X is present to us under those circumstances,then we observe it. (SI:16) A central claim for constructive empiricism with respect to what is observable is that science naturally discloses what is observable: I regard what is observable as a theory-independent question. It is a function of facts about us qua organisms in the world.(SI:57) Thus,with respect to observables,a theory is empirically adequate if and only if everything it says about the observables is correct. And,with respect to the unobservables,our theory should not commit itself to anything:its empirical adequacy underdetermines its truth. As far as the use of the term ’constructive empiricism’ by van Fraas- sen,the following reference is relevant:I use the adjective ’constructive’ to indicate my view that sci-entific activity is one of construction rather than one of discovery constructions of models that must be adequate to the phenomena, and not discovery of truth concerning the unobservable.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    M. Friedman, Foundations of Space-Time Theories,Princeton UP 1983.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    K. Popper, ’Propensities,Probabilities and the Quantum Theory’ (1957) in D. Miller (ed), Popper,Fontana Pocket Readers, pp.199-209.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cf.SI:198: So if anyone asks:’What more is there to look at in science besides the models,the actual phenomena,and the relationships between them?’ we can answer:’The structure of the language used in a context where a scientific theory has been accepted.’Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    SI:158-203.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cf. Hacking RI,p.21.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    H. Putnam, Mathematics, Matter, and Method, Volume I, p.69Google Scholar
  14. 13.A
    R. Boyd, ’The current Status of Scientific Realism’ in D. Leplin (ed),Scientific Realism,University of California Press 1984, pp.41-82.Google Scholar
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    SI:12: Science aims to give us theories which are empirically adequate; and acceptance of a theory involves as belief only that it is empirically adequate.This is the statement of the antirealist position I advocate.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Thus Russell could be viewed as a realist about theories and anti- realist about entities,since he tried to rewrite entities in terms of logical theories.The Holy Fathers,on the other hand,could be viewed as realists about entities but as antirealists about theories (no theories could ever capture God,etc.).Cf.Hacking RI,p.27.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Newton-Smith, W.,’The under-determination of theory by data’,Proc. Arist. Society,Suppl.Volume 52 (1978),p.72.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    K. Popper and J. Eccles, The Self and its Brain, Springer Verlag,Berlin 1977,p.9:I suppose that the most central usage of the term’real’ is its use to characterize material things of ordinary size-things which a baby can handle and (preferably) put into his (sic) mouth. From this,the usage of the term ’real’ is extended,first,to bigger things-things which are too big for us to handle,like railway trains, houses, mountains, the earth and the stars,and also to smaller things-things like dust particles or mites.It is further extended,of course,to liquids and then also to air,to gases and to molecules and atoms. What is the principle behind the extension? It is,I suggest,that the entities which we conjecture to be real should be able to exert a causal effect upon the prima facie real things;that is, upon material things of an ordinary size:that we can explain changes in the ordinary material world of things by causal effect of entities conjectured to be real.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    A. Einstein in Louis de Broglie,Physicien et Penseur, Albin Michel, 1952, p.7 andGoogle Scholar
  20. 18.A
    Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen, Physical Review 47 (1935), p.777 where the offer the following criterion of physical reality: If,without in any way disturbing a system,we can predict with certainty (i.e. with probability equal to unity) the value of a physical quantity,then there exists an element of reality corresponding to this physical quantity.Google Scholar
  21. 18.B
    Also cf. the related discussions by F.Selleri,’Quantum Reality as an empirical Problem’ in The Concept of Physical Reality, E. Bitsakis (ed), Zacharopoulos, Athens 1983Google Scholar
  22. 18.C
    E.Bitsakis, ’Is it possible to save causality and locality in Quantum Mechanics?’,Open Questions in Quantum Mechanics,Reidel 1986.Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    Hacking in his RI states the criterion thus:We are completely convinced of the reality of electrons when we are regularly set out to build and often enough we succeed in building-new kinds of devices that use well understood causal properties of electrons to interfere in more hypothetical parts of nature,(p.265)Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    N.Cartwright HLPL,in particular Essay 9 ’How the Measurement Problem ia an Artefact of the Mathematics’,pp.163-216.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Roussopoulos
    • 1
  1. 1.AthensGreece

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