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What's Really Wrong with Constructive Empiricism? Van Fraassen and the Metaphysics of Modality

James Ladyman
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 51, No. 4 (Dec., 2000), pp. 837-856
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3541729
Page Count: 20
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What's Really Wrong with Constructive Empiricism? Van Fraassen and the Metaphysics of Modality
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Abstract

Constructive empiricism is supposed to offer a positive alternative to scientific realism that dispenses with the need for metaphysics. I first review the terms of the debate before arguing that the standard objections to constructive empiricism are not decisive. I then explain van Fraassen's views on modality and counterfactuals, and argue that, because constructive empiricism recommends on epistemological grounds belief in the empirical adequacy rather than the truth of theories, it requires that there be an objective modal distinction between the observable and the unobservable. This conclusion is incompatible with van Fraassen's empiricism. Finally I explain some further problems for constructive empiricism that arise when we consider modal matters.

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