Larry Laudan
Born(1941-10-16)October 16, 1941
DiedAugust 23, 2022(2022-08-23) (aged 80)
EducationUniversity of Kansas (B.A. Physics, 1962)
Princeton University (Ph.D. Philosophy, 1965)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsUniversity of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, University of Texas Law School, UNAM
Main interests
Philosophy of science, epistemology, philosophy of law
Notable ideas
Reticulationist model of scientific rationality centered around the concept of research traditions[1]
Pessimistic induction
Criticism of positivism, realism, and relativism

Laurens Lynn "Larry" Laudan (/ˈldən/;[5] October 16, 1941 – August 23, 2022)[6] was an American philosopher of science and epistemologist. He strongly criticized the traditions of positivism, realism, and relativism, and he 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".[7]

Life and career

Laudan earned 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 Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Despite his official retirement, Laudan continued lecturing at the University of Texas, Austin.[8] His later work was on legal epistemology. He was the husband of food historian Rachel Laudan.

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 pessimistic induction argument against the claim that the cumulative success of science shows that science must truly describe reality. Laudan famously argued in his 1981 article "A Confutation of Convergent Realism"[9] 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."[10]

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."[11] 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."[12] He wrote The Book of Risks in 1996 which details the relative risks of various accidents.


In 1990, while Chair of Philosophy at the University of Hawaiʻi, Laudan was critical of fellow professor Haunani-Kay Trask, over a debate in the local newspapers regarding her claims about white supremacy and the colonisation of Hawaii.[13] Laudan "demanded" to a Vice President of the University that Trask be reprimanded for her published comments.[14] Later on, the Philosophy Department that Laudan chaired issued a public "Statement on Racism in Academe" condemning Trask's remarks.[15]

In September 2021, following Trask’s death, the University of Hawaii at Mānoa philosophy department recognized that the accusations of racism that Laudan (among others) made against Haunani-Kay Trask were entirely baseless, and “apologize[d] sincerely for the attacks [Trask] suffered from philosophers at Mānoa in the past.”[16][17][18][19] The University of Hawaii philosophy department addressed its apology not only to Trask but also the “wider community of Kānaka ʻŌiwi faculty and students” because Laudan’s accusations against Trask “left lasting wounds among Native Hawaiian faculty and students.”[20] The philosophy department recognized that its members “had a moral obligation to reach out” and apologize for the actions of its past members, such as Laudan.[20]

Selected writings


  1. ^ Nickles, Thomas (February 13, 2021). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Archived from the original on February 13, 2022. Retrieved February 13, 2022 – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. ^ Laudan 1977, p. 125.
  3. ^ Laudan 1984, page 83.
  4. ^ James T. Cushing, Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation between Philosophy and Scientific Theories, Cambridge University Press, 1998, page 377.
  5. ^ Laudan on Convergent Epistemic Realism, archived from the original on April 23, 2020
  6. ^ Larry Laudan (1941-2022). Daily Nous.
  7. ^ Peter Godfrey-Smith, Theory and Reality, 2003, University of Chicago, ISBN 0-226-30062-5, pages 102-121.
  8. ^ "Larry Laudan". Archived from the original on June 3, 2015. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  9. ^ Laudan, Larry (March 1981). "A Confutation of Convergent Realism". Philosophy of Science, Vol. 48, No. 1. Archived from the original on February 14, 2022. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  10. ^ "Scientific Realism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2017. Archived from the original on July 6, 2007. Retrieved June 9, 2015.
  11. ^ Laudan, Beyond Positivism and Relativism, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1996, pages 77-87.
  12. ^ Laudan, "Should We Be Afraid?", in The Challenge of Terrorism: A Historical Reader.
  13. ^ "Carter Trask Files". Issuu. Archived from the original on January 22, 2022. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  14. ^ 60- Haunani-Kay Trask Delivers Powerful Speech at the University of Hawaii, archived from the original on November 3, 2020, retrieved March 15, 2021
  15. ^ Series 5: Box 4A1(2):71, Jon Van Dyke Collection, The Archival Collections at the University of Hawaiʻi School of Law Library
  16. ^ "Department of Philosophy Events". Archived from the original on December 24, 2021. Retrieved January 21, 2022.
  17. ^ "Philosophy department apologizes to late Professor Trask". University of Hawaiʻi System News. Archived from the original on December 24, 2021.
  18. ^ "University of Hawai'i Public Apology to Dr. Trask". Ka Wai Ola. September 1, 2021. Archived from the original on December 24, 2021. Retrieved January 21, 2022.
  19. ^ "UH Philosophy Department Apologizes to Late Professor Haunani-Kay Trask". October 27, 2021. Archived from the original on December 24, 2021. Retrieved January 21, 2022.
  20. ^ a b "Philosophy department apologizes to late Professor Trask | University of Hawaiʻi System News". October 22, 2021. Archived from the original on December 24, 2021. Retrieved January 21, 2022.
  21. ^ Gutting, Gary (March 1980). "Review of Progress and Its Problems by Larry Laudan". Erkenntnis. 15 (1): 91–103. JSTOR 20010687.
  22. ^ R S Cohen and L Laudan, Physics, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, Essays in Honor of Adolf Grünbaum, D Reidel Publishing Company, 1983, pp. 111-127. Also available at [1]
  23. ^ Bonk, Thomas (1997). "Review of Beyond Positivism and Relativism by Larry Laudan". Erkenntnis. 47 (3): 415–417. doi:10.1023/A:1005393922419. JSTOR 20012815. S2CID 169809938.