Philosophy professor wins lifetime achievement award

Professor of Philosophy Bas van Fraassen has been chosen to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Philosophy of Science Association, the first such honor the organization has given.

A photo of SF State Professor of Philosophy Bas van Fraassen.

Professor of Philosophy Bas van Fraassen will receive the Philosophy of Science Association's inaugural Hempel Award.

Van Fraassen will receive the Hempel Award at the association's biennial conference in San Diego next month. The award, to be given every two years, is named after Carl Hempel, a major figure in the field of philosophy of science who died in 1997.

"I was surprised. I could easily think of other candidates who could have received the award," van Fraassen said. "I'm really happy about it."

Philosophers of science study the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science, as well as its use and merit.

"There's an awful lot to understand in the world, and different philosophers try to understand different parts. Mostly I've tried to understand the sciences," van Fraassen said. "How science describes the world is often very paradoxical and difficult to grasp." His contributions to the field include coining the term "constructive empiricism," which advocates a skeptical approach to scientific theories that says accepting a theory does not mean accepting that it is true, but merely that it is factually adequate.

In honoring van Fraassen, the Philosophy of Science Association specifically noted his mentoring of philosophy students, praise echoed by SF State Philosophy Department Chair Anita Silvers.

"Professor van Fraassen gives our students remarkable opportunities to learn logic and philosophy of science from a person who shaped current scholarship in the field," Silvers said. "Not only do his students become more excited about philosophy, he helps them grow more self-confident, self-disciplined and stronger academically."

Van Fraassen has been at SF State since 2008. His books include "The Scientific Image," "Laws and Symmetry," "The Empirical Stance" and "Scientific Representation." He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has served as President of the Philosophy of Science Association, editor of the Journal of Philosophic Logic and co-editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic. He is also a foreign member of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University.

-- Jonathan Morales