Seeing the Unobservable: Van Fraassen and the Limits of Experience [Book Review]

Synthese 140 (3):331-353 (2004)
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Van Fraassen maintains that the information that we canglean from experience is limited to those entities and processes that are detectable bymeans of our unaided senses. His challenge to the realist, I suggest, is that the attemptto inferentially transcend those limits amounts to a reversion to rationalism. Under pressurefrom such examples as microscopic observation, he has recently widened the scope of thephenomena to include object-like experiences without empirical objects of experience.With this change in mind, I argue that van Fraassen needs an account of perception whoseconsequence is that we can only see what we see with the unaided eye. I then argue thatreflection on the epistemically significant aspects of the perceptual process rendersvan Fraassen's characterization of the limits of experience implausible; technologicallyenhanced perception brings ``unobservables'' within those limits. An empiricismthat is compatible with realism results



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Marc Alspector-Kelly
Western Michigan University

Citations of this work

Stance Pluralism, Scientology and the Problem of Relativism.Ragnar van der Merwe - forthcoming - Foundations of Science: DOI: 10.1007/s10699-022-09882-w.
Microscopes and the Theory-Ladenness of Experience in Bas van Fraassen’s Recent Work.Martin Kusch - 2015 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 46 (1):167-182.
Empiricism for cyborgs.Adam Toon - 2014 - Philosophical Issues 24 (1):409-425.
Darwinian-Selectionist Explanation, Radical Theory Change, and the Observable-Unobservable Dichotomy.Elay Shech - 2022 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 34 (4):221-241.

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