Bas van Fraassen

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Bas van Fraassen
Born (1941-04-05) 5 April 1941 (age 77)
Goes, Netherlands
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests Philosophy of science
Philosophical logic
Notable ideas Constructive empiricism

Bastiaan Cornelis van Fraassen (born 5 April 1941) is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University and the McCosh Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, teaching courses in the philosophy of science, philosophical logic and the role of models in scientific practice.[1][2] He previously taught at Yale University, the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Toronto and Princeton University. He coined the term "constructive empiricism" in his 1980 book The Scientific Image, in which he argued for agnosticism about the reality of unobservable entities. 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 is an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church[3] and is one of the founders of the Kira Institute. He is a member of the International Academy of Philosophy of Science.[4] In 1986, van Fraassen received the Lakatos Award for his contributions to the philosophy of science.


In his 1989 book Laws and Symmetry, van Fraassen, a philosopher of science, 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, but rather that its aim is to produce theories that are empirically adequate.[5] Van Fraassen has also studied the philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophical logic, and epistemology.

In his essay "The Anti-Realist Epistemology of Bas 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.

van Fraassen has been the editor of the Journal of Philosophical Logic and co-editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic.

Among his many students are the philosophers Elisabeth Lloyd at Indiana University and Anja Jauernig at the University of Pittsburgh.

In his paper Singular Terms, Truth-value Gaps, and Free Logic, van Fraassen opens with a very brief introduction of the problem of non-referring names. He indicates that 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, and van Fraassen states that he would not argue against such a thing. However, he thinks that free logic is more apt and convenient to explain the natural language.

Instead of any unique formalization, though, he simply adjusts the axioms of a standard predicate logic such as that found in Quine's Methods of Logic. Instead of an axiom like '"`UNIQ--postMath-00000001-QINU`"' he uses '"`UNIQ--postMath-00000002-QINU`"'. Thus, if a name fails to refer, then it will be assigned a truth value here—which, naturally, will be true, because the existential claim of the antecedent is false.

He then shows that such a free logic is complete, but if one uses the free logic to accommodate supervaluationism then it is not.[6]

Published books

  • Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective, OUP, 2008.
  • Possibilities and Paradox (with JC Beall), OUP, 2003.
  • The Empirical Stance, Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Quantum Mechanics: An Empiricist View, Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Laws and Symmetry, Oxford University Press 1989.
    • French translation and introduction by C. Chevalley. Paris: Vrin, 1994.
  • The Scientific Image, Oxford University Press 1980.
    • Co-winner, Franklin J. Matchette Prize for Philosophical Books, 1982.
    • Co-winner, Imre Lakatos Award for 1986.
    • Italian Edition, with new preface, Bologna 1985.
    • Japanese Edition, with new preface, Tokyo 1987.
    • Spanish Edition, Mexico, 1995.
    • Chinese Edition, Shanghai, 2002
  • Derivation and Counterexample: An Introduction to Philosophical Logic (with Karel Lambert), Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc. 1972.
  • Formal Semantics and Logic, Macmillan, New York 1971
    • Spanish Translation, Mexico (Universitat Nacional Autonoma de Mexico), tr. J.A. Robles, 1987.
  • An Introduction to the Philosophy of Time and Space, Random House, New York 1970.
    • Spanish Translation, Barcelona (Editorial Labor, S.A.), tr. J-P.A. Goicoechea, 1978.
    • Second edition, with new preface and postscript. Columbia University Press, 1985.

See also


  1. SF State News at SFSU
  2. SF State Campus Memo: New tenure-track faculty 2008-09
  3. New Blackfriars Vol. 80, No. 938, 1999.
  4. List of Members
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  6. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 63, No. 17, (Sept. 15, 1966), pp. 481–495

External links