Scientific Representation and Empiricist Structuralism: Essay Review of Bas C. van Fraassen's Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective

  • Giere R
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The publication, in 1980, of van Fraassens The Scientific Image was a major event in the philosophy of science, and not just in retrospect. With that book, van Fraassen breathed new life into empiricism in the philosophy of science following an onslaught of both a renewed scientific realism and historically oriented philosophies of science. In part his success was due to his abandonment of key elements of logical empiricism. One was his replacement of an account of scientific theories grounded in syntax with one grounded in semantics, the semantic view of theories. Another was the replacement of a linguistic distinction between theoretical and observational terms by a distinction between what is and is not humanly observable. Since 1980, van Fraassen has published numerous articles and several substantial books including Laws and Symmetry (1989), Quantum Mechanics: An Empiricist View (1991), and The Empirical Stance (2002). Although, like the latter, Scientific Representation began life as a series of lectures, it is far more than that. Indeed, I regard it as the true successor to The Scientific Image, an even more mature exposition of an empiricist philosophy of science for a philosophical audience much broader than technical philosophers of science. It is a book rich in historical and contemporary insights which makes even greater breaks with the past than its influential predecessor. And the ever elegant style makes it a joy to read. Finding it impossible to write a systematic review of so rich a book, I will concentrate on what for me is the most significant issue: the relationship between scientific representation and empiricist structuralism. In the end, I will question whether the account of representation might not undermine the empiricist version of structuralism.

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  • Ronald N. Giere

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