Philosophical Studies

, Volume 143, Issue 1, pp 5–24 | Cite as

The perils of Perrin, in the hands of philosophers

  • Bas C. van FraassenEmail author


The story of how Perrin’s experimental work established the reality of atoms and molecules has been a staple in (realist) philosophy of science writings (Wesley Salmon, Clark Glymour, Peter Achinstein, Penelope Maddy, …). I’ll argue that how this story is told distorts both what the work was and its significance, and draw morals for the understanding of how theories can be or fail to be empirically grounded.


Perrin Atoms Realism Empiricism 



My thanks to the commentary by Helen Longino and the discussion at the Oberlin symposium; research for this paper was supported by National Science Foundation Senior Scholar Award SES-0549002.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA

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