Bas van Fraassen

Bastiaan Cornelis van Fraassen (/væn ˈfrɑːsən/; born 5 April 1941) is a Dutch-American philosopher. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University and the McCosh Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, noted for his seminal contributions to philosophy of science.

Bas van Fraassen
Born5 April 1941 (age 78)
Alma mater
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas

Biography and career

Van Fraassen was born in the German-occupied Netherlands on 5 April 1941. His father, a steam fitter, was forced by the Nazis to work in a factory in Hamburg. After the war, the family reunited and emigrated to Edmonton, in western Canada.[5]

Van Fraassen earned his B.A. (1963) from the University of Alberta and his M.A. (1964) and Ph.D. (1966, under the direction of Adolf Grünbaum) from the University of Pittsburgh. He previously taught at Yale University, the University of Southern California, the University of Toronto and, from 1982 to 2008, at Princeton University, where he is now emeritus.[6] At San Francisco State University, he teaches courses in the philosophy of science, philosophical logic and the role of models in scientific practice.[7][8]

Van Fraassen is an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church[9] and is one of the founders of the Kira Institute. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; an overseas member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1995;[10] and a member of the International Academy of Philosophy of Science.[11] In 1986, van Fraassen received the Lakatos Award for his contributions to the philosophy of science and, in 2012, the Philosophy of Science Association's inaugural Hempel Award for lifetime achievement in philosophy of science.[12]

Among his many students are the philosophers Elisabeth Lloyd at Indiana University, Anja Jauernig at New York University, and Professor of Mathematics Jukka Keranen at UCLA.

Philosophical work

Van Fraassen coined the term "constructive empiricism" in his 1980 book The Scientific Image, in which he argued for agnosticism about the reality of unobservable entities. That book was "widely credited with rehabilitating scientific anti-realism."[13] According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The constructive empiricist follows the logical positivists in rejecting metaphysical commitments in science, but parts with them regarding their endorsement of the verificationist criterion of meaning, as well as their endorsement of the suggestion that theory-laden discourse can and should be removed from science. Before van Fraassen's The Scientific Image, some philosophers had viewed scientific anti-realism as dead, because logical positivism was dead. Van Fraassen showed that there were other ways to be an empiricist with respect to science, without following in the footsteps of the logical positivists.[13]

In his 1989 book Laws and Symmetry, van Fraassen, attempted to lay the ground-work for explaining physical phenomena without assuming that such phenomena are caused by rules or laws which can be said to cause or govern their behavior. Focusing on the problem of underdetermination, he argued for the possibility that theories could have empirical equivalence but differ in their ontological commitments. He rejects the notion that the aim of science is to produce an account of the physical world that is literally true and instead maintains that its aim is to produce theories that are empirically adequate.[14] Van Fraassen has also studied the philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophical logic, and epistemology.

Van Fraassen has been the editor of the Journal of Philosophical Logic and co-editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic.[15]

In his paper "Singular Terms, Truth-value Gaps, and Free Logic", van Fraassen opens with a very brief introduction of the problem of non-referring names.

Instead of any unique formalization, though, he simply adjusts the axioms of a standard predicate logic such as that found in Willard Van Orman Quine's Methods of Logic. Instead of an axiom like he uses ; this will naturally be true if the existential claim of the antecedent is false. If a name fails to refer, then an atomic sentence containing it, that is not an identity statement, can be assigned a truth value arbitrarily. Free logic is proved to be complete under this interpretation.

He indicates that, however, he sees no good reason to call statements which employ them either true or false. Some have attempted to solve this problem by means of many-valued logics; van Fraassen offers in their stead the use of supervaluations. Questions of completeness change when supervaluations are admitted, since they allow for valid arguments that do not correspond to logically true conditionals.[16]

In his essay "The Anti-Realist Epistemology of van Fraassen's The Scientific Image", Paul M. Churchland, one of van Fraassen's critics, contrasted van Fraassen's idea of unobservable phenomena with the idea of merely unobserved phenomena.[17]


  • Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective, OUP, 2008.
  • The Empirical Stance, Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Quantum Mechanics: An Empiricist View, Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Laws and Symmetry, Oxford University Press 1989.
  • The Scientific Image, Oxford University Press 1980.
  • Derivation and Counterexample: An Introduction to Philosophical Logic (with Karel Lambert), Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc. 1972.
  • Formal Semantics and Logic, Macmillan, New York 1971.
  • An Introduction to the Philosophy of Time and Space, Random House, New York 1970.

See also


  1. ^ Scientific Realism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  2. ^ David Marshall Miller, Representing Space in the Scientific Revolution, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 4 n. 2.
  3. ^ Free Logic (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  4. ^ Talbott, William (12 October 2016) [First published 12 July 2001]. "Bayesian Epistemology". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 ed.). Stanford University: The Metaphysics Research Lab. Other Principles of Bayesian Epistemology. ISSN 1095-5054. Retrieved 31 May 2018. A. Other principles of synchronic coherence. Are the probability laws the only standards of synchronic coherence for degrees of belief? Van Fraassen has proposed an additional principle (Reflection or Special Reflection), which he now regards as a special case of an even more general principle (General Reflection).
  5. ^ Why Science Should Stay Clear of Metaphysics, Nautilus
  6. ^
  7. ^ SF State News at SFSU
  8. ^ SF State Campus Memo: New tenure-track faculty 2008-09
  9. ^ New Blackfriars Vol. 80, No. 938, 1999.
  10. ^ "B.C. van Fraassen". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  11. ^ LES MEMBRES ACTUELS DE L'A.I.P.S. Archived 2013-09-19 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Hempel Award recipients
  13. ^ a b Monton, Bradley; Mohler, Chad (3 May 2017) [First published 1 October 2008]. "Constructive Empiricism". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 ed.). Stanford University: The Metaphysics Research Lab. Introduction and "Contrast with Logical Positivism". ISSN 1095-5054. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  14. ^ Jarrett Leplin (1984), Scientific Realism, University of California Press, p. 1, ISBN 0-520-05155-6
  15. ^ Bas C. van Fraassen, Curriculum Vitae
  16. ^ The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 63, No. 17, (Sept. 15, 1966), pp. 481–495
  17. ^ Churchland, Paul M., "The anti-realist epistemology of van Fraassen's The Scientific Image.", The Los Angeles Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 63.3 (1982): 226–235.

External links

American Philosophical Association

The American Philosophical Association (APA) is the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States. Founded in 1900, its mission is to promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers, to encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy, to facilitate the professional work and teaching of philosophers, and to represent philosophy as a discipline.

Carus Lectures

The Carus Lectures are a prestigious series of three lectures presented over three consecutive days in plenary sessions at a divisional meeting of the American Philosophical Association. The series was founded in 1925 with John Dewey as the inaugural presenter. The series was scheduled irregularly until 1995, when they were scheduled to occur every two years. The series is named in honor of Paul Carus by Mary Carus and is published by Open Court. In his introduction to the inaugural speech, Hartley Burr Alexander praised the series as an unusual opportunity of presenting ideas "with no institutional atmosphere to further the free play of the mind upon all phases of life."

Constructive empiricism

In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.

Equivalence relation

In mathematics, an equivalence relation is a binary relation that is reflexive, symmetric and transitive. The relation "is equal to" is the canonical example of an equivalence relation, where for any objects a, b, and c:

a = a (reflexive property),

if a = b then b = a (symmetric property), and

if a = b and b = c then a = c (transitive property).As a consequence of the reflexive, symmetric, and transitive properties, any equivalence relation provides a partition of the underlying set into disjoint equivalence classes. Two elements of the given set are equivalent to each other if and only if they belong to the same equivalence class.


As introduced by Kurt Lewin, genidentity is an existential relationship underlying the genesis of an object from one moment to the next. What we usually consider to be an object really consists of multiple entities, which are the phases of the object at various times. Two objects are not identical because they have the same properties in common, but because one has developed from the other.

Lewin introduced the concept in his 1922 Habilitationsschrift Der Begriff der Genese in Physik, Biologie und Entwicklungsgeschichte. It is today perhaps the only surviving evidence of Lewin's influence on the philosophy of science. However, this concept never became an object of widespread discussion and debate in its own terms. Rather, it was extracted from its context by philosophers such as Rudolf Carnap, Hans Hermes, Hans Reichenbach, Adolph Grünbaum, and Bas van Fraassen who incorporated this concept into their own theories such as the topology of the universe or the axiomatization of mechanics. Lewin's idea was to compare and contrast the concept of genidentity in various branches of science, thereby laying bare the characteristic structure of each and making their classification possible in the first place.

Hartry Field

Hartry H. Field (born November 30, 1946) is an American philosopher. He is Silver Professor of Philosophy at New York University and a notable contributor to philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.

Field is also Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Birmingham, UK.

Index of philosophy of science articles

An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.

John Locke Lectures

The John Locke Lectures are a series of annual lectures in philosophy given at the University of Oxford. They are one of the world's most prestigious academic lecture series, comparable to the Gifford Lectures given in Scottish universities. They were established in 1950 by the bequest of Henry Wilde.

The first lecture series was offered to Ludwig Wittgenstein, who eventually declined. According to his biographers, he felt uncomfortable giving formal lectures where the audience would not be asking or answering questions.

Kira Institute

The Kira Institute is a non-profit organization. It was founded in 1997 to encourage open inquiry

concerning the nature of scientific knowledge and its relation

to other perspectives drawn from a wide variety of fields.

The founders were Piet Hut (astrophysicist at the Institute for

Advanced Study in Princeton), Roger Shepard (then cognitive

psychologist at Stanford University), Steven Tainer (instructor

at the Institute for World Religions), Bas van Fraassen (then

philosopher of science at Princeton University), and Arthur Zajonc

(physicist at Amherst College).

Lakatos Award

The Lakatos Award is given annually for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, widely interpreted. The contribution must be in the form of a book published in English during the previous six years.

The Award is in memory of Imre Lakatos and has been endowed by the Latsis Foundation. It is administered by the following committee:

The Director of the London School of Economics (Chairman)

Professor John Worrall (Convenor)

Professor Hans Albert

Professor Nancy Cartwright

Professor Adolf Grünbaum

Professor Philip Kitcher

Professor Alan Musgrave

Professor Michael RedheadThe Committee makes the Award on the advice of an independent and anonymous panel of selectors. The value of the Award is £10,000.

To take up an Award a successful candidate must visit the LSE and deliver a public lecture.

List of American philosophers

This is a list of American philosophers; of philosophers who are either from, or spent many productive years of their lives in the United States.

List of philosophers of science

This is a chronological list of philosophers of science. For an alphabetical name-list, see Category:Philosophers of science.

Philosophy of Science Association

The Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) is an American academic organization which promotes the study and discussion of the philosophy of science.

Founded in 1933, the PSA engages in activities such as the publishing of periodicals, essays and monographs in the field of the philosophy of science; sponsoring conventions and meetings; and the awarding of prizes for distinguished work in the field. In 2012, it began presenting the Hempel Award, named for the eminent 20th-century philosopher of science Carl Gustav Hempel, for lifetime achievement in the philosophy of science. The first recipient was Bas van Fraassen.

The President during 2015/2016 is C. Kenneth Waters.

Scientific formalism

Scientific formalism is a family of approaches to the presentation of science. It is viewed as an important part of the scientific method, especially in the physical sciences.

Scientific realism

Scientific realism is the view that the universe described by science is real regardless of how it may be interpreted.

Within philosophy of science, this view is often an answer to the question "how is the success of science to be explained?" The discussion on the success of science in this context centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make valid claims about unobservables (viz., that they have the same ontological status) as observables, as opposed to instrumentalism.

Semantic view of theories

The semantic view of theories is a position in the philosophy of science that holds that a scientific theory can be identified with a collection of models. The semantic view of theories was originally proposed by Patrick Suppes in “A Comparison of the Meaning and Uses of Models in Mathematics and the Empirical Sciences” as a reaction against the received view of theories popular among the logical positivists. Many varieties of the semantic view propose identifying theories with a class of set-theoretic models in the Tarskian sense, while others specify models in the mathematical language stipulated by the field of which the theory is a member.


In philosophical logic, supervaluationism is a semantics for dealing with irreferential singular terms and vagueness. It allows one to apply the tautologies of propositional logic in cases where truth values are undefined.

According to supervaluationism, a proposition can have a definite truth value even when its components do not. The proposition "Pegasus likes licorice", for example, is often interpreted as having no truth-value given the assumption that the name "Pegasus" fails to refer. If indeed reference fails for "Pegasus", then it seems as though there is nothing that can justify an assignment of a truth-value to any apparent assertion in which the term "Pegasus" occurs. The statement "Pegasus likes licorice or Pegasus doesn't like licorice", however, is an instance of the valid schema (" or not-"), so, according to supervaluationism, it should be true regardless of whether or not its disjuncts have a truth value; that is, it should be true in all interpretations. If, in general, something is true in all precisifications, supervaluationism describes it as "supertrue", while something false in all precisifications is described as "superfalse".

Supervaluations were first formalized by Bas van Fraassen.

Wheatley Institution

The Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution of Brigham Young University (BYU) seeks to promote high level scholarship and disseminate ideas broadly. Currently the institution's director is Richard N. Williams.

The organization started in 2007 and was founded through the efforts of Jack Wheatley. Wheatley previously spent more than 20 years on the board of Stanford University's Hoover Institution and wanted the new BYU institution to fulfill somewhat the same role.

In October 2009 the Institution held a forum on combating the New Atheism.

Beginning on January 11, 2010, the institution had several distinguished outside speakers such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Condoleezza Rice. One of the leading figures behind the institution's success inviting such speakers was one of its senior fellows, Amos Jordan, who previously had been president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

During the 2012-2013 academic year, the institution sponsored a series of speakers on scientism. Speakers included Daniel N. Robinson, Peter Hacker, Richard G. Swinburne, Bas van Fraassen, Lawrence Principe, Kenneth F. Schaffner, and Roger Scruton.

The board of overseers consists of:

Jack Wheatley, chair; a northern California real estate developer

Merrill J. Bateman, vice-chair; former president of BYU

Alan Ashton, member; business executive

Bruce Christensen member; business executive

Sandra Rogers, member; BYU International Vice President

Brent W. Webb, member; BYU Academic Vice President

Charles Wheatley, member; Principal, Wheatley Financial Consulting LLC

Kevin J Worthen, member; president of BYU

Gerrit W. Gong, member on leave; member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the LDS Church.

Jane Clayson Johnson, member on leave; TV news correspondent; public speaker

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