Quantum Mechanics: An Empiricist View

By Bas C. Van Fraassen | Go to book overview

1 What Is Science?

As painting, sculpture, and poetry turned abstract after the turn of the century; as Minkowski recast the electrodynamics of moving bodies in four-dimensional geometry; as Hilbert and Russell turned geometry and analysis into pure logic; philosophy of science too turned to greater abstraction. But philosophy of science is still philosophy, and is still about science. Before broaching the philosophy of physics, and the foundations of quantum mechanics, I shall locate those projects in the larger enterprise of philosophical reflection on science as a whole.


1 Two Views About Science

There is quite a difference between the questions 'What is happening?' and 'What is really going on?' Both questions can arise for participants as well as for spectators, and usually no one has more than a fragmentary answer. To the second question the answer must undeniably be more doubtful, because it has to be somewhat speculative in the interpretation it puts on what happens. Yet both questions seem crucially important.

So far I might have been talking about war, a political movement, contemporary art, the Diaspora, the Reformation, or the Renaissance—as well as about science, its current state or its historical development. Scientists, the participants in this large-scale cultural activity, we can consult only about what is happening. Both these participants and the more distant spectators cannot help but attempt some interpretation as well. Indeed, we are all to some extent both participant and spectator, for science has become an activity of our civilization as a whole.

Philosophy of science has focused on theories as the main product of science, more or less in the way philosophy of art has

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