Why Science Should Stay Clear of Metaphysics

Peter Byrne, Nautilus, Sept 11, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I read Bas C. van Fraassen's The Scientific Image (248 page PDF) not too long after it came out. I had been studying the positivists in depth and while the rejection of positivism (and consequent embrace of continentalism and existentialism) was all the rage, I found in van Fraassen the essence of what I considered the right response to the positivists (which did not involve rejecting empirism). van Fraassen's approach, called 'constructive empiricism', asserted  that "science is a large scale, human enterprise and we need boundaries to determine what we can say is true or not about the world around us. Empiricism is a stance, a pragmatic attitude that is self-constrained by what I call 'bridled irrationality.' That means that the data itself restricts what is rational to believe about the world; it creates a boundary." van Fraassen is one of the towering figures of 20th century philosophy, and this interview is well worth a read.

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