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  • Empiricism

    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 (1980; 1985; 2001). 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 members 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. In related work (Votsis 2013), I seek to overcome this objection by putting forth and defending a liberalised conception of observability and an associated, and accordingly liberalised, conception of empiricism. I also seek to establish an evidential equivalence thesis that piggybacks on the aforementioned notion of observability and is thus less objectionable to realists. Moreover, none of these views would be plausible if strong anti-realist objections towards the veridicality of observations and observation reports were to hold. One major motivation for strong anti-realism is the thesis that observation reports are theory-laden. In recent work (Votsis 2015; 2018; 2020), I defend against this thesis and even offer a way to settle the matter empirically.

    Van Fraassen, B.C. (1980) The Scientific Image, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Van Fraassen, B.C. (1985) ‘Empiricism in Philosophy of Science’, in P.M. Churchland and C.A. Hooker (eds.), Images of Science: Essays on Realism and Empiricism, with a Reply from B.C. van Fraassen, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 196-208.

    Van Fraassen, B.C. (2001) ‘Constructive Empiricism Now’, Philosophical Studies, 106, pp. 151-170.

    Votsis, I. (2013) ‘Empiricism Unchained’, Talk Abstract (presented at the Bay Area Philosophy of Science seminar, San Francisco State University, October 03 2013).

    Votsis, I. (2015) ‘Perception and Observation Unladened’, Philosophical Studies, vol. 172(3): 563-585.

    Votsis, I. (2018) ‘Putting Theory-Ladenness to the Test’, Cognitive Science Society Proceedings, 2630-2635.

    Votsis, I. (2020) ‘Theory-Ladenness: Testing the Untestable’, Synthese, vol. 197(4): 1447–1465.