'The history of philosophy as practiced by professional philosophers [hereafter HOPPP] is a service to the rest of the profession; HOPPP's scholarly output is primarily geared to facilitate (undergraduate) teaching.' This suspicion [hereafter HOPPPS2P] had lodged in my mind when a few years ago I started to reflect on (a) the extremely low citation rates for journal articles in HOPPP, which suggests that there are no genuine controversies nor classic papers that ground future research; (b) the lack of concern about the proliferation of Handbooks and Companions that are effectively slowing down research in HOPPP; (c) the extreme difficulty of getting a position in HOPPP if one is not working on a canonical figure. (There are, of course, extreme regional differences on (c); in some places there are no positions for HOPPPers; in other places so-called 'systematic' and 'practical' philosophers do not even regard HOPPP as philosophy, but let it exist out of institutional inertia, benign neglect, etc.) But I wondered if I could ground ground HOPPPS2P in hard data.
Luckily, Michael Beaney, the thoughtful editor of British Journal for the History of Philosophy (BJHP), wrote a review of the last 20 years of the BJHP, with some recommendations for the future. Now BJHP is a young journal, but it has become one of the top venues in the sub-field. (In Europe it certainly also helps that it is listed in Thompson's Web of Knowledge/Science index so that publication can count in the right metrics.) Beaney and his team compiled data on the contents of the first twenty years.
"What this shows is that almost half the journal has been devoted to the work of just seven philosophers – the ‘big seven’ of early modern philosophy – and that around two-thirds of the journal has been devoted to the work of just sixteen philosophers, with three more early modern philosophers included as well as Plato and Aristotle from the ancient period and four [Hegel, Mill, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche--ES] nineteenth-century philosophers.
1. Leibnizian substance: Something is a substance if and only if it evolves by the fundamental laws
2. Russellian laws: The cosmos is the one and only thing that evolves by the fundamental laws
3. Spinozan monism: The cosmos is the one and only substance (from 1 and 2)
As Schaffer is well aware, there is lots of irony in all of this. (At NewAPPS we have discussed Russell's reservations about Spinoza several times here, here, and also Jeff. [Recall also Russell's debts to Boole on Clarke vs Spinoza; and Stebbing on Spinoza.]) Now, my objection to this argument is inspired by my reading of Spinoza's so-called "Letter on the Infinite," but what follows is not meant to be a historical argument (or a gotcha, 'you got the history wrong' moment). Recall that I read Spinoza as claming that characterizing and grasping substance as such does not involve our ordinary scientific 'utensils' (e.g., measures, mathematics, laws of nature), but rather concepts like essence and eternity. Mathematical physics can only give a partial view of substance as such. Now one reason for this is that mathematical physics of Spinoza's day, treats some part of nature as a closed system (governed by its own 'conservation' rules/laws). Moreover, Spinoza would deny that fundamentally the universe evolves. For, applying temporal concepts to the universe is, however useful it may be, always a less than fully adequate conceptualization of the universe.
Since an article by Macfie (1971), scholars have recognized that Smith uses the phrase “invisible hand” three times in his corpus; once in Wealth of Nations; once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Recently the great, late Warren Samuels bequeathed us a lifetime of scholarship on the enormous variety of interpretations that Smith’s “invisible hand” has generated. In this post I focus on the "third" use, which occurs in Smith's "History of Astronomy" -- one of the founding documents of the philosophy of science (and simultaneously the history of the philosophy of science) -- published posthumously in 1795.
Hence the origin of Polytheism, and of that vulgar superstition which ascribes all the irregular events of nature to the favour or displeasure of intelligent, though invisible beings, to gods, daemons, witches, genii, fairies. For it may be observed, that in all Polytheistic religions, among savages, as well as in the early ages of Heathen antiquity, it is the irregular events of nature only that are ascribed to the agency and power of their gods. Fire burns, and water refreshes; heavy bodies descend, and lighter substances fly upwards, by the necessity of their own nature; nor was the invisible hand of Jupiter s ever apprehended to be employed in those matters. But thunder and lightning, storms and sunshine, those more irregular events, were ascribed to his favour, or his anger. Man, the only designing power with which they were acquainted, never acts but either to stop, or to alter the course, which natural events would take, if left to themselves. Those other intelligent beings, whom they imagined, but knew not, were naturally supposed to act in the same manner; not to employ themselves in supporting the ordinary course of things, which went on of its own accord, but to stop, to thwart, and to disturb it. And thus, in the first ages of the world, the lowest and most pusillanimous superstition supplied the place of philosophy.
Edward Feser has responded to my blog-posts (on mythic history of science, on Nagel's abuse of the PSR, on naturalism in analytical philosophy) about Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos. His is a very long post, but makes for interesting Holiday reflections. (I hope to respond in depth when I return from holiday.)
For the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosopher, then, modern metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, etc. are in the same shape that Alasdair MacIntyre famously argued modern ethics is in. In the former cases no less than the latter, crucial philosophical notions have been ripped from the intellectual contexts that gave them their intelligibility and have become distorted as a result, and the range of theoretical options visible to the modern philosopher has shrunk drastically. Nagel’s proposals are bound to seem odd and ill-motivated, not only because they are inchoate, but because fully to work out their implications would require a far more extensive rethinking of current orthodoxy than Nagel himself probably realizes. (That is no doubt one reason why his ideas are inchoate.) Questions about PSR, teleology, etc. cannot properly be understood if they are treated as mere add-ons to a basically naturalistic-cum-scientistic picture of knowledge and reality, which leave that picture essentially intact. The picture as a whole needs to be rethought if any part of it is seriously to be rethought...
Analytical philosophy has made great progress over the last century. But its original, necessary biases did some harm, too. In particular, detailed working knowledge of the history of philosophy and metaphysics was banished for several generations. While metaphysics is thriving again, we still lack (despite the brilliance of David Lewis' modular approach) complete systems of thought that can rival in depth and interlocking breadth the past masters (say, Suarez, Leibniz, etc.). The damage has also been more narrow. For example, one of the most obvious so-called ‘Kuhn Losses’ is our relative ignorance of the nature and implications of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). This is no surprise because analytical philosophy was founded in the act of rejecting PSR. Our forefathers’ attempt to balance between common sense and the truths of science meant -- as science and the PSR parted ways -- the willing submission to brute, ultimate facts (recall this post).
In Mind & Cosmos, Thomas Nagel happily embraces “a form of the principle of sufficient reason” (17) in support of his "common sense" (5, 7, etc.) and against the recent “orthodox scientific consensus.” (10; 5) Rather than accepting this "ideological consensus," (128) Nagel insists -- regularly using language reminiscent of the great Feyerabend -- that "almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct." (7) While Nagel insists that the champions of scientific enlightenment are bullies, he treats the "defenders of intelligent design" with "gratitude" (Plantinga returns the gratitude), even though Nagel clearly recognizes that once one embraces one's inner sensus divinitatis one is also compelled in one's judgments. (12)
A classic statement of the PSR is Spinoza's "For each thing there must be assigned a cause, or reason, both for its existence and for its nonexistence." (Ethics 1p11d2) That is to say, any PSR worth having imposes significant explanatory demands (especially of non-arbitrariness) on any philosophical system in which it is deployed. Below the fold I critically discuss Nagel's way of combining the PSR and his attempted revisionary science, but here I just register the marvelousness of Nagel's deployment of the PSR as an instrument in the service of common sense! (cf. 91-2) This is certainly an original move in the history of metaphysics--one that, in a single, magical stroke overturns Lovejoy's long narrative.
Posted by Eric Schliesser on 10 December 2012 at 04:44 in Analytic - Continental divide (and its overcoming), Biology and the biological, Eric Schliesser, History of philosophy, History of science, Materialism, Mohan Matthen, Philosophy of Science, Religion, Science, Spinoza | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
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"In physics sense and experience which reach only to apparent effects hold sway; in mechanics the abstract notions of mathematicians are admitted. In first philosophy or metaphysics we are concerned with incorporeal things, with causes, truth, and the existence of things. The physicist studies the series or successions of sensible things, noting by what laws they are connected." (Berkeley, De Motu 71, [Translated by Luce].)
Yesterday, I mentioned that aspects of Hume's Treatise belong to eighteenth century anti-mathematics without explaining what I meant by the term. By "anti-mathematics" I mean expressed reservations about the authority and utility of (Newtonian) mathematical sciences, especially the application of mathematics in inquiry into nature. (I have done posts on this theme before, recall these posts on Mandeville here and here; and on Adam Smith here). I distinguish between two general strategies (although in practices the strategies may be blended): (i) "the devaluation" strategy," which tries to undermine the epistemic status (recall my post on Hume) or epistemic reach of the mathematical sciences; and (ii) what I call a "containment" strategy, which grants the success of Newtonian science, but insists that there are domains of natural inquiry in which applying mathematics lacks utility or is inappropriate (see, for example, Mary Domski's beautiful paper on Locke). While in my story anti-mathematics originates in Spinoza ("Letter on the Infinite"; I quoted a crucial passage here), the strategies get developed in response to efforts to use the authority of Newtonian natural philosophy to settle debates within philosophy (something I call "Newton's Challenge to Philosophy").
There is no Algebraist nor Mathematician so expert in his science, as to place entire confidence in any truth immediately upon his discovery of it, or regard it as any thing, but a mere probability. Every time he runs over his proofs, his confidence encreases; but still more by the approbation of his friends; and is rais’d to its utmost perfection by the universal assent and applauses of the learned world. Now ’tis evident, that this gradual encrease of assurance is nothing but the addition of new probabilities, and is deriv’d from the constant union of causes and effects, according to past experience and observation.--Hume Treatise, 220.127.116.11
I have been revisiting a terrific paper by Kevin Meeker (recall this post). Like a lot of Kevin's other work the paper argues for interpreting Hume as an old-fashioned skeptic (even about purported mathematical knowledge). Because of it I re-read Hume's Treatise 1.4.1 ("Of scepticism with regard to reason"). In historical 18th century context the significance of 1.4.1 is two-fold:
1. Together with much of Treatise 1.2.4, Treatise 18.104.22.168 reinforces Hume's attack on the epistemic status of applying mathematical concepts to nature: "all [purported] knowledge degenerates into probability." (22.214.171.124) In particular, the epistemic status of mathematical, natural philosophy "becomes at last of the same nature with that evidence, which we employ in common life," (126.96.36.199) That is, Hume is here part of a much larger trend of what I call, 18th century "anti-mathematics." This is much indebted to Spinoza's "Letter on the Infinite" and even if we allow that Hume had not read Spinoza (which goes against a lot of circumstantial evidence), Hume almost certainly would have been familiar with species of such anti-mathematics either in Berkeley or in Mandeville (recall here; also here and here).
But all the appetites which take their origin from a certain state of the body, seem to suggest the means of their own gratification; and even long before experience, some anticipation or preconception of the pleasure which attends that gratification. In the appetite for sex, which frequently, I am disposed to believe almost always, comes a long time before the age of puberty, this is perfectly and distinctly evident. The appetite for food suggests to the new-born infant the operation of sucking, the only means by which it can possibly gratify that appetite. It is continually sucking. It sucks whatever is presented to its mouth. It sucks even when there is nothing presented to its mouth, and some anticipation or preconception of the pleasure which it is to enjoy in sucking, seems to make it delight in putting its mouth in the shape and configuration by which it alone can enjoy that pleasure. There are other appetites in which the most unexperienced imagination produces a similar effect upon the organs which Nature has provided for their gratification.--Adam Smith (“Of the External Senses,” 79, p. 165)
Smith clearly commits himself to the existence of what (in my book-manuscript-in-progress) I label "proto-passions." In fact, the two examples he offers (appetite for sex and appetite for food) are two of the original passions (not unlike the natural sentiment of resentment).
Here, Smith is adamant that such proto-passions are innate (“long before experience…the new-born infant…the most unexperienced imagination.”) So, while it is, of course, possible that some proto-passions are themselves a consequence of habitual experience (this is implied, perhaps, by a passage that I have discussed here), Smith appears to think that a group (“there are other appetites”) of the proto-passions are innate (in his terminology: they are provided by Nature, not experience). Of course, that proto-passions are innate is compatible with the further claim that they require environmental cues or triggering objects to be activated. While below I describe some pre-conceptions that according to Smith do require such triggering objects, Smith clearly thinks some of those innate proto-passions are self-activating: the infant “sucks even when there is nothing presented to its mouth.” Even though Smith was a life-long, childless bachelor, he clearly showed an active interest in child-development (and I think this makes him so insightful on the mutual emotional regulation that Helen calls attention to).
Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos is drawing quick responses. (Can't wait to read Mohan's!) Both in the hostile review by Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg as well as in the more cautious strategic pivot by Alva Noë (who doesn't engage critically with Nagel's book), mythic history of the scientific revolution plays significant rhetorical roles.
Let's start with Noë:
If there is mind — and of course the great scientific revolutionaries such as Descartes and Newton would not deny that there is mind — it exists apart from and unconnected to the material world as this was conceived of by the New Science.--Alva Noë (NPR)
Let's accept Noë's point about Descartes. But Newton thought minds had to be somewhere in space and in time, extended but "indivisible." Incidentally, this is also Newton's doctrine about "the Maker and Lord of all things" who "cannot be never and no where." (Principia, General Scholium.) And at one point earlier in his career, Newton also flirted with the idea that an extended body had to be the kind of thing that was capable of exciting various perceptions in the senses and imagination of minds (this is from a piece known as "De Gravitatione;" I am linking to a very nice treatment by Zvi Biener and Chris Smeenk.) [Note that I am not drawing on the infamous sensorium passage at all.]
"It has been shown, for example, that a pollster can in principle always publish his prediction of an election result in such a form that, despite the reactions of voters to the forecast, the prediction is not falsified by those reactions. CF. Herbert A Simon"--Ernest Nagel ((1960) Structure of Science, 473, n 13)
"it was shown that it is always possible in principle to make a public prediction that will be confirmed by the event...It was shown that correct prediction requires at least some knowledge of the reaction function."--Herbert Simon (1954) 253; emphasis in original)
Simon won a Nobel in economics in 1978. (In his intellectual autobiography he recounts his debts to Carnap and his ongoing interests in philosophy of physics.) In philosophy he is probably now best remembered for his work on bounded rationality/satisficing. The work discussed by Nagel (who didn't just invent the category analytical philosophy as we know it, but was also a leading figure in the discipline in the 50s and 60s [Nagel's Structure was much cited]) above and from which I cite is part of a larger literature in which Simon played a non-trivial role as acknowledged in the key (1954) paper by Grunberg and Modigliani (who won the Nobel in 1985). Simon & Grunberg/Modigliani provide a framework for showing under what conditions social scientific predictions need not be self-refuting--a welcome result to the economics profession that was warming up to Milton Friedman's (1953) proposal that what mattered was not the realism of the assumptions in an economic model but its predictive power (Simon was critical by the way).
Nagel does not name his targets in dealing with a "difficulty confronting the social sciences, sometimes cited as the gravest one they face." (466) But if one goes to Simon's paper it's not so hard to figure out; after a nod to Aristotle, he names Frank Knight and Hayek in the first footnote. Now, there are very important differences between Hayek and the now-forgotten Knight (not the least of which is that in TJ Rawls encouraged attention to Knight (he even tells us to read the footnotes) and not so with Hayek--a judgment of relative value that the discipline has reversed), but one important commonality is that in the 1940s and 50s economists from free-marketeers like Alchian to high theory types like Arrow were extremely eager to reject their skepticism about the technocratic turn of the discipline. Nagel is certainly aware of Hayek's skepticism. (In addition, Grunberg & Modigliani also point to another forgotten economist, Vining--recall my post.)
The hazards of trying to draw conclusions about all of science, by focusing narrowly on physics were learned at the end of the last century. However, including biology and chemistry are only the beginning, not the end, of the project of trying to develop a more well-rounded picture of science.--Alisa Bokulich
The quoted passage is from a terrific NDPR review by Bokulich that Catarina discussed yesterday. Bokulich notes that "Conspicuously absent from this list are any of the social sciences." Bokulich goes on to call attention to the works of four recent leading philosophers of social science--all of which happen to be women. [By the way, when later in the review Bokulich calls attention to the lack of representation of women in the volume (and the lack of focus on philosophy race/feminism) she does not refer back to her earlier discussion. This justifies Catarina's claim that Bokulich should be praised for the "elegant way" in which these issues are raised. ]
As the epigraph to this post suggests, our current understanding of the development of philosophy of science is that we are "trying" to develop it away from an exclusively physics focus to other sciences during the last few decades. (It was gratifying to read Bokulich's claim that philosophy of economics is "thriving.") But this leaves me with a puzzle: if one opens Ernest Nagel's (1961) The Structure of Science, one notes that three out of fifteen of chapters are exclusively focused on philosophy of social sciences and history. These together comprise 25% of the text. (This understates the situation because earlier chapters also discuss relevant material. There is is also a chapter on biology, by the way.) So, half a century ago one the most widely cited works in the philosophy of science (although probably unread these days unless one is interested in Nagel-reduction) by one of the professional leaders of the discipline (who arguably invented analytical philosophy as a category) at one of the then elite departments already was offering a "well-rounded" picture of science. How come this was not the norm in the profession?
[A] "If a law governs a particular space-time region then the physical states will so evolve." (Maudlin, 17)[B] "My analysis of laws is no analysis at all. Rather I suggest we accept laws as fundamental entities in our ontology." (Maudlin, 18)
[C] "The laws can operate to produce the rest of the Mosaic exactly because their existence does not ontologically depend on the Mosaic." (Maudlin, 175; emphases in original)
[D] "The universe, as well as all the smaller parts of it, is made: it is an ongoing enterprise, generated from a beginning and guided towards its future by physical law." (Maudlin, 182; emphasis in original)
Maudlin's book is fantastic. It gives you a sense of what metaphysics looks like if one has an advanced education in recent physics; it is also rooted in "scientific practice." With laser like precision it focuses on the most fundamental weaknesses of the most important alternative approaches (Quine, Lewis, Van Fraassen, etc), and it makes obscure physics seem easy to digest. What would stop somebody sympathetic to Maudlin's general orientation from accepting laws in one's ontology [B]?
Maudlin calls the fundamental laws "FLOTEs" (for Fundamental Laws of Temporal Evoluton). Together with "adjunct principles," FLOTEs describe how states (may) evolve into later states. (17) Initial conditions are examples of such principles. One can certainly understand physics such that its business is mainly discovering FLOTEs. So far so good. But [A, C, D] describe the laws themselves as the productive sources of change. If Maudlin were writing in the seventeenth century we would describe his position about laws either as "second causes" (Cartesian language) or as a special modern instance of "formal causation" (in the way that platonizing mathematicians thought of these [see Mancosu's book])--inspired by Kuhn (and anticipated by Burtt), I think such formal causes were conceptually transformed into laws of nature by Bacon and Newton.
Eric’s fascinating post quotes Posidonius:
If, then, the things achieved by nature are more excellent than those achieved by art, and if art produces nothing without making use of intelligence, nature also ought not to be considered destitute of intelligence.
What does it mean to attribute intelligence to “Nature”? Is it to posit a purposeful, instrumentally rational, and technically omni-adept Creator? Or is it merely an analogy that ultimately rests on something other than intelligence? According to Eric, Adam Smith took him the first way:
The idea of an universal mind, of a God of all, who originally formed the whole, and who governs the whole by general laws, directed to the conservation and prosperity of the whole, without regard to that of any private individual, was a notion to which they [i.e., the pusillanimously superstitious] were utterly strangers.
So for Smith, and for his hero, Posidonius, the excellence of nature points to a God who is never arbitrary or ad hoc (as the pusillanimous suppose), but always rational, always universal in her edicts.
But Eric also quotes the divine David Hume:
It was pretty late too before these [Greek natural philosophers] be thought themselves of having recourse to a mind or supreme intelligence, as the first cause of all.
I don’t know exactly who Hume had in mind, but Aristotle would be a good example of some one who asserted the analogy, but did not avail himself of a Creator (except as an ultimate cause of movement and change).
But if all the parts of the universe have been so ordered that they could not have been better adapted for use, or more beautiful as regards appearance, let us see whether they are the work of chance, or whether their arrangement is one in which they could not possibly have been combined except by the guidance of consciousness and the divine providence. If, then, the things achieved by nature are more excellent than those achieved by art, and if art produces nothing without making use of intelligence, nature also ought not to be considered destitute of intelligence. If at the sight of a statue or painted picture you know that art has been employed, and from the distant view of the course of a ship feel sure that it is made to move by art and intelligence, and if you understand on looking at a horologe, whether one marked out with lines, or working by means of water, that the hours are indicated by art and not by chance, with what possible consistency can you suppose that the universe which contains these same products of art, and their constructors, and all things, is destitute of forethought and intelligence? Why, if any one were to carry into Scythia or Britain the globe which our friend Posidonius has lately constructed, each one of the revolutions of which brings about the same movement in the sun and moon and five wandering stars as is brought about each day and night in the heavens, no one in those barbarous countries would doubt that that globe was the work of intelligence.--Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods.
There are three explicit mentions of Posidonius, the great Stoic philosopher, in Cicero's dialogue, On the Nature of the Gods. (I have used a slightly dated translation.) The first one is in Cicero's own voice, when he includes Posidonius among his "teachers.' The second is the passage above, which was celebrated in eighteenth century renditions of the design argument. Let's call it the "Posidonian argument." It shows up, for example, in Derham's very popular and influential Physico and Astro-Theology (originally 1714, I think). But it is also familiar in the seventeenth century. (See Cumberland's use of it here.) It reminds us that Paley's famous argument has a long and known pre-history. Hume alludes to a version of the argument in the Enquiry and discusses it more at length in his Dialogues (here and here) and may have even enjoyed transforming Cicero's "Britain" into a desert island. Even so, Hume's treatment does not explicitly mention Posidonius or his portable planetarium (not unlike the now famous Antikythera mechanism [this post was inspired by Jo Marchant's entertaining book about the mechanism!]) In an age in which the motions of the heavenly bodies define time, a planetarium just is a watch.
[I am reading Tim Maudlin’s The Metaphysics Within Physics with Fred Muller, Victor Gijsbers, and Lieven Decock. The following post was inspired by our recent discussion.—ES]
In the context of a critical discussion (that I admire) of what he calls a "Separability" doctrine that he attributes to David Lewis, Tim Maudlin quotes a letter from Einstein to Born:
"The following idea characterises the relative independence
of objects far apart in space (A and B): external influence on A
has no direct influence on B; this is known as the 'principle
of contiguity', which is used consistently only in the field
theory. If this axiom were to be completely abolished, the idea
of the existence of (quasi-) enclosed systems, and thereby the
postulation of laws which can be checked empirically in the
By ‘Separability,” Maudlin means “The complete physical state of the world is determined by (supervenes on) the intrinsic physical state of each spacetime point (or each pointlike object) and the spatio-temporal relations between those points.” (51) Maudlin takes Einstein’s letter as evidence that in the face of evidence from quantum mechanics, Einstein also endorses Separability (and, thus, Lewis’ position is not just “a philosopher’s fancy.”) In response, Maudlin writes, “Quantum theory has both been formulated and rigorously tested despite the centrality of non-Separable elements in its ontology. Whatever Einstein had in mind, he had to be wrong.” (64)
Now, I am no scholar of Einstein, but I suspect Maudlin is seriously misreading Einstein here.
A propos Dennis' promise to say more about the historian of mathematics, Dirk Struik, here's my favorite Dirk Struik (September 30, 1894 – October 21, 2000) anecdote: I have long been interested in Struik -- a life-long Marxist who ran afoul of McCarthyism while at MIT --, who taught at my very bourgeois high school, Vossius Gymnasium, in Amsterdam during the 1920s or so. Just before I was about to enter graduate school I was hanging around my alma mater (Tufts) when I heard from Jody Azzouni that Struik was about to give a lecture. It must have been during the Spring of 1995. Now, I was in the phase of my life in which I thought that Kuhn had to be historicized in all respects and I had just read Struik's brilliant Yankee Science in the Making (see here for an interesting appreciation), which dates from 1948. My immediate response was, "he must be over 100 years old!" Of course, I was told he was 100.
It was a great talk. A report of that lecture survives:
Well into his 90s [Struik] visited Tufts regularly, giving guest lectures in Lenore Feigenbaum's course on the history of mathematics at least every other year. Tufts faculty and alumni remember him, at well over 100, standing in front of the blackboard facing the audience and producing, without notes, a sweeping account of 19th century mathematics, providing literature references from memory as needed.
During the lecture I was seated not far from the eminent historian of science, I.Bernard Cohen himself over 80 years old at the time. During the festive intermission, Cohen leaned over to the person sitting next to him and said loud enough for a few of us to hear that Struik "had improved as a lecturer since he had turned 80."
There is hope for all of us.
One of the main oddities of Newton's Principia, is that Book 3 has a preface that tells the reader that Newton (1643-1727) composed an earlier version of Book 3 that he had discarded. This work, A Treatise of the System of the World (hereafter A Treatise) saw the light of day (first in Latin then in translation) shortly after his death. That brief preface to Book 3 also tells us that while most of the first two books of the Principia are strictly mathematical, they include some philosophical scholiums that are not mathematical but most fundamental to philosophy. One of these is presumably the one attached to proposition 69 of book 1, where Newton explains what he means by "attraction" (that is, any endeavour of bodies to approach one another); Newton is very explicit on a number of possible mechanism that could be the cause of this endeavour and remains agnostic among them. Even so, in the Principia's Third Rule of Reasoning (added to second edition), Newton insists that gravity is a universal quality of bodies, but denies that he is asserting that it is an essential quality.
This has led to one of the enduring (and recently very lively) controversies in Newton scholarship: how to interpret Newtonian attraction. Is (a) the whole mathematical framework just a useful calculating device to predict the behavior of moving bodies [this is Berkeley's view--McMullin more recently]; a related interpretation is (b) that the force of gravity is nothing but a projection of the human mind [i.e., as Yoram Hazoney has taught me this is Hume's view in the Treatise]; others affirm (c) that attraction is something real, but we don't know what it is except that we can discern its consequences [this is Clarke's view in his debate with Leibniz--it is also one defended by Andrew Janiak]; for much of his life Newton himself inclined to (d) that attraction is the consequence of the workings of an ether [as Newton suggests in the queries to the Optics]; but sometimes Newton encouraged his readers to think (e) that attraction is the product of God's constant will [a view defended by Westfall] or (f) that it is a quality superadded to matter by God at creation [Newton's contemporaries read Newton's correspondence with Bentley this way--John Henry has more recently defended this view]; on the other hand, the able editor of the second edition of the Principia, Cotes, argued in his preface (h) that gravity is an essential/primary quality of body [Kant endorsed this--and so does Howard Stein]; based on a reading of the A Treatise I have argued (and here in exchange with Hylarie Kochiras) that when Newton drafted the first edition of the Principia (when he most doubted the ether explanation), he thought that (i) gravity is a relational, non-intrinsic quality of matter that is the product (now quoting A Treatise) of "the conspiring nature" of both bodies in the interaction. (This interpretation allows one to account for a lot of other things Newton says about gravity in his published writings.) Given that my interpretation does not seem to have had a historical precedent in the reception of the Newton, it can easily seem like a modern rational reconstruction. Consider now this passage of William Gilbert's (posthumous, 1651) De mundo nostro sublunari philosophia nova:
Laura Snyder (a former most underrated) spoke at TED on the Invention of the Scientists (and her book The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World,) [HT Alan Richardson.) Let's wish that TED releases the clip for Youtube soon. Meanwhile here's an older, longer version of the talk at the Smithsonian.
As recounted here, on Friday my old classmate, painter Harm van den Berg, gave me a private tour of the exhibit, Door Schildersogen (From a Painter's Perspective), he co-curated at Arti et Amicitae. (It's closing today.) Two out of thirty-two pieces in the show have magic in the title: Roger Cremers' The Magic Lantern.
And Wouter van Riessen's The Magician:
Today the whole of the internet seems to be celebrating Alan Turing's 100th birthday -- and rightly so, of course. Google in particular has one of its amazing doodles, depicting an interactive Turing machine. Here's a video on how to solve the doodle:
For those looking for more Turing-related material, check out the links assembled by Luca Baptista, which directed me to the video above.
(Cross-posted at M-Phi)
This week I read an extremely interesting paper by Kenny Easwaran, ‘Probabilistic proofs and transferability’, which appeared in Philosophia Mathematica in 2009. Kenny had heard me speak at the Formal Epistemology Workshop in Munich a few weeks ago, and thought (correctly!) that there were interesting connections between the concept of transferability that he develops in the paper and my ‘built-in opponent’ conception of logic and deductive proofs; so he kindly drew my attention to his paper. Because I believe Kenny is really on to something deep about mathematics in his paper, I thought it would be a good idea to elaborate a bit on these connections in a blog post, hoping that it will be of interest to a number of people besides the two of us!
For those of us working on Isaac Newton, our scholarly niche may be about to get a lot more media exposure. The full story here. [HT to Jacky Taylor.]
In this Scholium [to the definition in the Principia--ES]Newton steps back and discusses the concepts of space and time that are, in his view, requisite for making sense of the laws of physics. This sort of question is the sort that we now recognize as a philosophical question, and much of the current discussions in the philosophy of space and time trace their origins to this issues raised in Newton’s Scholium, which is so widely quoted in the philosophical literature on space and time that I suspect that most philosophers who work in that area know it by heart. Wayne Myrvold
Myrvold, a distinguished philosopher of physics, has a sensible piece on the dust-up between Lawrence Krauss and Dave Albert; Myrvold also corrects a lot of silly things that have been said about the history of physics along the way.
Is there an institutional framework which will promote trustworthy experts? Milton Friedman waged a life-long, futile campaign against the American Medical Association's (AMA) guild-like ability to control licensing of physicians, entry into the profession, as well as standards of medicine:
Licensure has reduced both the quantity and quality of medical practice; that is has reduced the opportunities available to people who would like to be physicians, forcing them to pursue occupations they regard as less attractive; that it has forced the public to pay more for less satisfactory medical service, and that it has retarded technological development both in medicine itself and in the organization of medical practice. (M. Friedman, 1994)
Yet, as Friedman recognized, individuals are unwilling to trust the market to provide "evidence on the quality of a physician." Friedman was unimpressed by claims about the solidity of our medical profession; he believed it revealed "the tyranny of the status quo and the poverty of our imagination in fields in which we are laymen."
Not unlike Locke, Mandeville was a trained and practicing physician. In A Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Diseases, in Three Dialogues (1711/1730), Mandeville diagnoses a market failure in medicine: from "self-interest" (then) "young physicians" avoid the "laborious, but tedious way of getting money" that is "spend your ime before the squallid beds of poor patients, and bear with the unsavory smells of a crowded hospital." (39; throughout I am quoting from the 1730 edition.) In doing so physicians fail to build up a stock of diverse and careful empirical practice (unlike the Ancient empiricks). Modern doctors find other ways to obtain a wealthy clientèle by building a reputation among fashionable and rich circles. As I have discussed before one way they can do so is by seeming learned in abstruse sciences (such as mathematics). But Mandeville also recognizes that there are other ways for doctors to get a good clientèle, including sponsoring/producing learned productions, marrying "into a good Family, and your relations will help your into practice, or else cringe and make your court to half a dozen noted apothecaries, promise them to prescibe loads of loads of" prescriptions, "get, but in favor with one that has great business, and yours is done." (40) As he puts it: "Physicians did not begin to reason about Physick [the body], and make Hypotheses, because they thought that what they writ was true, and be of service to thier postericy in curing the sick; but to ingratiate themselves with they ages they lived in." (65) None of these strategies involve curing actual patients.
Today Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (a book that evolved over many editions), is less read than it should be by Hume, Rousseau, Smith, and Kant scholars. It is completely forgotten by everybody else. There is, of course, a general sense that Mandeville defended the so-called (Hobbesian) 'selfish hypothesis,' but there is little detailed treatment of his brilliant moral psychology or his complex social theory in the literature (although Michael Gill's The British Moralists on Human Nature is a honorable, albeit partial exception). Libertarian students kind of know Mandeville via Hayek's high praise of Mandeville's treatment of unintended, spontaneous orders of all kinds of social institutions. Given that praise by Hayek dooms a reputation in some quarters, it is worth mentioning that Keynes happily recites and endorses part of the Fable at length in his General Theory.
Now earlier at NewAPPS, I already discussed Mandeville's critical attitude toward the high social status of mathematics in medicine (an argument that he anticipates in the Fable). Here I want to discuss a related criticism:
"Mr. Hutcheson, who wrote the Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, seems to be very expert at weighing and measuring the Quantities of Affection, Benevolence, &c. I wish that curious Metaphysician would give himself the Trouble, at his Leisure, to weigh two things separately: First, the real Love Men have for their Country, abstracted from Selfishness. Secondly, the Ambition they have, of being thought to act from that Love, tho’ they feel none. I wish, I say, that this ingenious Gentleman would once weigh these two asunder; and afterwards, having taken in impartially all he could find of either, in this or any other Nation, shew us in his demonstrative way, what Proportion the Quantities bore to each other."--Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, sixth dialogue between Horatio and Cleomenes (vol 2).
A few weeks ago, I quoted this line from Russell: "The ethical work of Spinoza, for example, appears to me of the very highest significance, but what is valuable in such work is not any metaphysical theory as to the nature of the world to which it may give rise, nor indeed anything which can be proved or disproved by argument." (On Scientific Method In Philosophy) In commenting on the full passage, I remarked, "Russell systematically defends the beauty and nobility of Spinoza's ethics, but denies it is philosophical for three reasons: (a) Spinoza's metaphysics of substance has been disproved by science. I call such appeal to the authority of science to settle philosophic argument within philosophy, "Newton's Challenge to Philosophy." Russell here echoes eighteenth century Newtonian criticism of Spinoza. Once Spinoza's metaphysics is discredited, (b) Spinoza's ethics is not really founded on or supported by argument, but by feeling (and this is indeed also Russell's view of Bergson) and "maxims." I actually think this reading of Spinoza has a lot going for it (and the significance of maxims is a way in which Spinoza and Smith are connected), but about that some other time. (c) The feeling that Spinoza's ethics promotes is oriented toward practice, and (c*) Russell denies that philosophy is fundamentally concerned with practice, but rather with understanding." In private I wondered why Russell would have thought (b); had he done an analysis of Spinoza's arguments in the Ethics, which (we learn from Monk's biography) he admired greatly, and found them wanting? I doubt he did.
Rather, I suspect Russell remembered chapter 13 (and 14) of Boole's masterpiece, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854). Elsewhere, Russell credits Boole with having discovered "pure mathematics," or formal logic. (Oddly, Boole is not mentioned by Monk; this neglect is emblematic for a more general problem in the way "early analytic" is treated, but about that some other time more.) Boole writes, "The analysis of its [Spinoza's Ethics'--ES] main argument is extremely difficult, owing not to the complexity of the separate propositions which it involves, but to the use of vague definitions, and of axioms which, through a like defect of clearness, it is perplexing to determine whether we ought to accept or to reject. While the reasoning of Dr. Samuel Clarke is in part verbal, that of Spinoza is so in a much greater degree; and perhaps this is the reason why, to some minds, it has appeared to possess a formal cogency, to which in reality it possesses no just claim." (p. 145) What are these remarks doing in a book that regardless of its limitations from a more recent point of view, invents "pure mathematics"?
In a recent post, I proposed an intellectual division of labor between General Philosophy of Science (GPOS), which rests on a quasi-transcendental assumption (QTA): if anything counts as knowledge it is fallible science, especially physics (chemistry, biology, whatever), so let's now articulate how this is possible or, more formally, justified (and develop, say, norms appropriate to this); by contrast Gettierized Epistemology (hereafter GE), which from the vantage point of ordinary cognition (perception, locution, observation), deals with a variety of skeptical challenges to any purported knowledge claims and works out the norms that govern, say, ordinary testimony, etc. Of course, a naturalistic GE can draw on scientific knowledge about cognition (etc). A naturalistic GPOS can draw on empirical work (history, sociology, or case-studies) on scientific practice, or rely on work done in philosophy of a particular science (PoX), while recognizing much of the autonomy of PoX [some other time more about the relationship between GPOS and PoX]. This division of labor recognizes that both enterprises (GE & GPoS) can be normative, explanatory, descriptive, etc. Moreover, it protects practitioners of GE from saying silly things about science (and so their reliance on outlandish and toy-examples does not embarrass us to our colleagues in the sciences); it protects GPOS from saying silly things about whether it is raining or not.
When in science we measure we dramatically eliminate (as opposed to ordinary observation) our access to huge amount of potential information we can extract from the environment. Even so, as we have learned since the time of Huygens onward this is a price worth paying when our measures are theoretically fruitful (etc). One nice feature of measurement is that (if well designed) it makes observation of one's measurements trivial; so much so that one could, in principle, farm out the whole process of registering the measurements to machines (as is often done now). Observation does no interesting epistemic work in theory-mediated measurements. While there are sciences where observation matters a lot (taxonomy and Marc Hauser's experiments come to mind), for much of science (as in mathematics) it plays no foundational role whatsoever. Those of us working within General Philosophy of Science (GPOS) have known this since Duhem.
This is why Mohan and epistemologists more generally are wrong in thinking that Gettierized Epistemology (hereafter GE) provides the so-called content-general framework with which to evaluate knowledge claims and the status of science more generally. GE mistakenly presupposes that ordinary cognition, perception, and locution matter epistemically in science. Now this is not to deny that GE explores important issues that matter to us citizens on a day to day basis; the recently popular work on testimony comes to mind. (As long as the authority of science does not displace the experiences of ordinary witnesses this remains to be true in law courts.) But whatever special expertise GE has in answering the skeptic is largely irrelevant to thinking about science. Now (as I have remarked before) GPOS, by contrasts, rests on a quasi-transcendental assumption (QTA): if anything counts as knowledge it is fallible science, especially physics (chemistry, biology, whatever), so let's now articulate how this is possible or, more formally, justified. So, GPOS is a in bad position to answer the skeptic, except to remark that within the scientific machinery one is not much perturbed by it.