John M.  Nicholas, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D
Department of Philosophy
Stevenson Hall, Rm. 3134
University Western Ontario
London, Ontario N6A 5B8, Canada


I'm Professor Emeritus at Western's Philosophy Department. I work in history and philosophy of science. Long ago I did a doctoral dissertation at the University of Pittsburgh under the supervision of Larry Laudan which was an investigation of theory rejection in science. I've been at Western since 1971. I have served as Chair of the Department of History of Medicine and Science in the UWO's Faculty of Medicine, and am currently a faculty member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy: Engaging Science.


As a philosopher of science, I endorse an extreme pragmatism about the epistemology of science. I am interested in the consequences of using statistical inference as a guide to the character of induction more generally, and sympathetic to Jerzy Neyman's view that induction is rather more "inductive behaviour" than "inductive inference". Induction, I think, is best understood to be decision-theoretic as opposed to quasi-logical.  This view has important consequences for the philosophical task of precisely characterizing the goals of inquiry.

Contrary to widely received opinion among scientists and philosophers, I cling to the idea that there is a unitary neural basis for consciousness - not a Cartesian Theatre but a Cartesian 'Theatre'. (It is no more a theatre than the 'Mind's Eye' is an eye.) I've been studying both historical and contemporary accounts of the visual system. Even less fashionably, I advocate the view that it is sensations or sense data that are the bearers of colour properties, not the distal stimuli that contribute to causing them. (Interested parties will find some perspectives on these issues at -- a URL of which, I am surprised, amused, and disappointed to find, I have taken ownership without competition).

I have also studied Descartes' theory of scientific knowledge, and am convinced that Descartes' Rules for the Direction of the Mind contains some striking anticipations of Kant's later, more developed view that we are constrained to adopt certain truths about the world prior to experience because of the character of the system of representation we use.


Moral Priorities in Medical Research, edited by J. Nicholas, Toronto: Hannah Institute, 1988.

Cartesianism 1650-1750, edited by T. Lennon, J. Nicholas and J. Davis, McGill-Queens Press, (1983).

Images, Perception and Knowledge, edited by J. Nicholas, Reidel, Dordrecht, Holland, (1977), 309 pages.


"Technical Issues in Naive Sense Datum Theory", Coates, Paul and Coleman, Sam, The Nature of Phenomenal Qualities: Perception and Ontology. Oxford University Press, 2015

“Neyman, Jerzy” in Encyclopedia of Social Measurement. Volume 2. Academic Press/Elsevier, 2005, 839-844

"Realism for Shopkeepers; Behaviouralist Notes on Constructive Empiricism" in Brown, J.R. and J. Mittelstrass (eds.), An Intimate Relation. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989, pages 459-476.

"Planck's Quantum Innovation" in Donovan, A., L. Laudan, and R. Laudan (Eds.) Scrutinizing Science: Empirical Studies of Scientific Change, Dordrecht: Reidel Press, 1988, pages 317 - 335.

"Scientific and Other Interests" in James R. Brown (ed.), Scientific Rationality: The Sociological Turn, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, Holland, (1984): 265-294.

"Scientific Rationality and Local Progress" Nature and System 2: (1980): 1-25.

"Newton's Extremal Second Law" Centaurus 22: (1978): 103-130.


"Exercises in 'naive' Sense Datum Theory", Phenomenal Qualities Project, University of Hertfordshire, March 2012. [Embellished handout here. Draft paper: Here.]

"Dead Horse Walking (Part 37): on the relation of Phenomenal Qualities to the Brain", Phenomenal Qualities Project, University of Hertfordshire, September 2011. [Handout here.]

Sensations as the bearers of colours in a, maybe, colourless external world", Phenomenal Qualities Project, University of Hertfordshire, November 2010. [Handout here.]

"Dead Horse Walking: Sensations as Colour Bearers", PhilMilCog, Graduate Conference in Philosophy of Mind, Language and Cognitive Science, UWO, June 2009.

"Sense Data Push Back: Contra Hardin and Sanford", Carleton University, Canadian Philosophical Association, May 2009.

"Integration vs Modularity in Vision", University of Manitoba, Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science, Winnipeg, May 2004.

"Induction and Scientific Assertion", Dalhousie University, Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science, Halifax, May 2003.

"If not the pineal gland, then where? Consciousness in a neural archipelago", Universite Laval, Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science, May 2001

"Mechanical Senses, Mechanical Phenomena: The Role of the Theory of Perception in Descartes' Grounding of the Mechanical Philosophy", University of Sherbrooke, Canadian Philosophical Association, May 1999.

"Saying and Doing in Science: Several Bayesianisms", BiPED colloquium, Philosophy/Zoology group, U.W.O., April 1998.

"Strange Pragmatism of the Second Kind: Epistemological Lessons from Statistical Inference", University of Waterloo, Department of Philosophy, November 1996.

"Performance Science: Induction as Communication", Brock University, Meetings of Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, June 1996

"Utility dependence and independence in decision theory; elementary illustrations", Commentary on J. Howard Sobel "World Bayesianisms", Brock University, Canadian Philosophical Association, June 1996

"Analysis and Synthesis in Cartesian Epistemology of Mathematics", Commentary on S. Szybulski, "Descartes' Mathematical Epistemology", Brock University, Canadian Philosophical Association, June 1996


Silver, Zachary, "The Ethics of Belief" (2006)
Bluhm, Robyn, "The Hierarchy of Evidence and Evidence-Based Medicine" (2005)
Campbell, Catherine, "Getting Clear on Descartes' Theories of Visual Depth Perception" (2004)



Philosophy Dept
Faculty of Arts
Revised 29 June 2017 2;50 PM / Dr. John Nicholas <>