Constructive Empiricism and Logical Positivism: The Return of the Prodigal Son

Filozofia Nauki (forthcoming)
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Bas van Fraassen’s Constructive Empiricism (CE) has been much discussed. There is, however, a curious feature of van Fraassen’s writings that has been overlooked up until now. This is that he sometimes capitalises certain key terms, notably “Induction”. This is done to differentiate a pragmatic small ‘i’ induction (which has epistemic import) from a rule-bound capital ‘I’ induction (which does not). In this paper, I argue that van Fraassen’s small letter/capital letter distinction reveals an underlying dualism, one that is reminiscent of the notoriously problematic semantic dualism in Logical Positivism (between a theoretical language and an observation language). Despite partly developing CE to overcome Logical Positivism’s kind of dualism, van Fraassen seems to have tacitly endorsed it anyway. If so, then CE requires revision. It is, however, not clear how to conduct such a revision. It is not clear what the way forward should be once CE is understood as innately dualistic.

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Ragnar Van Der Merwe
University of Johannesburg


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