The usefulness of sentences, a hiarchial view?

(from A natural history of negation)

i had been thinking about a similar idea. but these work fine as a beginning. a good hierarchy needs a lvl for approximate truth as well (like Newton’s laws), as well as actual truths. but also perhaps a dimension for the relevance of the information conveyed. a sentence can express a true proposition without that proposition being relevant the making of just about any real life decision. for instance, the true proposition expressed by “42489054329479823423 is larger than 37828234747″ will in all likelihood never, ever be relevant for any decision. also one can cote that the relevance dimension only begins when there is actually some information conveyed, that is, it doesnt work before level 2 and beyond, as those below are meaningless pieces of language.

and things that are inconsistent can also be very useful, so its not clear how the falseness, approximate truth, and truth related to usefulness. but i think that they closer it is the truth, the more likely that it is useful. naive set theory is fine for working with many proofs, even if it is an inconsistent system.

Kennethamy on ordinary language filosofy, and ‘deep, profound questions’

From here.


Frankly I cannot answer your question about Lancan because I really don’t understand what he is saying. However, let me ask you, in turn, what you think about the following quotation from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. I think it is relevant to this discussion.

We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound, essential in our investigation, resides in its trying to grasp the incomparable essence of language. That is, the order existing between the concepts of proposition; word, proof, truth, experience, and so on. This order is a super-order between – so to speak – super-concepts. Whereas, of course, if the words “language,” “experience,” “world,” have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words “table,” “lamp,” “door.” (p. 44e)


It is funny that you bring up W. in this, Ken, as he wrote most incomprehensibly! Perhaps he was doing analytic philosophy but it is certainly extremely hard to understand anything he wrote. It’s not like reading Hume which is also hard to understand. H. is hard to understand because the texts he wrote were written 250 years ago or so. W. wrote only some 70-50 years ago and yet I can’t understand it easily. I can understand other persons from the same era just fine (Clifford, W. James, Quine, Russell, etc.).


W. wrote aphoristically (Like Lichtenstein) so you have to get used to his style. But what of the passage. Do you understand that?


No, I have no clue what it means. I didn’t read PI yet so maybe that is why. I read the Tractatus.


Well, he says that philosophers should not think that words like, “knowledge” or “reality” have a different kind of meaning than, and need a different kind of understanding from, ordinary words like “lamp” and “table”. “Philosophical” words are not special. Their meanings are to be discovered in how they are ordinarily used. (That does not, I think, suppose you have read, PI).


Alright. Then why didn’t he just write what you just wrote? I suppose this is the paradigmatic thesis of the ordinary language philosophy.


First of all it was in German. And second, it wasn’t his style. But I don’t think it was particularly hard to get that out of it. Yes, it is ordinary language philosophy. But, going beyond interpretation (I hope) don’t you think it is true? Why should “knowledge” (say) be treated differently from “lamp”?


I think it is. Especially for a person that hasn’t read much of W.’s works. You have read a lot more than I have.

I agree with it, yes.


There are lots of people who think that words like “knowledge” and “information” are superconcepts which have a special philosophical meaning they do not have in ordinary discourse (and which it is beneath philosophy to treat like the word, “lamp”) That’s why they are interested in what some particular philosopher means by, “knowledge”. They think there is some “incomparable essence of language” that philosophers are “trying to grasp”.


Ok. But some words do have meanings in philosophical contexts that they do not have in other, normal contexts. Think of “valid” as an example.


Yes, of course. But in that sense, “valid” is a technical term. “Knowledge” is not a technical term in the ordinary sense. It doesn’t have some deep philosophical meaning in addition to its ordinary meaning, nor is its ordinary meaning some deep meaning detached from its usual meaning. What meaning could Lacan find that was the real philosophical meaning? Where would that meaning even come from? Heidegger does the same thing. He ignores what a word means, and then finds (invents” a deep philosophical meaning for it. But he uses etymology to do that. It is wrong-headed from the word “go”. If you read Plato’s Cratylus you find how Socrates makes fun of this view of meaning (although, Plato here is making fun of himself, because he really originates this idea that the meaning of a word is its essence which is hidden).

Wittgenstein’s positive point is, of course, the ordinary language thing. But his negative point (which I think is more important for this discussion) is that terms like “knowledge” or “truth” do not have special meanings to be dug out by philosophers who are supposed to have some special factual for spying them. Lancan has no particular insight into the essence of knowledge hidden from the rest of us which, if we understand him, will provide us with philosophical enlightenment. Why should he?


There is a risk in all of this that by excluding the idea of the ‘super concept’ in W’s sense, or insisting that it must simply have the same kind of meaning as ‘lamp’ or ‘table’ that you also exclude what is most distinctive about philosophy. Surely we can acknowledge that there is a distinction between abstract and concrete expression. ‘The lamp is on the table’ is a different kind of expression to ‘knowledge has limits’.

When we ‘discuss language’ we are on a different level of explanation to merely ‘using language’. I mean, using language, you can explain many things, especially concrete and specific things, like ‘this is how to fix a lamp’ or ‘this is how to build a table’. But when it comes to discussing language itself, we are up against a different order of problem, not least of which is that we are employing the subject of the analysis to conduct the analysis. (I have a feeling that Wittgenstein said this somewhere.)

So it is important to recognise what language is for and what it can and can’t do. There are some kinds of speculations which can be articulated and might be answerable. But there are others which you can say, but might not really be possible to answer, even though they seem very simple (such as, what is number/meaning/the nature of being). Of which Wittgenstein said, that of which we cannot speak, of that we must remain silent. So knowing what not to say must be part of this whole consideration.


“Lamp” is a term for a concrete object. “Knowledge” is a term for an abstract object. But the central point is that neither has a hidden meaning that only a philosopher can ferret out. The meaning of both are their use(s) by fluent speakers of the language. It is not necessary to go to Lancan or Nietzsche to discover what “knowledge” really means anymore that it is to discover what “lamp” really means. As Wittgenstein wrote, “nothing is hidden”. Philosophy is not science. It is not necessary to go underneath the phenomena to discover what there really is. It is ironic that interpretationists accuse analytic philosophy of “scientism” when it is they who think that philosophy is a kind of science.


I interpret Wittgenstein as saying that the philosophical language-game is not a privileged language game. To say that something isn’t hidden is not to say that everyone finds it. This is just figurative language. Wittgenstein should be read by the light of Wittgenstein. His game is one more game, the game of describing the game. I interpret him as shattering the hope (for himself and those whom he persuades) for some unified authority on meaning.
Also he stressed the relationship of language and social practice. He finally took a more holistic view of language, and dropped his reductive Tractatus views. (This is not to deny the greatness of the Tractatus. Witt is one of my favorites, early and late.)
I associate Wittgenstein with a confession of the impossibility of closure. I don’t think language is capable of tying itself up.


To say that “nothing is hidden” is to say that words like “truth” or “knowledge” do not have, in addition to their ordinary everyday meanings, some secret meanings that only philosophers are able to discover. There are no secret meanings. There is no, “what the word ‘really means'” that Lacan or Heidegger has discovered.



Well my reason is that a lot of what goes on in this life seems perfectly meaningless and in the true sense of the word, irrational. Many things which seem highly valued by a lot of people seem hardly worth the effort of pursuing, we live our three score years and ten, if we’re lucky, and then vanish into the oblivion from whence we came. None of it seems to make much sense to me. I am the outcome, or at least an expression, of a process which started billions of years ago inside some star somewhere. For what? Watch television? Work until I die?

That’s my reason.


Just what are you questioning? (One sense of the word, “meaningless” may well be something like “irrational”. But that is not the true sense of the word. What about all the other senses of the word, “meaningless”? ). By the way, I think that “non-rational” would be a better term than “irrational”. And, just one more thing: what would it be for what goes on in this world to be rational? If you could tell me that, then I would have a better idea of what it is you are saying when you say it is irrational or it is non-rational. What is it that it is not? What would it be for you to discover that what goes on is rational?


Have you ever looked out at life and thought ‘boy what does it all mean? Isn’t there more to it than just our little lives and personalities and the things we do and have?’ You know, asked The Big Questions. That’s really what I see philosophy as being. So now I am beginning to understand why we always seem to be arguing at cross purposes.

Dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t say this stuff. Maybe I am being too personal or too earnest.


In my opinion, it is the belief that philosophers are supposed to ask only the Big Questions that partly fuels the view that philosophy gets nowhere and is a lot of nonsense, and is a big waste of time. And that would be right if that is what philosophy is.

Where would science have got if scientists had not rolled up their sleeves and asked many little questions.


from what I know of Heidegger, I very much admire his philosophy. There are many philosophers I admire, and many of them do deal with profound questions; and I know there are many kindred spirits on the forum. But – each to his own, I don’t want to labour the point.


How about “deal with seemingly profound questions”? But one of the philosopher’s seminal jobs is to ask whether a seemingly profound question is really all that profound, and what the question means, and supposes is true.Philosophers should have Hume’s “tincture of scepticism” even in regard to questions.

Kennethamy on the analytic principle of analyzing questions

From here.


So many threads ask whether this or that is logical. Is probabllity logical? Are moral arguments logical? And so on. I never know what it is being asked by such questions. Is there something clear and specific that is being asked by the question, is X logical? What is it?


Maybe they’re asking if it can be identified through premises and conclusions…Or maybe they are trying to figure out if abstract concepts like morality follow some kind of mathematical pattern or have a logical purpose for existing.


What does “logical purpose” mean?


I imagine it might be asking whether the purpose is something that can be accomplished, or whether the purpose is worth accomplishing. The trouble is that it can mean so many different things that the question, is it logical? does not convey anything really being asked.

So, rather than simply ask whether X is logical, why not, instead, ask about the problem you have in mind when you asked the question. And, maybe if you think about what the problem is, and cannot come up with anying specifice or clear, maybe you will wait to ask the question, or maybe not ask the question at all.


Basically the analytic principle of questions. Always start by analyzing the question.


It was a great advance in philosophy when it was understood that philosophical questions had to be analyzed to determine what they were asking, or whether they were asking anything sensible, before trying to answer them. In the sciences, it is taken for granted that the important thing is to answer the questions. But it took some time to recognize that was not true in the case of philosophy.


Metafilosofy: excerpt from a discussion

I used to discuss alot of filosofy, especially on internet forums. One forum was philosophy boards, i think. it changed its name and merged with another forum, and its software is now trash. however, by fortuitous coincidence, i stumbled upon an old discussion of mine on Google. too bad the forum software makes it difficult to save the entire discussion (i tried), but here is the excerpt:


I suppose I take a pretty holistic view of humans. What they associate with the word “intelligent” is tied in to their value system. Fred likes Jims values and calls him intelligent, which some might view as an abuse of the word. I suppose “intelligent” can function as a word of praise. I also take a holistic view on words. So many types of people out there. If we are “networks of beliefs and desires,” which I think is a good phrase if not the whole truth, then it all get’s tangled up. For some people, their idea of human decency is intelligence. For others, it’s all about the heart. For these heart-types, intelligence might as well mean wisdom or feeling. I think persuasion swallows everything. It’s just that objective science is so persuasive that there’s not much disagreement. But ethics, politics, this sort of philosophy we are doing now..all of these are tangled with ethics, and self-conception/self-ideal. Or such is my current view.



I imagine that objective science is so persuasive for a pretty good reason. Don’t you? I expect that this sort of philosophy that I do is not all that tangled up. After all, you seemed to think that what I wrote about the term “exist” as denoting a meta-property (what did you say?) made sense. I think a lot of philosophy can be done so that it makes sense, and give sensible answers that can be supported by reason and by argument. Sounds like a plan to me.

Oh yes, your brand of philosophy sticks near the rigor of objective science, and I respect that. It’s not my favorite part of philosophy, but I respect it.. I came to philosophy from a literary background/obsession It’s very much an aesthetic pursuit for me. My ethics are tangled up with it. Anxiety of influence and all that. I want to create, ultimately. Therefore the emphasis on metaphor and the creation of concept. I don’t know if you’ve look at the thread “subversive absolute christianity” but that’s the sort of thing that fascinates me. Much of what interests me could be put away in other genres, but much that influences me is called philosophy. Many Germans. And many of them are myth-makers, poets. Rigorousness is a virtue, yes, but not the only virtue.
I thought that the point of philosophizing was to clarify and find out things. Not to entertain. How can philosophy be an aesthetic pursuit? What is it that you would be pursuing? Rigor is a virtue only because it is a necessary means in inquiry. I don’t care about rigor in itself. Why should I? It is not as if I were in the pursuit of rigor, you know. If you want to create then why are you interested in philosophy? Why isn’t writing short stories, or poetry occupying you?
I don’t know how much continental philosophy you have enjoyed, but there is plenty of opportunity for creativity in philosophy. Many concepts are invented by means of metaphor. Also a holistic view of “first science” is not one that’s going to put everything in its own little box. I’m interested in connecting the dots. I hope this does not offend you. Whether you want to understand where other human beings are coming from is of course your choice. To me, this too is part of philosophy. Sure, we could chop it up into psychology/aesthetics/ ethics/epistemology/religion, but this is to chop up the living human being for whom all of these are a lived unity. I’m willing to explain my perspective but it’s nothing I want to argue about. I want to hear other people’s enthusiasms (however different than my own) more than their objections.
I think good philosophers are more than capable of being rather literary. Quine’s web metaphor is the obvious example, but this is primarily done in search of clarity rather than in writing an article that people want to read. On the other hand, Bernard Williams wrote what I believe is one of the finest philosophy articles ever written, called ‘The Self and the Future‘; it hardly creates serious difficulties with conventional beliefs about personal identity, as Quine’s article does for anyliticity, nor is it particularly convincing. It certainly makes you think that there may be something more to personal identity than psychological continuity, but lots of articles do this with lots of philosophical problems, so it’s no great achievement. The brilliance, or at least the thing that makes it such a wonderful article to read, lies not so much in the argument, but in the ingenuity and imagination of the thought example used to convey the argument. Presenting a situation that shows certain things to be the case, then offering an apparently different situation that shows opposing things to be the case, before allowing it to dawn on the reader that the appearance of a difference between the two situations is merely that, an appearance. Certainly one of the ‘must read’ philosophy articles.

The danger is, that when one becomes too concerned with how one says something, one loses sight of what one is trying to say. Indeed, you might find yourself spewing beautifully worded, meaningless nonsense, and if you lack the gift of being a good writer, simply nonsense. Not good philosophy. Of course, if you are too concerned with philosophical questions when attempting to write literature, your work risks sounding contrived, abrasive, and often even comical. It’s one of the reasons I think Orwell’s fiction is grossly overrated; the sound points he makes about socialism (or rather particular types of socialism) mask a lack of literary merit. Being too concerned with philosophy is certainly one of the many reasons why Ayn Rand writes terrible novels.

Of course, there’s a difference between employing literary techniques and writing literature, just as there is a difference between exploring philosophical themes and writing philosophy. Great literature is usually subtle in meaning, great philosophy makes meaning explicit and clear. But back to ethics.

The ten commandments are poetry. Plato’s republic is poetry. VCR instruction manuals are poetry. Profanity is poetry. “Self is illusion” is poetry. “Philosophy is poetry” is poetry. Tautologies are poetry. Sure, this is to bend to current use of certain words, but that’s how abstract concepts are made in the first place. Just as concept comes from conception, the fertilization of the egg. A dead metaphor. Dead metaphor rubbed together to make live metaphor. Taste varies. Its the risk one runs. But if a writer doesn’t enjoy his/her own lines, he’s in the wrong business. Poetry is child’s play, sure, so what? And perhaps much of the serious business of philosophy is the child playing a game of grown-up. Soft science is generally made of poetry/trope. But to understand what I mean takes a leaning in, a sincere openness. And that statement is rich with metaphor. I can’t write it off, that language is primarily made of metaphors and philosophy of language.

We’ve got laws and churches and traditions. It’s no big deal if a foolosopher sees that ethics is made of air.

I assure you, understanding what any of this means would take a great deal more than a leaning in, no matter how sincerely open a lean it might be. I think you’ve managed to strike an unhappy medium of writing nonsense in a comically contrived way. Really now, ‘Dead metaphor rubbed together to make live metaphor’? Do try not to beat us over the head with your metaphors.
Ah now, that’s not so silly as it sounds, I assure you. Crack open a dictionary. Examine etymology. There you will find the birth-metaphor of words that have since changed their meaning. —If you don’t understand, that’s fine. There are those who do. I think you overestimate the strangeness of what I’m saying. I certainly have my influences. I didn’t make it all up myself, although I wish I could claim that. Do you know Joyce? It’s a wide wide world. Lots of new teeth coming in.
Finnegans Wake – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Review: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont)

Fashionable Nonsense, Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science – Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont ebook download pdf free


The book contains the best single chapter on filosofy of science that iv com across. very much recommended, especially for those that dont like filosofers’ accounts of things. alot of the rest of the book is devoted to long quotes full of nonsens, and som explanations of why it is nonsens (if possible), or just som explanatory remarks about the fields invoked (say, relativity).


as such, this book is a must read for ppl who ar interested in the study of seudoscience, and those interested in meaningless language use. basically, it is a collection of case studies of that.






[footnote] Bertrand Russell (1948, p. 196) tells the following amusing story: “I once received a

letter from an eminent logician, Mrs Christine Ladd Franklin, saying that she was a

solipsist, and was surprised that there were not others”. We learned this reference

from Devitt (1997, p. 64).





The answer, of course, is that we have no proof; it is simply

a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. The most natural way to ex­

plain the persistence of our sensations (in particular, the un­

pleasant ones) is to suppose that they are caused by agents

outside our consciousness. We can almost always change at will

the sensations that are pure products of our imagination, but we

cannot stop a war, stave off a lion, or start a broken-down car

by pure thought alone. Nevertheless— and it is important to em­

phasize this—this argument does not refute solipsism. If anyone

insists that he is a “harpsichord playing solo” (Diderot), there is

no way to convince him of his error. However, we have never

met a sincere solipsist and we doubt that any exist.52 This illus­

trates an important principle that we shall use several times in

this chapter: the mere fact that an idea is irrefutable does not

imply that there is any reason to believe it is true.


i wonder how that epistemological point (that arguments from ignorance ar no good) works with intuitionism in math/logic?



The universality of Humean skepticism is also its weakness.

Of course, it is irrefutable. But since no one is systematically

skeptical (when he or she is sincere) with respect to ordinary

knowledge, one ought to ask why skepticism is rejected in that

domain and why it would nevertheless be valid when applied

elsewhere, for instance, to scientific knowledge. Now, the rea­

son why we reject systematic skepticism in everyday life is

more or less obvious and is similar to the reason we reject solip­

sism. The best way to account for the coherence of our experi­

ence is to suppose that the outside world corresponds, at least

approximately, to the image of it provided by our senses.54


54 4This hypothesis receives a deeper explanation with the subsequent development of

science, in particular of the biological theory of evolution. Clearly, the possession of

sensory organs that reflect more or less faithfully the outside world (or, at least,

some important aspects of it) confers an evolutionary advantage. Let us stress that

this argument does not refute radical skepticism, but it does increase the coherence

of the anti-skeptical worldview.


the authors ar surprisingly sofisticated filosofically, and i agree very much with their reasoning.



For my part, I have no doubt that, although progressive changes

are to be expected in physics, the present doctrines are likely to be

nearer to the truth than any rival doctrines now before the world.

Science is at no moment quite right, but it is seldom quite wrong,

and has, as a rule, a better chance of being right than the theories

of the unscientific. It is, therefore, rational to accept it


—Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development

(1995 [1959], p. 13)


yes, the analogy is that: science is LIKE a limit function that goes towards 1 [approximates closer to truth] over time. at any given x, it is not quite at y=1 yet, but it gets closer. it might not be completely monotonic either (and i dont know if that completely breaks the limit function, probably doesnt).


for a quick grafical illustration, try the function f(x)=1-(-1/x) on the interval [1;∞]. The truth line is f(x)=1 on the interval [0;∞]. in reality, the graf wud be mor unsteady and not completely monotonic corresponding to the varius theories as they com and go in science. it is not only a matter of evidence (which is not an infallible indicator of truth either), but it is primarily a function of that.



Once the general problems of solipsism and radical skepti­

cism have been set aside, we can get down to work. Let us sup­

pose that we are able to obtain some more-or-less reliable

knowledge of the world, at least in everyday life. We can then

ask: To what extent are our senses reliable or not? To answer

this question, we can compare sense impressions among them­

selves and vary certain parameters of our everyday experience.

We can map out in this way, step by step, a practiced rationality.

When this is done systematically and with sufficient precision,

science can begin.


For us, the scientific method is not radically different from

the rational attitude in everyday life or in other domains of hu­

man knowledge. Historians, detectives, and plumbers—indeed,

all human beings—use the same basic methods of induction,

deduction, and assessment of evidence as do physicists or bio­

chemists. Modem science tries to carry out these operations in

a more careful and systematic way, by using controls and sta­

tistical tests, insisting on replication, and so forth. Moreover,

scientific measurements are often much more precise than

everyday observations; they allow us to discover hitherto un­

known phenomena; and they often conflict with “common

sense”. But the conflict is at the level of conclusions, not the

basic approach.55 56


55For example: Water appears to us as a continuous fluid, but chemical and physical

experiments teach us that it is made of atoms.


56Throughout this chapter, we stress the methodological continuity between scientific

knowledge and everyday knowledge. This is, in our view, the proper way to respond

to various skeptical challenges and to dispel the confusions generated by radical

interpretations of correct philosophical ideas such as the underdetermination of

theories by data. But it would be naive to push this connection too far. Science—

particularly fundamental physics— introduces concepts that are hard to grasp

intuitively or to connect directly to common-sense notions. (For example: forces

acting instantaneously throughout the universe in Newtonian mechanics,

electromagnetic fields “vibrating” in vacuum in Maxwell’s theory, curved space-time

in Einstein’s general relativity.) And it is in discussions about the meaning o f these

theoretical concepts that various brands of realists and anti-realists (e.g.,

intrumentalists, pragmatists) tend to part company. Relativists sometimes tend to fall

back on instrumentalist positions when challenged, but there is a profound difference

between the two attitudes. Instrumentalists may want to claim either that we have no

way of knowing whether “unobservable” theoretical entities really exist, or that their

meaning is defined solely through measurable quantities; but this does not imply that

they regard such entities as “subjective” in the sense that their meaning would be

significantly influenced by extra-scientific factors (such as the personality of the

individual scientist or the social characteristics o f the group to which she belongs).

Indeed, instrumentalists may regard our scientific theories as, quite simply, the most

satisfactory way that the human mind, with its inherent biological limitations, is

capable of understanding the world.


right they ar



Having reached this point in the discussion, the radical skep­

tic or relativist will ask what distinguishes science from other

types of discourse about reality—religions or myths, for exam­

ple, or pseudo-sciences such as astrology—and, above all, what

criteria are used to make such a distinction. Our answer is nu-

anced. First of all, there are some general (but basically nega­

tive) epistemological principles, which go back at least to the

seventeenth century: to be skeptical of a priori arguments, rev­

elation, sacred texts, and arguments from authority. Moreover,

the experience accumulated during three centuries of scientific

practice has given us a series of more-or-less general method­

ological principles—for example, to replicate experiments, to

use controls, to test medicines in double-blind protocols—that

can be justified by rational arguments. However, we do not

claim that these principles can be codified in a definitive way,

nor that the list is exhaustive. In other words, there does not

exist (at least at present) a complete codification of scientific ra­

tionality, and we seriously doubt that one could ever exist. After

all, the future is inherently unpredictable; rationality is always

an adaptation to a new situation. Nevertheless—and this is the

main difference between us and the radical skeptics—we think

that well-developed scientific theories are in general supported

by good arguments, but the rationality of those arguments must

be analyzed case-by-case.60


60 It is also by proceeding on a case-by-case basis that one can appreciate the

immensity of the gulf separating the sciences from the pseudo-sciences.


Sokal and Bricmont might soon becom my new favorit filosofers of science.



Obviously, every induction is an inference from the observed to

the unobserved, and no such inference can be justified using

solely deductive logic. But, as we have seen, if this argument

were to be taken seriously—if rationality were to consist only

of deductive logic— it would imply also that there is no good

reason to believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow, and yet no one

really expects the Sun not to rise.


id like to add, like i hav don many times befor, that ther is no reason to think that induction shud be proveable with deduction. why require that? but now coms the interesting part. if one takes induction as the basis instead of deduction, one can inductivly prove deduction. <prove> in the ordinary, non-mathetical/logical sens. the method is enumerativ induction, which i hav discussed befor.



But one may go further. It is natural to introduce a hierarchy

in the degree of credence accorded to different theories, de­

pending on the quantity and quality of the evidence supporting

them.95 Every scientist—indeed, every human being—proceeds

in this way and grants a higher subjective probability to the

best-established theories (for instance, the evolution of species

or the existence of atoms) and a lower subjective probability to

more speculative theories (such as detailed theories of quantum

gravity). The same reasoning applies when comparing theories

in natural science with those in history or sociology. For exam­

ple, the evidence of the Earth’s rotation is vastly stronger than

anything Kuhn could put forward in support of his historical

theories. This does not mean, of course, that physicists are more

clever than historians or that they use better methods, but sim­

ply that they deal with less complex problems, involving a

smaller number of variables which, moreover, are easier to mea­

sure and to control. It is impossible to avoid introducing such a

hierarchy in our beliefs, and this hierarchy implies that there is

no conceivable argument based on the Kuhnian view of history

that could give succor to those sociologists or philosophers who

wish to challenge, in a blanket way, the reliability of scientific



Sokal and Bricmont even get the epistemological point about the different fields right. color me very positivly surprised.



Bruno Latour and His Rules of Method

The strong programme in the sociology of science has found

an echo in France, particularly around Bruno Latour. His works

contain a great number of propositions formulated so ambigu­

ously that they can hardly be taken literally. And when one re­

moves the ambiguity— as we shall do here in a few

examples— one reaches the conclusion that the assertion is ei­

ther true but banal, or else surprising but manifestly false.


sound familiar? its the good old two-faced sentences again, those that Swartz and Bradley called Janus-sentences. they yield two different interpretations, one trivial and true, one nontrivial and false. their apparent plausibility is becus of this fact.


quoting from Possible Worlds:


Janus-faced sentences

The method of possible-worlds testing is not only an invaluable aid towards resolving ambiguity; it is also an effective weapon against a particular form of-linguistic sophistry.

Thinkers often deceive themselves and others into supposing that they have discovered a profound

truth about the universe when all they have done is utter what we shall call a “Janus-faced

sentence”. Janus, according to Roman mythology, was a god with two faces who was therefore able

to ‘face’ in two directions at once. Thus, by a “Janus-faced sentence” we mean a sentence which, like “In the evolutionary struggle for existence just the fittest species survive”, faces in two directions. It is ambiguous insofar as it may be used to express a noncontingent proposition, e.g., that in the struggle for existence just the surviving species survive, and may also be used to express a contingent proposition, e.g., the generalization that just the physically strongest species survive.


If a token of such a sentence-type is used to express a noncontingently true proposition then, of

course, the truth of that proposition is indisputable; but since, in that case, it is true in all possible

worlds, it does not tell us anything distinctive about the actual world. If, on the other hand, a token

of such a sentence-type is used to express a contingent proposition, then of course that proposition

does tell us something quite distinctive about the actual world; but in that case its truth is far from

indisputable. The sophistry lies in supposing that the indisputable credentials of the one proposition

can be transferred to the other just by virtue of the fact that one sentence-token might be used to

express one of these propositions and a different sentence-token of one and the same sentence-type

might be used to express the other of these propositions. For by virtue of the necessary truth of one

of these propositions, the truth of the other — the contingent one — can be made to seem

indisputable, can be made to seem, that is, as if it “stands to reason” that it should be true.



We could be accused here of focusing our attention on an

ambiguity of formulation and of not trying to understand what

Latour really means. In order to counter this objection, let us go

back to the section “Appealing (to) Nature” (pp. 94-100) where

the Third Rule is introduced and developed. Latour begins by

ridiculing the appeal to Nature as a way of resolving scientific

controversies, such as the one concerning solar neutrinos[121]:

A fierce controversy divides the astrophysicists who calcu­

late the number o f neutrinos coming out o f the sun and Davis,

the experimentalist who obtains a much smaller figure. It is

easy to distinguish them and put the controversy to rest. Just

let us see for ourselves in which camp the sun is really to be

found. Somewhere the natural sun with its true number o f

neutrinos will close the mouths o f dissenters and force them

to accept the facts no matter how well written these papers

were. (Latour 1987, p. 95)



Why does Latour choose to be ironic? The problem is to know

how many neutrinos are emitted by the Sun, and this question

is indeed difficult. We can hope that it will be resolved some day,

not because “the natural sun will close the mouths of dis­

senters”, but because sufficiently powerful empirical data will

become available. Indeed, in order to fill in the gaps in the cur­

rently available data and to discriminate between the currently

existing theories, several groups of physicists have recently

built detectors of different types, and they are now performing

the (difficult) measurements.122 It is thus reasonable to expect

that the controversy will be settled sometime in the next few

years, thanks to an accumulation of evidence that, taken to­

gether, will indicate clearly the correct solution. However, other

scenarios are in principle possible: the controversy could die

out because people stop being interested in the issue, or be­

cause the problem turns out to be too difficult to solve; and, at

this level, sociological factors undoubtedly play a role (if only

because of the budgetary constraints on research). Obviously,

scientists think, or at least hope, that if the controversy is re­

solved it will be because of observations and not because of

the literary qualities of the scientific papers. Otherwise, they

will simply have ceased to do science.


the footnode 121 is:

The nuclear reactions that power the Sun are expected to emit copious quantities

of the subatomic particle called the neutrino. By combining current theories of solar

structure, nuclear physics, and elementary-particle physics, it is possible to obtain

quantitative predictions for the flux and energy distribution of the solar neutrinos.

Since the late 1960s, experimental physicists, beginning with the pioneering work of

Raymond Davis, have been attempting to detect the solar neutrinos and measure their

flux. The solar neutrinos have in fact been detected; but their flux appears to be less

than one-third o f the theoretical prediction. Astrophysicists and elementary-particle

physicists are actively trying to determine whether the discrepancy arises from

experimental error or theoretical error, and if the latter, whether the failure is in the

solar models or in the elementary-particle models. For an introductory overview, see

Bahcall (1990).


this problem sounded familiar to me.

The solar neutrino problem was a major discrepancy between measurements of the numbers of neutrinos flowing through the Earth and theoretical models of the solar interior, lasting from the mid-1960s to about 2002. The discrepancy has since been resolved by new understanding of neutrino physics, requiring a modification of the Standard Model of particle physics – specifically, neutrino oscillation. Essentially, as neutrinos have mass, they can change from the type that had been expected to be produced in the Sun’s interior into two types that would not be caught by the detectors in use at the time.


science seems to be working. Sokal and Bricmont predicted that it wud be resolved ”in the next few years”. this was written in 1997, about 5 years befor the data Wikipedia givs for the resolution. i advice one to read the Wiki article, as it is quite good.



In this quote and the previous one, Latour is playing con­

stantly on the confusion between facts and our knowledge of

them.123 The correct answer to any scientific question, solved or

not, depends on the state of Nature (for example, on the num­

ber of neutrinos that the Sun really emits). Now, it happens that,

for the unsolved problems, nobody knows the right answer,

while for the solved ones, we do know it (at least if the accepted

solution is correct, which can always be challenged). But there

is no reason to adopt a “relativist” attitude in one case and a “re­

alist” one in the other. The difference between these attitudes is

a philosophical matter, and is independent of whether the prob­

lem is solved or not. For the relativist, there is simply no unique

correct answer, independent of all social and cultural circum­

stances; this holds for the closed questions as well as for the

open ones. On the other hand, the scientists who seek the cor­

rect solution are not relativist, almost by definition. Of course

they do “use Nature as the external referee”: that is, they seek to

know what is really happening in Nature, and they design ex­

periments for that purpose.


the footnote 123 is:

An even more extreme example o f this confusion appears in a recent article by

Latour in La Recherche, a French monthly magazine devoted to the popularization of

science (Latour 1998). Here Latour discusses what he interprets as the discovery in

1976, by French scientists working on the mummy of the pharaoh Ramses II, that his

death (circa 1213 B.C.) was due to tuberculosis. Latour asks: “How could he pass

away due to a bacillus discovered by Robert Koch in 1882?” Latour notes, correctly,

that it would be an anachronism to assert that Rainses II was killed by machine-gun

fire or died from the stress provoked by a stock-market crash. But then, Latour

wonders, why isn’t death from tuberculosis likewise an anachronism? He goes so far

as to assert that “Before Koch, the bacillus has no real existence.” He dismisses the

common-sense notion that Koch discovered a pre-existing bacillus as “having only the

appearance o f common sense”. Of course, in the rest o f the article, Latour gives no

argument to justify these radical claims and provides no genuine alternative to the

common-sense answer. He simply stresses the obvious fact that, in order to discover

the cause of Ramses’ death, a sophisticated analysis in Parisian laboratories was

needed. But unless Latour is putting forward the truly radical claim that nothing we

discover ever existed prior to its “discovery”— in particular, that no murderer is a

murderer, in the sense that he committed a crime before the police “discovered” him

to be a murderer— he needs to explain what is special about bacilli, and this he has

utterly failed to do. The result is that Latour is saying nothing clear, and the article

oscillates between extreme banalities and blatant falsehoods.





a quote from one of the crazy ppl:


The privileging o f solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the

inability o f science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she at­

tributes to the association o f fluidity with femininity. Whereas

men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women

have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids.

Although men, too, flow on occasion— when semen is emit­

ted, for example— this aspect o f their sexuality is not empha­

sized. It is the rigidity o f the male organ that counts, not its

complicity in fluid flow. These idealizations are reinscribed in

mathematics, which conceives o f fluids as laminated planes

and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women

are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing

only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, ex­

isting only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder

that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model

for turbulence. The problem o f turbulent f low cannot be

solved because the conceptions o f fluids (and o f women)

have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated

remainders. (Hayles 1992, p. 17)


u cant make this shit up



Over the past three decades, remarkable progress has been

made in the mathematical theory of chaos, but the idea that

some physical systems may exhibit a sensitivity to initial con­

ditions is not new. Here is what James Clerk Maxwell said in

1877, after stating the principle of determinism ( “the same

causes will always produce the same effects”):


but thats not what determinism is. their quote seems to be from Hume’s Treatise.


it is mentioned in his discussion of causality, which is related to but not the same as, determinism.


Wikipedia givs a fine definition of <determinism>: ”Determinism is a philosophy stating that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen.”


also SEP: Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.”



[T]he first difference between science and philosophy is their

respective attitudes toward chaos. Chaos is defined not so

much by its disorder as by the infinite speed with which every

form taking shape in it vanishes. It is a void that is not a noth­

ingness but a virtual, containing all possible particles and

drawing out all possible forms, which spring up only to dis­

appear immediately, without consistency or reference, with­

out consequence. Chaos is an infinite speed o f birth and dis­

appearance. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, pp. 117-118, italics

in the original)





For what it’s worth, electrons, unlike photons, have a non-zero

mass and thus cannot move at the speed of light, precisely

because of the theory of relativity of which Virilio seems so



i think the authors did not mean what they wrote here. surely, relativity theory is not the reason why electrons cannot move at the speed of light. relativity theory is an explanation of how nature works, in this case, how objects with mass and velocity/speed works.



We met in Paris a student who, after having brilliantly fin­

ished his undergraduate studies in physics, began reading phi­

losophy and in particular Deleuze. He was trying to tackle

Difference and Repetition. Having read the mathematical ex­

cerpts examined here (pp. 161-164), he admitted he couldn’t

see what Deleuze was driving at. Nevertheless, Deleuze’s repu­

tation for profundity was so strong that he hesitated to draw the

natural conclusion: that if someone like himself, who had stud­

ied calculus for several years, was unable to understand these

texts, allegedly about calculus, it was probably because they

didn’t make much sense. It seems to us that this example should

have encouraged the student to analyze more critically the rest

of Deleuze’s writings.


i think the epistemological conditions of this kind of inference ar very interesting. under which conditions shud one conclude that a text is meaningless?



7. Ambiguity as subterfuge. We have seen in this book nu­

merous ambiguous texts that can be interpreted in two differ­

ent ways: as an assertion that is true but relatively banal, or as

one that is radical but manifestly false. And we cannot help

thinking that, in many cases, these ambiguities are deliberate.

Indeed, they offer a great advantage in intellectual battles: the

radical interpretation can serve to attract relatively inexperi­

enced listeners or readers; and if the absurdity of this version is

exposed, the author can always defend himself by claiming to

have been misunderstood, and retreat to the innocuous inter­



mor on Janus-sentences.




Paper: AGAINST PHILOSOPHY: WHY PHILOSOPHY GETS NO RESPECT; A TAXONOMY of philosophy & A REVIEW of the successes and failures of 20th Century academic philosophy & RECOMMENDATIONS for the educational re-engineering of academic philosophy departments (Zak Van Straaten)

AGAINST PHILOSOPHY WHY PHILOSOPHY GETS NO RESPECT A TAXONOMY of philosophy & A REVIEW of the successes and failures of 20th Century academic philosophy

This is a pretty odd paper. At first i was very critical of it. But its really a hard job to diagnosticize what is wrong with filosofy, exactly becus filosofy is so many different things. it seems like a catch-all category of whatever didnt fit in other disciplines. there is some truth to this, which is why things like astrology are sometimes categorized as filosofy. but there are also clear subfields of filosofy, which have different things wrong with them. the author gives a reasonable first hatchet job at categorizing these and noting what is wrong with them. worth reading if one likes metafilosofy.

also important to read:


Steven Weinberg: “Against Philosophy” (from “Dreams of a Final Theory”).

Steven Weinberg “Against Philosophy”

Great text. The beginning:

Physicists get so much help from subjective and often vague aesthetic judgments that it might be
expected that we would be helped also by philosophy, out of which after all our science evolved.
Can philosophy give us any guidance toward a final theory? The value today of philosophy to
physics seems to me to be something like the value of early nation-states to their peoples. It is only
a small exaggeration to say that, until the introduction of the post office, the chief service of nation-
states was to protect their peoples from other nation-states. The insights of philosophers have
occasionally benefited physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting them from the
preconceptions of other philosophers. I do not want to draw the lesson here that physics is best done
without preconceptions. At any one moment there are so many things that might be done, so many
accepted principles that might be challenged, that without some guidance from our preconceptions
one could do nothing at all. It is just that philosophical principles have not generally provided us
with the right preconceptions. In our hunt for the final theory, physicists are more like hounds than
hawks; we have become good at sniffing around on the ground for traces of the beauty we expect in
the laws of nature, but we do not seem to be able to see the path to the truth from the heights of
philosophy. Physicists do of course carry around with them a working philosophy. For most of us, it
is a rough-and-ready realism, a belief in the objective reality of the ingredients of our scientific
theories. But this has been learned through the experience of scientific research and rarely from the
teachings of philosophers. This is not to deny all value to philosophy, much of which has nothing to
do with science. I do not even mean to deny all value to the philosophy of science, which at its best
seems to me a pleasing gloss on the history and discoveries of science. But we should not expect it
to provide today’s scientists with any useful guidance about how to go about their work or about
what they are likely to find. I should acknowledge that this is understood by many of the
philosophers themselves. After surveying three decades of professional writings in the philosophy
of science, the philosopher George Gale concludes that “these almost arcane discussions, verging on
the scholastic, could have interested only the smallest number of practicing scientists.” Wittgenstein
remarked that “nothing seems to me less likely than that a scientist or mathematician who reads me
should be seriously influenced in the way he works.”

Some metafilosofy

From a discussion on Google+


Opening post:

Massimo Pigliucci

28. okt. 2012  –  Offentlig

Philosophy lost its bite, says another physicist who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.


Emil Ole William Kirkegaard29. okt. 2012Rediger+1

Dyson might not know what he is talking about, but the LW article linked in the beginning is right on mark. so is

philosophy really is a diseased discipline. most of it is not very useful aside from intellectual masturbation, much of it is literally nonsense. some of it is interesting.


Massimo Pigliucci29. okt. 2012


Emil, forgive me, but I think that’s anti-intellectual baloney. You obviously have never read a technical paper in philosophy. cheers.


Emil Ole William Kirkegaard29. okt. 2012Rediger


You are very wrong. The fact that you think it is “obvious” should make you rethink things.


Miao Yu, Goh29. okt. 2012

As a current post-graduate student in analytic philosophy, I agree with Emil, and I think you responded to his disagreement very poorly.

Philosophy should only concern itself with questions on which science cannot adjudicate (e.g., “Is it morally acceptable to forcefully take $1 billion from a very wealthy man if it means that millions of African children will receive vaccinations?”), and even then it must take into account realpolitik instead of just placing emphasis on theories that sound nice. (I am sure that many people thought that communism sounded very nice on paper too.) The problem with philosophers, in my own experience, is that many of them confine themselves to their own little circle with no consideration of how the outside world actually works.


Alexander Kruel29. okt. 2012


+Emil Ole William Kirkegaard If you judge philosophy by its usefulness then what exactly do you mean? What percentage of philosophy would have to be useful and in what sense?

Do you believe that mathematics is also a diseased discipline? If not, then in what sense are most of the 3,000 categories of mathematical writing useful compared to most of philosophy?

Further, what is your definition of “philosophy”? Where do you draw the line? If you call philosophy a diseased discipline then what exactly is if not philosophy? What exactly are you doing when you talk about what philosophy should do and what should be left to science? Epistemology? Philosophy of science?


Alexander Kruel29. okt. 2012


And looking at what people associated with are doing, it rather seems like an offense to accuse academic philosophy of engaging in nonsense and relying on intuition. They do nothing else.

They worry about simulation shutdown, distant superintelligences blackmailing them acausally, post-singularity hells and galactic civilizations.

They talk about how uncomputable methods should guide us yet dismiss their absurd consequences based on intuition. They rely on fundamentally different methods and pretend they are really “approximations”. It’s complete handwaving.


Matt Perryman29. okt. 2012


+Alexander Kruel exactly that. If they actually engaged with real philosophy instead of writing the whole domain off as “diseased and inferior” (in favor of some bizarre ideas on “rationality” which they accept on the grounds of self-serving justifications, no less) they might not be so ridiculous.

As it stands they’re in a mighty large glass mansion while trying to calculate the best reason to throw stones.


Emil Ole William Kirkegaard29. okt. 2012Rediger

They (LWians) don’t “write off the whole domain as diseased”. What they are doing is philosophy. Criticism of philosophy from within philosophy is a recurrent theme in the history of philosophy.



I didn’t think it wud be of much use to respond to Alexander Kruel and others. But ill do it here, just for others who might be interested.


Questions 1a+b:

+Emil Ole William Kirkegaard If you judge philosophy by its usefulness then what exactly do you mean? What percentage of philosophy would have to be useful and in what sense?


I mean exactly what i wrote. Whatever the goal is aside from mental masturbation, filosofy is not very good at getting to that goal. If one wants to undertstand the world, one is better off reading science than filosofy. Not to say that there is nothing to be gained from reading filosofy, just that the noise-to-signal ratio is much higher in filosofy than in science. If one doesnt know what to look for, just stay with science.


i decline to offer any percentages besides that the noise-to-signal ratio shud be much lower. Its difficult to say how low, since whether its worth reading filosofy also depends on other factors, especially how useful the information is that one acquires. It shud be possible to work out some equations for that.



Questions 2a+b

Do you believe that mathematics is also a diseased discipline? If not, then in what sense are most of the 3,000 categories of mathematical writing useful compared to most of philosophy? 




Supposing those numbers are true (i have no idea). I didnt say most of them are useful. I dont need to believe that. I only need to believe that they are much more useful than most filosofy, and they are.



Questions 3a-f

Further, what is your definition of “philosophy”? Where do you draw the line? If you call philosophy a diseased discipline then what exactly is if not philosophy? What exactly are you doing when you talk about what philosophy should do and what should be left to science? Epistemology? Philosophy of science?


a) i dont use any special definition.


b) its fuzzy. one cannot draw a line precisely.


c) LW is a mixture of filosofy and other stuff, mostly math and science. that filosofy is a diseased disipline is consistent with there being some good in it. i did not state that all filosofy is useless. i explicitly stated that some of it is useful.


d-f) dont understand the question(s).



as for the LW criticism. i dont need to defend them.

Some quotes from Every Thing Must Go (Ladymann, Ross, and others)

every thing must go



This is a polemical book. One of its main contentions is that contemporary

analytic metaphysics, a professional activity engaged in by some extremely

intelligent and morally serious people, fails to qualify as part of the enlightened

pursuit of objective truth, and should be discontinued.We think it is impossible

to argue for a point like this without provoking some anger. Suggesting that

a group of highly trained professionals have been wasting their talents—and,

worse, sowing systematic confusion about the nature of the world, and how to

find out about it—isn’t something one can do in an entirely generous way. Let

us therefore stress that we wrote this book not in a spirit of hostility towards

philosophy or our fellow philosophers, but rather the opposite. We care a great

deal about philosophy, and are therefore distressed when we see its reputation

harmed by its engagement with projects and styles of reasoning we believe bring

it into disrepute, especially among scientists. We recognize that we may be

regarded as a bit rough on some other philosophers, but our targets are people

with considerable influence rather than novitiates. We think the current degree

of dominance of analytic metaphysics within philosophy is detrimental to the

health of the subject, and make no apologies for trying to counter it.



In Defence of Scientism

The revival ofmetaphysics after the implosion of logical positivismwas accom-

panied by the ascendancy of naturalism in philosophy, and so it seemed obvious

to many that metaphysics ought not to be ‘revisionary’ but ‘descriptive’ (in Peter

Strawson’s terminology, 1959). That is, rather than metaphysicians using ratio-

nal intuition to work out exactly how the absolute comes to self-consciousness,

they ought instead to turn to science and concentrate on explicating the deep

structural claims about the nature of reality implicit in our best theories. So, for

example, Special Relativity ought to dictate the metaphysics of time, quantum

physics the metaphysics of substance, and chemistry and evolutionary biology

the metaphysics of natural kinds. However, careful work by various philosophers

of science has shown us that this task is not straightforward because science,

usually and perhaps always, underdetermines the metaphysical answers we are

seeking. (See French 1998, 93). Many people have taken this in their stride and

set about exploring the various options that are available. Much excellent work

has resulted.⁹ However, there has also been another result of the recognition that

science doesn’t wear metaphysics on its sleeve, namely the resurgence of the kind

of metaphysics that floats entirely free of science. Initially granting themselves

permission to do a bit of metaphysics that seemed closely tied to, perhaps even

important to, the success of the scientific project, increasing numbers of philoso-

phers lost their positivistic spirit. The result has been the rise to dominance of

projects in analytic metaphysics that have almost nothing to do with (actual)

science. Hence there are now, once again, esoteric debates about substance,

universals, identity, time, properties, and so on, which make little or no reference

to science, and worse, which seem to presuppose that science must be irrelevant

to their resolution. They are based on prioritizing armchair intuitions about the

nature of the universe over scientific discoveries. Attaching epistemic significance

to metaphysical intuitions is anti-naturalist for two reasons. First, it requires

ignoring the fact that science, especially physics, has shown us that the universe

is very strange to our inherited conception of what it is like. Second, it requires

ignoring central implications of evolutionary theory, and of the cognitive and

behavioural sciences, concerning the nature of our minds.


1.2.1 Intuitions and common sense in metaphysics

The idea that intuitions are guides to truth, and that they constitute the basic

data for philosophy, is of course part of the Platonic and Cartesian rationalist

tradition.¹⁰ However, we have grounds that Plato and Descartes lacked for

thinking that much of what people find intuitive is not innate, but is rather a

developmental and educational achievement. What counts as intuitive depends

partly on our ontogenetic cognitive makeup and partly on culturally specific

learning. Intuitions are the basis for, and are reinforced and modified by,

everyday practical heuristics for getting around in the world under various

resource (including time) pressures, and navigating social games; they are not

cognitive gadgets designed to produce systematically worthwhile guidance in

either science or metaphysics. In light of the dependence of intuitions on species,

cultural, and individual learning histories, we should expect developmental and

cultural variation in what is taken to be intuitive, and this is just what we find. In

the case of judgements about causes, for example,Morris et al. (1995) report that

Chinese and American subjects differed with respect to how they spontaneously

allocated causal responsibility to agents versus environmental factors. Given

that the ‘common sense’ of many contemporary philosophers is shaped and

supplemented by ideas from classical physics, the locus of most metaphysical

discussions is an image of the world that sits unhappily between the manifest

image and an out of date scientific image.¹¹


While contemporary physics has become even more removed from common

sense than classical physics, we also have other reasons to doubt that our common

sense image of the world is an appropriate basis for metaphysical theorizing.

Evolution has endowed us with a generic theory or model of the physical world.

This is evident from experiments with very young children, who display surprise

and increased attention when physical objects fail to behave in standard ways. In

particular, they expect ordinary macroscopic objects to persist over time, and not

to be subject to fusion or fission (Spelke et al. 1995). For example, if a ball moves

behind a screen and then two balls emerge from the other side, or vice versa,

infants are astonished. We have been equipped with a conception of the nature

of physical objects which has been transformed into a foundational metaphysics

of individuals, and a combinatorial and compositional conception of reality that

is so deeply embedded in philosophy that it is shared as a system of ‘obvious’

presuppositions by metaphysicians who otherwise disagree profoundly.


This metaphysics was well suited to the corpuscularian natural philosophy of

Descartes, Boyle, Gassendi, and Locke. Indeed, the primary qualities of matter

which became the ontological basis of the mechanical philosophy are largely

properties which form part of the manifest image of the world bequeathed to

us by our natural history. That natural history has been a parochial one, in the

sense that we occupy a very restricted domain of space and time. We experience

events that last from around a tenth of a second to years. Collective historical

memory may expand that to centuries, but no longer. Similarly, spatial scales of

a millimetre to a few thousand miles are all that have concerned us until recently.

Yet science has made us aware of how limited our natural perspective is. Protons,

for example, have an effective diameter of around 10−15m, while the diameter of

the visible universe is more than 1019 times the radius of the Earth. The age of

the universe is supposed to be of the order of 10 billion years. Even more homely

sciences such as geology require us to adopt time scales that make all of human

history seem like a vanishingly brief event.


As LewisWolpert (1992) chronicles,modern science has consistently shown us

that extrapolating our pinched perspective across unfamiliar scales, magnitudes,

and spatial and temporal distances misleads us profoundly. Casual inspection

and measurement along scales we are used to suggest that we live in a Euclidean

space; General Relativity says that we do not. Most people, Wolpert reports, are

astounded to be told that there are more molecules in a glass of water than there

are glasses of water in the oceans, and more cells in one human finger than there

are people in the world (ibid. 5). Inability to grasp intuitively the vast time scales

on which natural selection works is almost certainly crucial to the success of

creationists in perpetuating foolish controversies about evolution (Kitcher 1982).

The problems stemming from unfamiliar measurement scales are just the tip of

an iceberg of divergences between everyday expectations and scientific findings.

No one’s intuitions, in advance of the relevant science, told them that white

light would turn out to have compound structure, that combustion primarily

involves something being taken up rather than given off (Wolpert 1992, 4), that

birds are the only living descendants of dinosaurs, or that Australia is presently

on its way to a collision with Alaska. AsWolpert notes, science typically explains

the familiar in terms of the unfamiliar. Thus he rightly says that ‘both the ideas

that science generates and the way in which science is carried out are entirely

counter-intuitive and against common sense—by which I mean that scientific

ideas cannot be acquired by simple inspection of phenomena and that they

are very often outside everyday experience’ (ibid. 1). He later strengthens the

point: ‘I would almost contend that if something fits with common sense it

almost certainly isn’t science’ (ibid. 11). B. F. Skinner characteristically avoids

all waffling on the issue: ‘What, after all, have we to show for non-scientific or

pre-scientific good judgment, or common sense, or the insights gained through

personal experience? It is science or nothing’ (Skinner 1971, 152–3).


Lewis famously advocated a metaphysical methodology based on subjecting

rival hypotheses to a cost–benefit analysis. Usually there are two kinds of cost

associated with accepting a metaphysical thesis. The first is accepting some kind

of entity into one’s ontology, for example, abstracta, possibilia, or a relation

of primitive resemblance. The second is relinquishing some intuitions, for

example, the intuition that causes antedate their effects, that dispositions reduce

to categorical bases, or that facts about identity over time supervene on facts

about instants of time. It is taken for granted that abandoning intuitions should

be regarded as a cost rather than a benefit. By contrast, as naturalists we are

not concerned with preserving intuitions at all, and argue for the wholescale

abandonment of those associated with the image of the world as composed of

little things, and indeed of the more basic intuition that there must be something

of which the world is made.


There are many examples of metaphysicians arguing against theories by

pointing to unintuitive consequences, or comparing theories on the basis of

the quantity and quality of the intuitions with which they conflict. Indeed,

proceeding this way is more or less standard. Often, what is described as intuitive

or counterintuitive is recondite. For example, L. A. Paul (2004, 171) discusses

the substance theory that makes the de re modal properties of objects primitive

consequences of their falling under the sortals that they do: ‘A statue is essentially

statue shaped because it falls under the statue-sort, so cannot persist through

remoulding into a pot’ (171). This view apparently has ‘intuitive appeal’, but

sadly, ‘any counterintuitive consequences of the view are difficult to explain

or make palatable’. The substance theory implies that two numerically distinct

objects such as a lump of bronze and a statue can share their matter and their

region, but this ‘is radically counterintuitive, for it seems to contradict our usual

way of thinking aboutmaterial objects as individuated by theirmatter and region’

(172). Such ways of thinking are not ‘usual’ except among metaphysicians and

we do not share them.


Paul says ‘[I]t seems, at least prima facie, that modal properties should super-

vene on the nonmodal properties shared by the statue and the lump’ (172).

This is the kind of claim that is regularly made in the metaphysics literature.

We have no idea whether it is true, and we reject the idea that such claims can

be used as data for metaphysical theorizing. Paul summarizes the problem for

the advocate of substance theory as follows: ‘This leaves him in the unfortunate

position of being able to marshal strong and plausible commonsense intuitions

to support his view but of being unable to accommodate these intuitions in

a philosophically respectable way’ (172). So according to Paul, metaphysics

proceeds by attempts to construct theories that are intuitive, commonsensical,

palatable, and philosophically respectable. The criteria of adequacy for meta-

physical systems have clearly come apart from anything to do with the truth.

Rather they are internal and peculiar to philosophy, they are semi-aesthetic,

and they have more in common with the virtues of story-writing than with



In 1.1 we announced our resistance to the ‘domestication’ of science. It would

be easy to get almost any contemporary philosopher to agree that domestication

is discreditable if the home for which someone tries to make science tame is

a populist environment. Consider, for example, the minor industry that seeks

to make sense of quantum mechanics by analogies with Eastern mysticism.

This is obviously, in an intellectual context much less rigorous than that of

professional philosophy, an attempt to domesticate physics by explaining it in

terms of things that common sense thinks it comprehends. Few philosophers

will regard the gauzy analogies found in this genre as being of the slightest

metaphysical interest. Yet are quantum processes any more like those described

by Newtonian physics than they are like the temporal and spatial dislocations

imagined by mystics, which ground the popular comparisons? People who

know almost no formal physics are encouraged by populists to find quantum

mechanics less wild by comparing it to varieties of disembodiment. Logically,

this is little different from philosophers encouraging people who know a bit

of physics to make quantum accounts seem less bizarre by comparing them

to what they learned in A-level chemistry.²⁸ We might thus say that whereas

naturalistic metaphysics ought to be a branch of the philosophy of science, much

metaphysics that pays lip-service to naturalism is really philosophy of A-level



and then i got bored with the next parts.