Bas van Fraassen
|Thesis||Foundations of the Causal Theory of Time (1966)|
|Doctoral advisor||Adolf Grünbaum|
|Doctoral students||Paul Thagard|
Bastiaan Cornelis van Fraassen (; born 1941) is a Dutch-American philosopher noted for his seminal contributions to philosophy of science. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University and the McCosh Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University.
Van Fraassen was born in the German-occupied Netherlands on 5 April 1941. His father, a steam fitter, was forced by the Nazis to work in a factory in Hamburg. After the war, the family reunited and emigrated to Edmonton, in western Canada.
Van Fraassen earned his B.A. (1963) from the University of Alberta and his M.A. (1964) and Ph.D. (1966, under the direction of Adolf Grünbaum) from the University of Pittsburgh. He previously taught at Yale University, the University of Southern California, the University of Toronto and, from 1982 to 2008, at Princeton University, where he is now emeritus. At San Francisco State University, he teaches courses in the philosophy of science, philosophical logic and the role of models in scientific practice.
Van Fraassen is an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church and is one of the founders of the Kira Institute. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; an overseas member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1995; and a member of the International Academy of Philosophy of Science. In 1986, van Fraassen received the Lakatos Award for his contributions to the philosophy of science and, in 2012, the Philosophy of Science Association's inaugural Hempel Award for lifetime achievement in philosophy of science.
Van Fraassen coined the term "constructive empiricism" in his 1980 book The Scientific Image, in which he argued for agnosticism about the reality of unobservable entities. That book was "widely credited with rehabilitating scientific anti-realism." According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The constructive empiricist follows the logical positivists in rejecting metaphysical commitments in science, but parts with them regarding their endorsement of the verificationist criterion of meaning, as well as their endorsement of the suggestion that theory-laden discourse can and should be removed from science. Before van Fraassen's The Scientific Image, some philosophers had viewed scientific anti-realism as dead, because logical positivism was dead. Van Fraassen showed that there were other ways to be an empiricist with respect to science, without following in the footsteps of the logical positivists.
In his essay "The Anti-Realist Epistemology of van Fraassen's The Scientific Image", Paul M. Churchland, one of van Fraassen's critics, contrasted van Fraassen's idea of unobservable phenomena with the idea of merely unobserved phenomena.
In his 1989 book Laws and Symmetry, van Fraassen, attempted to lay the ground-work for explaining physical phenomena without assuming that such phenomena are caused by rules or laws which can be said to cause or govern their behavior. Focusing on the problem of underdetermination, he argued for the possibility that theories could have empirical equivalence but differ in their ontological commitments. He rejects the notion that the aim of science is to produce an account of the physical world that is literally true and instead maintains that its aim is to produce theories that are empirically adequate. Van Fraassen has also studied the philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophical logic, and Bayesian epistemology.
Instead of any unique formalization, though, he simply adjusts the axioms of a standard predicate logic such as that found in Willard Van Orman Quine's Methods of Logic. Instead of an axiom like he uses ; this will naturally be true if the existential claim of the antecedent is false. If a name fails to refer, then an atomic sentence containing it, that is not an identity statement, can be assigned a truth value arbitrarily. Free logic is proved to be complete under this interpretation.
He indicates that, however, he sees no good reason to call statements which employ them either true or false. Some have attempted to solve this problem by means of many-valued logics; van Fraassen offers in their stead the use of supervaluations. Questions of completeness change when supervaluations are admitted, since they allow for valid arguments that do not correspond to logically true conditionals.
In Bayesian epistemology, he proposed what is now known as van Fraassen's reflection principle: "to satisfy the principle, the agent's present subjective probability for proposition A, on the supposition that his subjective propability for this proposition will equall r at some later time, must equal this same number r".
A. Other principles of synchronic coherence. Are the probability laws the only standards of synchronic coherence for degrees of belief? Van Fraassen has proposed an additional principle (Reflection or Special Reflection), which he now regards as a special case of an even more general principle (General Reflection).