16 October 1941 |
|Fields||Philosophy of Science, Pragmatism, Epistemology|
|Institutions||University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, University of Hawaii, University of Texas Law School, UNAM|
|Alma mater||University of Kansas (B.A. Physics, 1962); Princeton University (Ph.D. Philosophy, 1965)|
|Influences||Immanuel Kant, F. C. S. Schiller|
|Influenced||James T. Cushing|
Larry Laudan (born 1941) is a contemporary philosopher of science and epistemologist. He has strongly criticized the traditions of positivism, realism, and relativism, and he has defended a view of science as a privileged and progressive institution against popular challenges. Laudan's philosophical view of "research traditions" is seen as an important alternative to Imre Lakatos's "research programs."
Life and career
Laudan's most important contributions to the philosophy of science can be found in his book Progress and its Problems (1977) while acting as chair of the history and philosophy of science department at the University of Pittsburgh. Laudan charges philosophers of science with paying lip service to the view that "science is fundamentally a problem-solving activity" without taking seriously the view's implications for the history of science and its philosophy, and without questioning certain issues in the historiography and methodology of science. Against empiricism, which is represented by Karl Popper, and "revolutionism," represented by Thomas Kuhn, Laudan maintained in Progress and its Problems that science is an evolving process that accumulates more empirically validated evidence while solving conceptual anomalies at the same time. Mere evidence collecting or empirical confirmation does not constitute the true mechanism of scientific advancement; conceptual resolution and comparison of the solutions of anomalies provided by various theories form an indispensable part of the evolution of science.
In Beyond Positivism and Relativism, Laudan wrote that "the aim of science is to secure theories with a high problem-solving effectiveness" and that scientific progress is possible when empirical data is diminished. "Indeed, on this model, it is possible that a change from an empirically well-supported theory to a less well-supported one could be progressive, provided that the latter resolved significant conceptual difficulties confronting the former." Finally, the better theory solves more conceptual problems while minimizing empirical anomalies.
Laudan has also written on risk management and the subject of terrorism. He has argued that "moral outrage and compassion are the proper responses to terrorism, but fear for oneself and one's life is not. The risk that the average American will be a victim of terrorism is extremely remote." He wrote The Book of Risks in 1996 which details the relative risks of various accidents.
Selected writings by Laudan
- 1977. Progress and its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth, ISBN 978-0-520-03721-2
- 1981. Science and Hypothesis
- 1984. Science and Values, ISBN 978-0-520-05743-2
- 1990. Science and Relativism: Dialogues on the Philosophy of Science, ISBN 978-0-226-46949-2
- 1995. The Book of Risks
- 1996. Beyond Positivism and Relativism, ISBN 978-0-8133-2469-2
- 1997. Danger Ahead
- 2006. Truth, Error and Criminal Law: An Essay in Legal Epistemology