South African Journal of Philosophy

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The Epistemological Foundations of Scientific Observation

V Israel-Jost


In the philosophy of science, it is a rather undisputed idea that our concepts, conceptions and theories are strongly constrained by what we observe. But the epistemic authority of observation is threatened by its widely acknowledged lack of autonomy: to have observation yield knowledge through observation reports, one has to already possess a conception of (some aspects of) the self and the world. My goal in this paper is to give a satisfying account of the concept of observation, one that reconciles these two seemingly incompatible yet indisputable aspects of observation: its epistemic authority and its lack of autonomy. My main suggestion is that observation reports can be characterized by a form of uniqueness, namely, that no other judgment that
would contradict an observation report could rationally be sustained. I will show that this claim is consistent with the two aforementioned features of observation by using Anil Gupta's innovative treatment of the contribution of
experience to knowledge in his recent Empiricism and Experience (2006) based on the logic of interdependent definitions.
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