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Seeing the Unobservable: Van Fraassen and the Limits of Experience

Marc Alspector-Kelly
Synthese
Vol. 140, No. 3 (Jun., 2004), pp. 331-353
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20118460
Page Count: 23
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Seeing the Unobservable: Van Fraassen and the Limits of Experience
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Abstract

Van Fraassen maintains that the information that we can glean from experience is limited to those entities and processes that are detectable by means of our unaided senses. His challenge to the realist, I suggest, is that the attempt to inferentially transcend those limits amounts to a reversion to rationalism. Under pressure from such examples as microscopic observation, he has recently widened the scope of the phenomena to include object-like experiences without empirical objects of experience. With this change in mind, I argue that van Fraassen needs an account of perception whose consequence is that we can only see what we see with the unaided eye. I then argue that reflection on the epistemically significant aspects of the perceptual process renders van Fraassen's characterization of the limits of experience implausible; technologically enhanced perception brings "unobservables" within those limits. An empiricism that is compatible with realism results.

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