Scientific Activity as an Interpretative Practice. Empiricism, Constructivism and Pragmatism

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 368)


Since the publication of The Scientific Image and earlier works Bas C. van Fraassen has defended his constructive empiricism as the most appropriate philosophical interpretation of scientific activity in critical open dialogue with realisms (both old and new) and instrumentalisms. A new impetus was added to the debate by the publication of his most recent book, Scientific Representation, in which he qualifies some of his basic suppositions and proposes a new name for his empiricism: empiricist structuralism. In this paper I argue in line with his thesis that if philosophy of science aims to offer a specific view and an adequate interpretation of science, the starting point should be a recognition of the complexity of the dialectic process between theoretical construction and data generation, processing and laboratory analysis procedures; also a recognition of the central role of subjects as interpreters in designing and using scientific representations. I also argue that the family resemblance which exists between the constructivist/structuralist empiricism and American pragmatism suggests new avenues for analysing the decision-making process and the role played by subjects who interpret, construct or use models in scientific contexts. A connexion with the pragmatists’ thesis and perspective that is very much present, not only in van Fraassen’s most recent texts on scientific representation, as some other authors maintain, but also from the outset in his earliest publications.


Scientific representation Constructive empiricism Empiricist structuralism Interpretation of scientific activity Pragmatism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of La LagunaLa LagunaSpain

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