Constructive empiricism

Last updated

In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) [1] is a form of empiricism.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Empiricism theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience

In philosophy, empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. It is one of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiricism emphasises the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas, rather than innate ideas or traditions. However, empiricists may argue that traditions arise due to relations of previous sense experiences.



Bas van Fraassen is nearly solely responsible for the initial development of constructive empiricism; its historically most important presentation appears in his The Scientific Image (1980). Constructive empiricism states that scientific theories are semantically literal, that they aim to be empirically adequate, and that their acceptance involves, as belief, only that they are empirically adequate. A theory is empirically adequate if and only if everything that it says about observable entities is true (regardless of what it says about unobservable entities). A theory is semantically literal if and only if the language of the theory is interpreted in such a way that the claims of the theory are either true or false (as opposed to an instrumentalist reading).

Bastiaan Cornelis van Fraassen 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.

A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method, using accepted protocols of observation, measurement, and evaluation of results. Where possible, theories are tested under controlled conditions in an experiment. In circumstances not amenable to experimental testing, theories are evaluated through principles of abductive reasoning. Established scientific theories have withstood rigorous scrutiny and embody scientific knowledge.

Semantics is the linguistic and philosophical study of meaning, in language, programming languages, formal logics, and semiotics. It is concerned with the relationship between signifiers—like words, phrases, signs, and symbols—and what they stand for in reality, their denotation.

Constructive empiricism is thus a normative, semantic and epistemological thesis. That science aims to be empirically adequate expresses the normative component. That scientific theories are semantically literal expresses the semantic component. That acceptance involves, as belief, only that a theory is empirically adequate expresses the epistemological component.

Norms are concepts (sentences) of practical import, oriented to effecting an action, rather than conceptual abstractions that describe, explain, and express. Normative sentences imply "ought-to" types of statements and assertions, in distinction to sentences that provide "is" types of statements and assertions. Common normative sentences include commands, permissions, and prohibitions; common normative abstract concepts include sincerity, justification, and honesty. A popular account of norms describes them as reasons to take action, to believe, and to feel.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Science systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge

Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

Constructive empiricism opposes scientific realism, logical positivism (or logical empiricism) and instrumentalism. Constructive empiricism and scientific realism agree that theories are semantically literal, which logical positivism and instrumentalism deny. Constructive empiricism, logical positivism and instrumentalism agree that theories do not aim for truth about unobservables, which scientific realism denies.

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

Logical positivism and logical empiricism, which together formed neopositivism, was a movement in Western philosophy whose central thesis was verificationism, a theory of knowledge which asserted that only statements verifiable through empirical observation are meaningful. The movement flourished in the 1920s and 1930s in several European centers.

In philosophy of science and in epistemology, Instrumentalism is a methodological view that ideas are useful instruments, and that the worth of an idea is based on how effective it is in explaining and predicting phenomena. Instrumentalism is a pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey that thought is an instrument for solving practical problems, and that truth is not fixed but changes as problems change. Instrumentalism is the view that scientific theories are useful tools for predicting phenomena instead of true or approximately true descriptions.

Constructive empiricism has been used to analyze various scientific fields, from physics to psychology (especially computational psychology).

Physics Study of the fundamental properties of matter and energy

Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its motion, and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Psychology is the science of behavior and mind. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an academic discipline of immense scope. Psychologists seek an understanding of the emergent properties of brains, and all the variety of phenomena linked to those emergent properties. As a social science it aims to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases.

See also

Constructivist epistemology is a branch in philosophy of science maintaining that scientific knowledge is constructed by the scientific community, who seek to measure and construct models of the natural world. Natural science therefore consists of mental constructs that aim to explain sensory experience and measurements.

Social constructionism

Social constructionism is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The theory centers on the notion that meanings are developed in coordination with others rather than separately within each individual.

Structuralism is an active research program in the philosophy of science, which was first developed in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s by several analytic philosophers.


  1. Votsis, I. (2004), The Epistemological Status of Scientific Theories: An Investigation of the Structural Realist Account, University of London, London School of Economics, PhD Thesis, p. 39.
  2. Votsis, I. (2004), The Epistemological Status of Scientific Theories: An Investigation of the Structural Realist Account, University of London, London School of Economics, PhD Thesis, p. 196.

Related Research Articles

In analytic philosophy, anti-realism is an epistemological position first articulated by British philosopher Michael Dummett. The term was coined as an argument against a form of realism Dummett saw as 'colorless reductionism'.

Willard Van Orman Quine American philosopher and logician

Willard Van Orman Quine was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as "one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century." From 1930 until his death 70 years later, Quine was continually affiliated with Harvard University in one way or another, first as a student, then as a professor of philosophy and a teacher of logic and set theory, and finally as a professor emeritus who published or revised several books in retirement. He filled the Edgar Pierce Chair of Philosophy at Harvard from 1956 to 1978. A 2009 poll conducted among analytic philosophers named Quine as the fifth most important philosopher of the past two centuries. He won the first Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy in 1993 for "his systematical and penetrating discussions of how learning of language and communication are based on socially available evidence and of the consequences of this for theories on knowledge and linguistic meaning." In 1996 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for his "outstanding contributions to the progress of philosophy in the 20th century by proposing numerous theories based on keen insights in logic, epistemology, philosophy of science and philosophy of language."

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.

An unobservable is an entity whose existence, nature, properties, qualities or relations are not directly observable by humans. In philosophy of science, typical examples of "unobservables" are the force of gravity, causation and beliefs or desires.However, some philosophers also characterize all objects—trees, tables, other minds, microorganisms, every thing to which humans ascribe as the thing causing their perception—as unobservable.

Legal positivism is a school of thought of analytical jurisprudence largely developed by legal thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. While Bentham and Austin developed legal positivist theory, empiricism set the theoretical foundations for such developments to occur. The most prominent legal positivist writer in English has been H. L. A. Hart, who, in 1958, found common usages of "positivism" as applied to law to include the contentions that:

The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships between social phenomena, the possible existence of social laws, and the ontological significance of structure and agency.

Herbert Feigl austrian philosopher

Herbert Feigl was an Austrian philosopher and an early member of the Vienna Circle. He coined the term Nomological danglers.

The deductive-nomological model, also known as Hempel's model, the Hempel–Oppenheim model, the Popper–Hempel model, or the covering law model, is a formal view of scientifically answering questions asking, "Why...?". The DN model poses scientific explanation as a deductive structure—that is, one where truth of its premises entails truth of its conclusion—hinged on accurate prediction or postdiction of the phenomenon to be explained.

Verificationism, also known as the verification idea or the verifiability criterion of meaning, is the philosophical doctrine that only statements that are empirically verifiable are cognitively meaningful, or else they are truths of logic (tautologies).

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", and "Why do we know what we know?". Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.

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.

Following the developments in formal logic with symbolic logic in the late nineteenth century and mathematical logic in the twentieth, topics traditionally treated by logic not being part of formal logic have tended to be termed either philosophy of logic or philosophical logic if no longer simply logic.

An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.

Realism, Realistic, or Realists may refer to: