Bas van Fraassen, Ernan McMullin's Epistemology and Nuanced Realism


Bas van FraassenBas van Fraassen

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 of publications, but most notably his Marquette lecture The Inference That Makes Science, he 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, namely retroduction. McMullin’s realism and his account of scientific inference were considerably more liberal and nuanced than similar contemporary accounts and tends to bridge the divide between realism and empiricism. While offering an appreciation of his distinctive philosophy, van Fraassen suggests 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.


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).

Free and open to the public. Light reception following.

This event is part of the interdisciplinary conference The Quest for Consonance: Theology and the Natural Sciences. It is made possible by support from the Templeton Religion Trust, John J. Reilly Center, Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Department of Theology, Department of Physics, and Department of Philosophy.