EPSA Philosophical Issues in the Sciences

pp 267-277


Making Contact with Observations

  • Ioannis VotsisAffiliated withPhilosophisches Institut, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf Email author 

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Jim Bogen and James Woodward’s ‘Saving the Phenomena’, published only 20 years ago, has become a modern classic. Their centrepiece idea is a distinction between data and phenomena. Data are typically the kind of things that are publicly observable or measurable like “bubble chamber photographs, patterns of discharge in electronic particle detectors and records of reaction times and error rates in various psychological experiments” (p. 306). Phenomena are “relatively stable and general features of the world which are potential objects of explanation and prediction by general theory” and are typically unobservable (Woodward 1989, p. 393). Examples of the latter category include “weak neutral currents, the decay of the proton, and chunking and recency effects in human memory” (Bogen and Woodward 1988, p. 306). Theories, in Bogen and Woodward’s view, are utilised to systematically explain and predict phenomena, not data (pp. 305–306). The relationship between theories and data is rather indirect. Data count as evidence for phenomena and the latter in turn count as evidence for theories. This view has been further elaborated in subsequent papers (Bogen and Woodward 1992, 2005; Woodward 1989) and is becoming increasingly influential (e.g., Basu 2003; Psillos 2004; Mauricio Suárez 2005).