Book Review Scientific Representation: Paradoxes of Perspective
It probably goes without saying that the advent of a new book by Bas van Fraassen is a major event in the world of philosophy of science. Indeed, Scientific Representation does not disappoint. It"s full of interesting and erudite discussions, and presents controversial arguments that philosophers of science will want to come to grips with. There are two ways one could review a book like this. One could just go through the book, step by step, and highlight the key discussions and arguments. Or,
... ne could look at the book through the lens of van Fraassen"s previous work in philosophy of science, and focus on the things van Fraassen says that directly relate to his previous work. I"ll take the latter approach. Van Fraassen is famous for promulgating a version of scientific anti-realism known as constructive empiricism: the doctrine that science aims to give us theories which are empirically adequate, and that acceptance of a theory involves as belief only that it is empirically adequate (van Fraassen 1980, p. 12). That was van Fraassen"s characterization in The Scientific Image of how an aspiring empiricist like him should understand science. While van Fraassen is still a constructive empiricist, he has more to say about how an empiricist should understand science, and he does so in parts of Scientific Representation. Before I focus my review on issues related to empiricism in science, a brief overview of the whole book is in order. The book is divided into four parts. In Part I, Representation, van Fraassen gives a high-level discussion of the nature of representation. He points out that representation can happen with physical or mathematical artifacts, and that distortion can sometimes be crucial to accurate representation. He also argues that there is an essential indexical element to representation.