Lauener Foundation for Analytical Philosophy
Wednesday 05 September - Thursday 06 September 2018
8th International Lauener Symposium on Analytical Philosophy
on Themes from Bas van Fraassen
Professor Steven French
Representation and Realism: On Being a Structuralist All the Way Down
Bas van Fraassen is a structuralist and the shape of his 'structural empiricism' has been carefully refined over the years. In this talk I hope to both further illuminate his position through a comparison with structural realism and also highlight certain themes of concern for structuralists of all kinds. I'll begin with a recent debate over the Semantic Approach in which van Fraassen has intervened and will emphasise an underlying point about the reification of theories. As he pointed out there, the role of theories as representations is crucial in this context and I'll touch on that before discussing his well-known analysis of measurement as also crucially involving representation. In the quantum context this leads us into further issues, to which we have both contributed, having to do with how we conceive of quantum particles and here our paths diverge perhaps most sharply. It is in precisely this context that van Fraassen argues that realism fails to meet what he calls the 'Appearance from Reality Criterion' and I shall indicate how the realist might respond to this through a brief consideration of what we take quantum theory to be. That will return us to the point about not reifying theories in the first place and I will conclude by suggesting that this offers not only a way out of various difficulties but also some further common ground on which structuralists with different stances can meet.