Larry Laudan

Larry Laudan (/ˈlaʊdən/;[5] born 1941) is a contemporary American philosopher of science and epistemologist. He has strongly criticized the traditions of positivism, realism, and relativism, and he has defended a view of science as a privileged and progressive institution against popular challenges. Laudan's philosophical view of "research traditions" is seen as an important alternative to Imre Lakatos's "research programs."[6]

Larry Laudan
Born16 October 1941 (age 77)
NationalityUnited States
EducationUniversity of Kansas (B.A. Physics, 1962)
Princeton University (Ph.D. Philosophy, 1965)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsUniversity of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, University of Hawaii, University of Texas Law School, UNAM
Main interests
Philosophy of science, epistemology
Notable ideas
Historicist theory of scientific rationality centered around the concept of research traditions[1]
Pessimistic induction
Criticism of positivism, realism, and relativism

Life and career

Laudan took his PhD in Philosophy at Princeton University, and then taught at University College London and, for many years, at the University of Pittsburgh. Subsequently, he taught at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, University of Hawaii and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He presently teaches at the University of Texas, Austin.[7] His more recent work has been on legal epistemology.

Philosophical work

Laudan's most influential book is Progress and its Problems (1977), in which he charges philosophers of science with paying lip service to the view that "science is fundamentally a problem-solving activity" without taking seriously the view's implications for the history of science and its philosophy, and without questioning certain issues in the historiography and methodology of science. Against empiricism, which is represented by Karl Popper, and "revolutionism," represented by Thomas Kuhn, Laudan maintained in Progress and its Problems that science is an evolving process that accumulates more empirically validated evidence while solving conceptual anomalies at the same time. Mere evidence collecting or empirical confirmation does not constitute the true mechanism of scientific advancement; conceptual resolution and comparison of the solutions of anomalies provided by various theories form an indispensable part of the evolution of science.

Laudan is particularly well known for his pessimistic induction argument against the claim that the cumulative success of science shows that science must really describe how the world really is. Laudan famously argued in his 1981 article "A Confutation of Convergent Realism"[8] that "the history of science furnishes vast evidence of empirically successful theories that were later rejected; from subsequent perspectives, their unobservable terms were judged not to refer and thus, they cannot be regarded as true or even approximately true."[9]

In Beyond Positivism and Relativism, Laudan wrote that "the aim of science is to secure theories with a high problem-solving effectiveness" and that scientific progress is possible when empirical data is diminished. "Indeed, on this model, it is possible that a change from an empirically well-supported theory to a less well-supported one could be progressive, provided that the latter resolved significant conceptual difficulties confronting the former."[10] Finally, the better theory solves more conceptual problems while minimizing empirical anomalies.

Laudan has also written on risk management and the subject of terrorism. He has argued that "moral outrage and compassion are the proper responses to terrorism, but fear for oneself and one's life is not. The risk that the average American will be a victim of terrorism is extremely remote."[11] He wrote The Book of Risks in 1996 which details the relative risks of various accidents.

Selected writings

  • 1977. Progress and its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth,[12] ISBN 978-0-520-03721-2
  • 1981. Science and Hypothesis
  • 1984. Science and Values: The Aims of Science and Their Role in Scientific Debate, ISBN 978-0-520-05743-2
  • 1990. Science and Relativism: Dialogues on the Philosophy of Science, ISBN 978-0-226-46949-2
  • 1995. The Book of Risks
  • 1996. Beyond Positivism and Relativism, ISBN 978-0-8133-2469-2[13]
  • 1997. Danger Ahead
  • 2006. Truth, Error and Criminal Law: An Essay in Legal Epistemology
  • 2016. The Law's Flaws: Rethinking Trials and Errors?


  1. ^ Historicist Theories of Scientific Rationality (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  2. ^ Laudan 1977, p. 125.
  3. ^ Laudan 1984, p. 83.
  4. ^ James T. Cushing, Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation between Philosophy and Scientific Theories, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 377.
  5. ^ Laudan on Convergent Epistemic Realism
  6. ^ Peter Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, 2003, University of Chicago, ISBN 0-226-30062-5, pp.102-121.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Laudan, Beyond Positivism and Relativism, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1996, pp.77-87.
  11. ^ Laudan, "Should We Be Afraid?", in The Challenge of Terrorism: A Historical Reader.
  12. ^ Gutting, Gary (March 1980). "Review of Progress and Its Problems by Larry Laudan". Erkenntnis. 15 (1): 91–103. JSTOR 20010687.
  13. ^ Bonk, Thomas (1997). "Review of Beyond Positivism and Relativism by Larry Laudan". Erkenntnis. 47 (3): 415–417. JSTOR 20012815.

External links


Anti-intellectualism is hostility to and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectualism commonly expressed as deprecation of education and philosophy, and the dismissal of art, literature, and science as impractical and even contemptible human pursuits. Anti-intellectuals present themselves and are perceived as champions of common folk—populists against political and academic elitism—and tend to see educated people as a status class detached from the concerns of most people, and feel that intellectuals dominate political discourse and control higher education.Totalitarian governments manipulate and apply anti-intellectualism to repress political dissent. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and the following fascist dictatorship (1939–1975) of General Francisco Franco, the reactionary repression of the White Terror (1936–1945) was notably anti-intellectual, with most of the 200,000 civilians killed being the Spanish intelligentsia, the politically active teachers and academics, artists and writers of the deposed Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939). In the communist state of Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979), the Khmer Rouge régime of Pol Pot condemned all of the non-communist intelligentsia to death in the Killing Fields.

Demarcation problem

The demarcation problem in the philosophy of science and epistemology is about how to distinguish between science and non-science, including between science, pseudoscience, and other products of human activity, like art and literature, and beliefs. The debate continues after over two millennia of dialogue among philosophers of science and scientists in various fields, and despite a broad agreement on the basics of the scientific method.

Doron Menashe

Prof. Doron Menashe, J.S.D is an associate professor of law, in the Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa, Editor-in-Chief of Haifa Law Review, one of the leading law reviews in Israel, Mediator and Arbitrator in the Institute of Commercial Arbitration and head of the master's program in adjudication and criminal procedure. He is also a member of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence.

His field of expertise is Theory of Evidence Law, and he is considered one of the leading experts in the world in this area.

Index of philosophy of science articles

An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.


Inductivism is the traditional model of scientific method attributed to Francis Bacon, who in 1620 vowed to subvert allegedly traditional thinking. In the Baconian model, one observes nature, proposes a modest law to generalize an observed pattern, confirms it by many observations, ventures a modestly broader law, and confirms that, too, by many more observations, while discarding disconfirmed laws. The laws grow ever broader but never much exceed careful, extensive observation. Thus, freed from preconceptions, scientists gradually uncover nature's causal and material structure.

In 1740, David Hume found multiple obstacles in the use of experience to infer causality. Hume noted the illogicality of enumerative induction—unrestricted generalization from particular instances to all instances, and stating a universal law—since humans observe sequences of sensory events, not cause and effect. Humans thus perceive neither logical nor natural necessity or impossibility among events. Later philosophers would select, highlight, and nickname Humean principles—Hume's fork, problem of induction, and Hume's law—although Hume accepted the empirical sciences as inevitably inductive, after all.

Alarmed by Hume's seemingly radical empiricism, Immanuel Kant identified its apparent opposite, rationalism, as favored by Descartes and by Spinoza. Seeking middle ground, Kant identified that the necessity bridging the world in itself to human experience is the mind, whose innate constants thus determine space, time, and substance and determine the correct scientific theory. Though protecting both metaphysics and Newtonian physics, Kant discarded scientific realism by restricting science to tracing appearances (phenomena), not unveiling reality (noumena). Kant's transcendental idealism launched German idealism—increasingly speculative metaphysics—while philosophers continued awkward confidence in empirical sciences as inductive.

Refining Baconian inductivism, John Stuart Mill posed his own five methods of discerning causality to describe the reasoning whereby scientists exceed mere inductivism. In the 1830s, opposing metaphysics, Auguste Comte explicated positivism, which, unlike Baconian model, emphasized predictions, confirming them, and laying scientific laws irrefutable by theology or metaphysics. Finding experience to show uniformity of nature and thereby justify enumerative induction, Mill accepted positivism: the first modern philosophy of science, which, simultaneously, was a political philosophy whereby only scientific knowledge was reliable knowledge.

Nearing 1840, William Whewell thought that the inductive sciences, so called, were not so simple after all, and asked recognition of "superinduction", an explanatory scope or principle invented by the mind to unite facts, but not present in the facts. Mill would have none of hypotheticodeductivism, posed by Whewell as science's method, which Whewell believed to sometimes, via other considerations upon the evidence, render scientific theories of known metaphysical truth. By 1880, C S Peirce had clarified the basis of deductive inference and, although recognizing induction, proposed a third type of inference that Peirce called "abduction", now otherwise termed inference to the best explanation (IBE).

Since the 1920s, although opposing all metaphysical inference via scientific theories, the logical positivists sought to understand scientific theories as provably false or true as to strictly observations. Though accepting hypotheticodeductivism to originate theories, they launched verificationism whereby Rudolf Carnap tried but never succeeded to formalize an inductive logic whereby a universal law's truth with respect to observational evidence could be quantified as "degree of confirmation". Asserting a variant of hypotheticodeductivism termed falsificationism, Karl Popper from the 1930s onward was the first especially vocal critic of inductivism and verificationism as utterly flawed models of science. In 1963, Popper declared that enumerative induction is a myth. Two years later, Gilbert Harman claimed that enumerative induction is a masked effect of IBE.

Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book—explaining that periods of normal science as but a paradigm of science are each overturned by revolutionary science whose paradigm becomes the normal science anew—dissolved logical positivism's grip in the English-speaking world, and inductivism fell. Besides Popper and Kuhn, other postpostivist philosophers of science—including Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lakatos, and Larry Laudan—have all but unanimously rejected inductivism. Among them, those who have asserted scientific realism—that scientific theory can and does offer approximately true understanding of nature's unobservable aspects—have tended to claim that scientists develop approximately true theories about nature through IBE. And yet IBE, which, so far, cannot be trained, lacks particular rules of inference. By the 21st century's turn, inductivism's heir was Bayesianism.

James T. Cushing

James Thomas Cushing (; 4 February 1937 – 29 March 2002) was an American theoretical physicist and philosopher of science. He was professor of physics as well as professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

Limiting case (philosophy of science)

In the philosophy of science, under the correspondence principle, a limiting case theory is an earlier theory which becomes incorporated into a later, usually broader theory; that is to say, the earlier (limiting case) theory proves to be a special or limited case of the later theory. Technically, a theory is said to be a limiting case of another, later theory when and if the later theory subsumes the theoretical relations and apparent referents of the earlier one. For example, physicists agree that classical mechanics constitutes a low-energy limiting case of relativity theory.In words of Larry Laudan, realist philosophers use this phrase in the sense that the theory "T1 can be a limiting case of [the theory] T2 only if (a) all the variables (observable and theoretical) assigned a value in T1 are assigned a value by T2 and (b) the values assigned to every variable of T1 are the same as, or very close to, the values T2 assigns to the corresponding variable when certain initial and boundary conditions—consistent with T2—are specified".

The idea that a theory (in our previous example, Newtonian mechanics) that is close to being true (i.e., that is verisimil) converges as a limiting case into a superior theory (in this example, relativistic mechanics) can be an argument for scientific realism, as the theoretical entities postulated by the previous theories are still considered existent (if one assumes semantic realism, they are considered existent because they are referred to) in the successor theories.

List of important publications in philosophy

This is a list of important publications in philosophy, organized by field. The publications on this list are regarded as important because they have served or are serving as one or more of the following roles:

Foundation – A publication whose ideas would go on to be the foundation of a topic or field within philosophy.

Breakthrough – A publication that changed or added to philosophical knowledge significantly.

Influence – A publication that has had a significant impact on the academic study of philosophy or the world.

List of philosophers of science

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

McLean v. Arkansas

McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255 (E.D. Ark. 1982), was a 1981 legal case in the US state of Arkansas.A lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas by various parents, religious groups and organizations, biologists, and others who argued that the Arkansas state law known as the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (Act 590), which mandated the teaching of "creation science" in Arkansas public schools, was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Judge William Overton handed down a decision on January 5, 1982, giving a clear, specific definition of science as a basis for ruling that creation science is religion and is simply not science. The ruling was not binding on schools outside the Eastern District of Arkansas but had considerable influence on subsequent rulings on the teaching of creationism.Arkansas did not appeal the decision and it was not until the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard, which dealt with a similar law passed by the State of Louisiana, that teaching "creation science" was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, making that determination applicable nationwide.Act 590 had been put forward by a Christian fundamentalist on the basis of a request from the Greater Little Rock Evangelical Fellowship for the introduction of legislation based on a "model act" prepared using material from the Institute for Creation Research. It was opposed by many religious organizations and other groups.

National Autonomous University of Mexico

The National Autonomous University of Mexico (Spanish: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, lit. 'Autonomous National University of Mexico', UNAM) is a public research university in Mexico. It ranks highly in world rankings based on the university's extensive research and innovation. UNAM's campus is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was designed by some of Mexico's best-known architects of the 20th century. Murals in the main campus were painted by some of the most recognized artists in Mexican history, such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. In 2016, it had an acceptance rate of only 8%. UNAM generates a number of strong research publications and patents in diverse areas, such as robotics, computer science, mathematics, physics, human-computer interaction, history, philosophy, among others. All Mexican Nobel laureates are either alumni or faculty of UNAM.

UNAM was founded, in its modern form, on 22 September 1910 by Justo Sierra as a liberal alternative to its predecessor, the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. UNAM obtained its autonomy from the government in 1929. This has given the university the freedom to define its own curriculum and manage its own budget without interference from the government. This has had a profound effect on academic life at the university, which some claim boosts academic freedom and independence.UNAM was the birthplace of the student movement of 1968, which turned into a nationwide rebellion against autocratic rule and began Mexico's three-decade journey toward democracy.


In science and philosophy, a paradigm () is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field.

Pessimistic induction

In the philosophy of science, the pessimistic induction, also known as the pessimistic meta-induction, is an argument which seeks to rebut scientific realism, particularly the scientific realist's notion of epistemic optimism.

Philosophy of science

Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.

There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all. In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.

While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivism movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements' meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a "paradigm," the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period. Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology.

Subsequently, the coherentist approach to science, in which a theory is validated if it makes sense of observations as part of a coherent whole, became prominent due to W.V. Quine and others. Some thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould seek to ground science in axiomatic assumptions, such as the uniformity of nature. A vocal minority of philosophers, and Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) in particular, argue that there is no such thing as the "scientific method", so all approaches to science should be allowed, including explicitly supernatural ones. Another approach to thinking about science involves studying how knowledge is created from a sociological perspective, an approach represented by scholars like David Bloor and Barry Barnes. Finally, a tradition in continental philosophy approaches science from the perspective of a rigorous analysis of human experience.

Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein's general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.

Progress trap

A progress trap is the condition human societies experience when, in pursuing progress through human ingenuity, they inadvertently introduce problems they do not have the resources or political will to solve, for fear of short-term losses in status, stability or quality of life. This prevents further progress and sometimes leads to societal collapse.

The syndrome appears to have been first described by Walter Von Krämer, in his series of 1989 articles under the title Fortschrittsfalle Medizin. The specific neologism "progress trap" was introduced independently in 1990 by Daniel B. O'Leary with his study of the behavioral aspects of this condition: The Progress Trap - Science, Humanity and Environment.

The term subsequently gained attention following the historian and novelist Ronald Wright's 2004 book and Massey Lecture series A Short History of Progress, in which he sketches world history so far as a succession of progress traps. With the documentary film version of Wright's book Surviving Progress, backed by Martin Scorsese, the concept achieved wider recognition.


Pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be both scientific and factual, but are incompatible with the scientific method. Pseudoscience is often characterized by contradictory, exaggerated or unfalsifiable claims; reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts; and absence of systematic practices when developing theories, and continued adherence long after they have been experimentally discredited. The term pseudoscience is considered pejorative because it suggests something is being presented as science inaccurately or even deceptively. Those described as practicing or advocating pseudoscience often dispute the characterization.The demarcation between science and pseudoscience has philosophical and scientific implications. Differentiating science from pseudoscience has practical implications in the case of health care, expert testimony, environmental policies, and science education. Distinguishing scientific facts and theories from pseudoscientific beliefs, such as those found in astrology, alchemy, alternative medicine, occult beliefs, religious beliefs, and creation science, is part of science education and scientific literacy.Pseudoscience can be harmful. Antivaccine activists present pseudoscientific studies that falsely call into question the safety of vaccines. Homeopathic remedies with no active ingredients have been promoted as treatment for deadly diseases.

Rachel Laudan

Rachel Laudan is a food historian, an author of the prizewinning Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History.

William C. Wimsatt

William C. Wimsatt (born May 27, 1941) is professor emeritus in the Department of Philosophy, the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (previously Conceptual Foundations of Science), and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. He is currently a Winton Professor of the Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota and Residential Fellow of the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science. He specializes in the philosophy of biology, where his areas of interest include reductionism, heuristics, emergence, scientific modeling, heredity, and cultural evolution.

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