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The smallest object that the human eye can detect has dimensions of around 50 microns. So there is a sense in which a sphere that is, say, 10 microns in diameter, is invisible to us. Some philosophers have argued that the invisibility, to us, of a 10 microns sphere has epistemological significance that, in particular, our knowledge about and our understanding of such things may be qualitatively different from our knowledge and understanding of directly observable objects. Along with many other philosophers, I find this view untenable. It seems clear that although they are not directly observable to us, 10 microns spheres are nonetheless the same sort of thing as their larger cousins (the 50 microns spheres). Indeed, there are creatures whose visual apparatus works more or less as ours does that can directly see 10 microns spheres.
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There are other reasons to think that the perceptible/imperceptible distinction is not epistemically relevant. Consider graphene. What are we to make of the fact that we can see (albeit through an optical microscope, but the point clearly extends to other cases where unaided perception applies) flakes of graphene whose thickness, by all reasonable accounts, is less than we can discern. Can we seriously entertain agnosticism (acceptance but not belief) regarding the existence or properties of objects (e.g., atoms or small molecules) that could apparently be (and indeed can be) of the overall dimensions of the thickness of graphene? And what of the flakes them selves? Is their width and breadth real, but their thickness not?
In particular, the discussion has advanced beyond the paper by Muller. See Muller and van Fraassen [ 6] and the references therein.
Interpretation of Kant is both complex and controversial. I generally follow the views of Friedman [ 2], though I am here leaving out almost all of the details.
The point here is not that practitioners have always understood their practice in this way, but that understanding the practice in this way gives it epistemic credibility (i.e., we can legitimately say that the practice produces knowledge) without doing serious violence to (for example, misrepresenting) the practice itself.
I have nothing grand in mind by using the term ‘theory’ here. It is being used here to refer to models, hypothesis, simple assertions (such as ‘each molecule of X is surrounded by several molecules of Y ’) and so on.
Dickson M (2004) The view from nowhere: quantum reference frames and quantum uncertainty. Stud Hist Philos Mod Phys 35:195–220 CrossRef
Friedman M (2010) Synthetic history reconsidered In: Domski M, Dickson M (eds) Discourse on a new method: essays at the intersection of history and philosophy of science. Open Court Press, Chicago, pp 571–813
Goodsell D (2006) Seeing the nanoscale. NanoToday 1:44–49
Muller FA (2004) Can constructive empiricism adopt the concept of observability? Philos Sci 71:637–654
Muller FA (2005) The deep black sea: observability and modality afloat. Br J Philos Sci 56:61–99 CrossRef
Muller FA, van Fraassen BC (2008) How to talk about unobservables. Analysis 68:197–205
Musgrave A (1985) Constructive empiricism and realism In: Churchland P, Hooker CA (eds) Images of science. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 196–208
Pacific Nanotechnology, Inc. (2003) Press Release: “New Image Display and Analysis Software for Atomic Force Microscopy”. 17 March. Available online at http://www.thefreelibrary.com
Pitt J (2004) The epistemology of the very small In: Baird D, Nordmann A, Schummer J (eds) Discovering the Nanoscale. IOS Press, Amsterdam, pp 157–163
Pitt J (2005) When is an image not an image? Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 8:23–33
Van Fraassen BC (1981) The scientific image. Clarendon Press, Oxford
- Kantianism at the Nano-scale
- Springer US
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