Description Reviews What is empiricism and what could it be? Bas C. The empiricist tradition is not and could not be defined by common doctrines, but embodies a certain stance in philosophy, van Fraassen says. This stance is displayed first of all in a searing, recurrent critique of metaphysics, and second in a focus on experience that requires a voluntarist view of belief and opinion. Van Fraassen focuses on the philosophical problems of scientific and conceptual revolutions and on the not unrelated ruptures between religious and secular ways of seeing or conceiving of ourselves. He explores what it is to be or not be secular and points the way toward a new relationship between secularism and science within philosophy.

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Van Fraassen begins with criticisms of analytic ontology, especially Australian materialism the Place-Smart-Armstrong-Jackson tradition. As philosophers, we can have stances, but not beliefs. But philosophy should not try to model itself on science. Materialism and empiricism are both stances, but the former attends to the content, and the latter to the procedures, of science. The latter is preferable, for the former seduces one into metaphysics. Like metaphysics, this kind of epistemology tries to see around all future corners by delimiting the possibilities open to future inquiry.

But all the objectifying epistemologist can do is attempt to eternalize some presently available discourse—to do, e. So the next conceptual revolution may well leave her stranded. Neither she nor the metaphysician can leave room for such revolutions except by emptying their theses of content.

They cannot escape a dilemma: either parochialism or triviality. The problem is that we would like to say that it was rational for the pre-revolutionaries to have become post-revolutionaries, even though doing so meant adopting a view they found absurd. This something is, as Sartre suggested, emotion. Van Fraassen, however, does not explicitly pursue this task. Instead, he turns from Sartre to Feyerabend. The Jesuits were right in saying that Scripture without tradition is indefinitely flexible, and therefore cannot serve as a criterion for choice among alternative traditions.

Green, Sellars, and Feyerabend were right to insist that experience without a descriptive vocabulary is blind, and thus incapable of providing a criterion for choice among alternative conceptual repertoires.

Presumably van Fraassen would say that the emotions which were indispensable to effecting conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism were of the same sort as those that facilitated the switch from Aristotelian to Galilean descriptions of motion.

That emotions play an indispensable role in conceptual revolutions does not mean, however, that such revolutions should be viewed as irrational. Emotion may be required to get us over the hump—to make the absurd seem plausible. But the post-revolutionaries need not think the pre-revolutionaries to have been absurd. They can instead think of them as having been imprecise. Just as the language of the Catholic tradition was rich in possibilities exploited by Luther and Calvin, so the language of Aristotle provided resources developed by Galileo.

In one role it maintains orthodoxy and forbids heeding the alternative interpretations ingenious minds can concoct. But in its other role it devalues any aspect of orthodoxy that can be identified as interpretive.

Formulations of enduring criteria, either for right interpretation or for correct theory-choice, will always be either parochial or empty. Accepted in either sense, it can be our entire world picture. Materialist metaphysicians think that it certainly should be our entire world picture, but the empiricist stance merely allows that it might be. These last three he classifies as non-objectifying forms of inquiry.

In those areas there are individual adepts, but no expert cultures. Anthropologists and literary critics objectify, just as do physicists. But composers, novelists, and religious writers like John Bunyan do not.

Philosophers should be conscious of the limitations of their projects in a way that metaphysicians and objectifying epistemologists typically are not. The earlier chapters of this book, in which Van Fraassen engages with currently fashionable movements within analytic philosophy, are more persuasive than the final ones, in which he discusses the relation between science and the rest of culture. To pull the book together, he would have to have included at least a sketch of what philosophy might become after it frees itself from the temptations that motivated such movements.

We are not told much more about this stance than that assuming it produces respect for the procedures of science. It would help to be told what other stances are available. Are there any, except those assumed by religious people whose faith has not yet been de-mythologized in the manner of Bultmann? If a student emerges from Philosophy convinced that there is no point in trying to describe either the world or knowledge in the wholesale ways characteristic of metaphysics and epistemology, does her acquisition of that negative belief count as taking the empirical stance?

Secularism is usually associated with the change from hope for post-mortem happiness to hope for a better human future here below, and thus with a shift of attention from religion and science to politics—a shift from trying to understand the world to trying to change it. It is hard to see the connection between this shift and the view that objectifying inquiry—the sort of inquiry conducted by expert cultures that deploy and test theoretical models—is our only means of gaining understanding.

A lot of people have made that shift without adopting any such view, and indeed without ever having pondered any epistemological question. Indeed he is, but pragmatism and existentialism agree in treating understanding as a means to more important ends.

Both distance themselves from positivism by their relative lack of interest in science. For pragmatists like Dewey, science was one among many other tools to be used to change the conditions of human life.

For Heidegger, it was merely the enabler of technology. Sartre pretty much ignored science altogether. Dewey belonged to a philosophical tradition that goes back to Hegel—a tradition that regards the French Revolution as more worthy of philosophical attention than the Scientific Revolution.

Van Fraassen tries to break with positivism by insisting that science is just one among several such paradigms p. Readers of this book are likely to hope that it will soon be supplemented by one in which van Fraassen tells us more about what sort of projects he has in mind, and about their relevance to the academic discipline of philosophy.

But he has not yet made clear what analytic philosophy might look like once those forces have been overcome.





The Empirical Stance



The Empirical Stance


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