Larry Laudan

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Larry Laudan
Born (1941-10-16) 16 October 1941 (age 80)
Austin, Texas
Nationality United States
Fields Philosophy of Science, Pragmatism, Epistemology
Institutions University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, University of Hawaii, University of Texas Law School, UNAM
Alma mater University of Kansas (B.A. Physics, 1962); Princeton University (Ph.D. Philosophy, 1965)
Influenced James T. Cushing

Larry Laudan (/ˈlɔːdən/; born 1941) is a contemporary philosopher of science and epistemologist. He has strongly criticized the traditions of positivism, realism, and relativism, and he has defended a view of science as a privileged and progressive institution against popular challenges. Laudan's philosophical view of "research traditions" is seen as an important alternative to Imre Lakatos's "research programs."[1]

Life and career

Laudan took his PhD in Philosophy at Princeton University, and then taught at University College London and, for many years, at the University of Pittsburgh. Subsequently he taught at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, University of Hawaii and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He presently teaches at the University of Texas, Austin.[2] His more recent work has been on legal epistemology.

Philosophical work

Laudan's most influential book is Progress and its Problems (1977), in which he charges philosophers of science with paying lip service to the view that "science is fundamentally a problem-solving activity" without taking seriously the view's implications for the history of science and its philosophy, and without questioning certain issues in the historiography and methodology of science. Against empiricism, which is represented by Karl Popper, and "revolutionism," represented by Thomas Kuhn, Laudan maintained in Progress and its Problems that science is an evolving process that accumulates more empirically validated evidence while solving conceptual anomalies at the same time. Mere evidence collecting or empirical confirmation does not constitute the true mechanism of scientific advancement; conceptual resolution and comparison of the solutions of anomalies provided by various theories form an indispensable part of the evolution of science.

Laudan is particularly well known for his argument against the claim that the cumulative success of science shows that science must really describe how the world really is. Laudan famously argued in his 1981 article "A Confutation of Convergent Realism" that "the history of science furnishes vast evidence of empirically successful theories that were later rejected; from subsequent perspectives, their unobservable terms were judged not to refer and thus, they cannot be regarded as true or even approximately true."[3] Even those who disagree with Laudan recognize that his utilizing detailed evidence from the history of science is an important contribution to how philosophy of science is practiced.

In Beyond Positivism and Relativism, Laudan wrote that "the aim of science is to secure theories with a high problem-solving effectiveness" and that scientific progress is possible when empirical data is diminished. "Indeed, on this model, it is possible that a change from an empirically well-supported theory to a less well-supported one could be progressive, provided that the latter resolved significant conceptual difficulties confronting the former."[4] Finally, the better theory solves more conceptual problems while minimizing empirical anomalies.

Laudan has also written on risk management and the subject of terrorism. He has argued that "moral outrage and compassion are the proper responses to terrorism, but fear for oneself and one's life is not. The risk that the average American will be a victim of terrorism is extremely remote."[5] He wrote The Book of Risks in 1996 which details the relative risks of various accidents.

Selected writings

  • 1977. Progress and its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth, ISBN 978-0-520-03721-2
  • 1981. Science and Hypothesis
  • 1984. Science and Values, ISBN 978-0-520-05743-2
  • 1990. Science and Relativism: Dialogues on the Philosophy of Science, ISBN 978-0-226-46949-2
  • 1995. The Book of Risks
  • 1996. Beyond Positivism and Relativism, ISBN 978-0-8133-2469-2
  • 1997. Danger Ahead
  • 2006. Truth, Error and Criminal Law: An Essay in Legal Epistemology

See also


  1. Peter Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, 2003, University of Chicago, ISBN 0-226-30062-5, pp.102-121.
  4. Laudan, Beyond Positivism and Relativism, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1996, pp.77-87.
  5. Laudan, "Should We Be Afraid?", in The Challenge of Terrorism: A Historical Reader.

External links