Bas van Fraassen

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Bas van Fraassen
Born (1941-04-05) 5 April 1941 (age 73)
Goes, Netherlands
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas

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 fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; an overseas member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences; and a member of the Académie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences ("International Academy of the Philosophy of Science").[4] 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.[5]


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.[6] Van Fraassen has also studied the philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophical logic, and epistemology.

van Fraassen has been the editor of the Journal of Philosophical Logic and co-editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic.[7]

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.

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  \forall x\,Px \Rightarrow \exists x\,Px he uses ( \forall x\,Px \and \exists x\,(x = a)) \Rightarrow \exists x\,Px; 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 [8]

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.[9]

Published books[edit]

  • Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective, OUP, 2008.
  • 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
    Portuguese Edition, São Paulo, 2007
    Greek Edition, Athens, 2007
  • 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[edit]


  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.
  5. ^ Hempel Award recipients
  6. ^ Jarrett Leplin (1984), Scientific Realism, University of California Press, p. 1, ISBN 0-520-05155-6 
  7. ^ Bas C. van Fraassen, Curriculum Vitae
  8. ^ The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 63, No. 17, (Sept. 15, 1966), pp. 481–495
  9. ^ Churchland, Paul M., "The anti-realist epistemology of van Fraassen's The Scientific Image.", The Los Angeles Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 63.3 (1982): 226-235.

External links[edit]