Bas van Fraassen

Bas van Fraassen

'Ernan McMullin's Epistemology and Nuanced Realism'


Ernan McMullin developed a distinctive epistemology for scientific realism, with a view of science as an inferential practice leading to causal explanations of  natural phenomena. In a series o​f​ publications but most notably his​ Marquette Lecture, The Inference That Makes Science, McMullin recounted the clear historical progress he saw toward a vision of the sciences as conclusions reached rationally on the basis of empirical evidence, through a specific form of inference, retroduction. McMullin’s realism and his account of scientific inference were considerably more liberal and nuanced than similar contemporary accounts, and tend to bridge the divide between realism and empiricism. While offering an appreciation of his distinctive philosophy, I will suggest that the real rival to McMullin’s vision of science is not the methodologies he criticizes so successfully, but a more radical empiricist view of science as an enterprise of construction.

The lecture was held on Sunday, April 2, 2017 at the University of Notre Dame, as part of a conference, The Quest for Consonance: Theology and the Natural Sciences. The conference was made possible by support from the Templeton Religion Trust, John J. Reilly Center, Nanovic Institute for European Studies, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and the Departments of Theology, Physics, and Philosophy at Notre Dame.


Bas C. van Fraassen is McCosh Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Princeton University and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University. His main concern is what empiricism can be now. His research interests straddle philosophical logic and philosophy of science, with occasional forays into art, literature, and religion. His books include Formal Semantics and Logic (1971), The Scientific Image (1980), Laws and Symmetry (1989), The Empirical Stance (2002), and Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective (2008).