The empirical stance vs. the critical attitude

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Van Fraassen has recently argued that empiricism can be construed as a stance, involving commitments, attitudes, values, and goals, in addition to beliefs and opinions. But this characterisation emerges from his recognition that to be an empiricist cannot be to believe, or decide to commit to belief in, a foundational proposition, without removing any basis for a non-dogmatic empiricist critique of other philosophical approaches, such as materialism. However, noticeable by its absence in Van Fraassen\'s discussions is any mention of Bartley\'s ‘pancritical rationalism', for Bartley offers a cohesive argument that genuine dogmatism lies precisely in the act of commitment to an idea. The consequence of denying this, he thinks, is an opening of the flood gates to irrationalism: if to rely on reasoned argument in decision-making is fundamentally an act of faith, then there is a tu quoque – “I simply have a different faith” – that may be employed by those who wish to shield their views from criticism. This raises the following question: why should it be any less dogmatic to adopt particular commitments, attitudes, values, and goals, rather than a particular belief or opinion, come what may? And if Bartley is right that there is only one non-dogmatic attitude – the critical attitude – then why might this not be adopted by an empiricist, a materialist, a metaphysician, or anyone else?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-223
Number of pages24
JournalSouth African Journal of Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes


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