Bas C. van Fraassen
Some recent courses and seminars

S'07 PHI 539 Theory of Knowledge:
Scientific Representation

Seminar S2002 representation, structuralism

Seminar F2002 decision theory

Junior Seminar F2004 -- info on Blackboard site

phi520: modal and many-valued logic


phi203: metaphysics and epistemology

phi204: philos. of science

phi320: philos. and literature

phi327: phil.of quantum mech.

phi340: philosophical logic Fall 2004

PHI 539 SEMINAR F2004 scientific realism, structural realism

The first half of the semester will be devoted to the story of Structural Realism, initiated in 1985 by John Worrall’s "Structural realism: the best of both worlds?" and joined or criticized by a number of authors: Psillos, Ladyman, Chakravartty, Zahar, French, ... (See below for some bibliography.) In response I’ll present an alternative Empiricist Structuralism, claiming precisely the virtues that Worrall wanted, without the ontology.

      Relevant responses include papers presented at symposia at the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 and 2004, equally preoccupied with visions of structuralism about science. (The papers will be available to the extent possible.)

      The second half of the semester will concentrate on views about scientific representation in a more general context. The guiding theme will still be that science representsonly structure , in some sense. Attempts to make this precise have tended to fail rather spectacularly. We’ll look at how Russell tried in The Analysis of Matter, Carnap in the Logische Aufbau, and David Lewis in his reply to Putnam’s ‘model-theoretic’ argument against metaphysical realism.
      At various points paradoxes will be evaded or escaped through careful attention to perspective and first person/ third person distinctions. An objective form/content or structure/material dichotomy is untenable, but the desires that prompts us to want them can perhaps be met after all.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (small selection)

  • Chakravartty, Anjan, The structuralist conception of objects (PSA 2002) Philosophy of Science, 70 (December 2003) pp. 867-878.
  • French, Steven "On the withering away of physical objects", pp. 93-113 in Castellani Interpreting Bodies.
  • French, Steven “Scribbling on the blank sheet: Eddington’s structuralist conception of objects” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 34 (2003) 227-259
  • Ladyman, James "What is Structural Realism?”, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 29A (1998), 409-424.
  • Psillos, S. "Is structural realism the best of both worlds?" Dialectica 49 (1995), 15-46.
  • Suárez, Mauricio "Scientific Representation: Against Similarity and Isomorphism", International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (2003):, pp. 225-244.
  • Suarez, Mauricio An inferential conception of scientific representation
  • Synthese July 2003, Volume 136, Issue 1 features a dispute between Cao and the most radical among the structural realists
  • van Fraassen, B. "Science as Representation: Flouting the Criteria", Philosophy of Science 71 (2004), 794-804.
  • van Fraassen, B. "Structure and perspective: philosophical perplexity and paradox", pp. 511-530 in M. L. Dalla Chiara et al. (eds.) Logic and Scientific Methods. Vol 1. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997.
  • van Fraassen, B. "Elgin on Lewis' Putnam's Paradox", Journal of Philosophy 94 (1997), 85-93.
  • Worrall, J. "Structural realism: the best of both worlds?" Dialectica 43 (1989), 99-124.