Last week I received a widely distributed announcement on a conference celebrating "The 'Stanford School' of Philosophy of Science." The 'core' members of this school are taken to be: Nancy Cartwright (Durham), John Dupré (Exeter), Peter Galison (Harvard), Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY), Patrick Suppes (Stanford). The parenthesis are the current affiliation of the 'core' members; this immediately suggests that if there is a 'school' at all we are either dealing with a historical phenomenon or very distributed one. Scanning the list of the 'next generation' confirms that Stanford is not the current base of the purported school.
First, I adore much of the work done by many in the 'core,' but the idea that this group is a 'school' is deeply flawed. For, Suppes is far better understood (as he does himself) as belonging to the first generation (including Kyburg, Pap, Isaac Levi) intellectual off-spring of Ernest Nagel, who successfully created American analytical philosophy by combining the Scientific wing of Pragmatism with the new approaches emanating from Vienna, especially, and Cambridge (recall and here). In his autobiography, Suppes describes how assimilated from Nagel the significance of history of science.
Let's distinguish between Mythical history (Myth) and Mistaken history (Mish).
Myth uses narratives about the past to indicate conceptual linkages among (various) and within natural and social kinds.
Mish contains factual errors about the past.
It's possible that Myth = Mish; but Myth need not be Mish (nor does Mish always need to be Myth).
In reflecting on the public and private responses I have received to my criticisms on Thomas Nagel's abuse of history (here and here), I realize I need some such distinction. (In particular, I thank Mazviita Chirimuuta for making me see what's at stake here!)
Myth and Mish are both compatible with (i) messy history, that is, one that suggests the past is (always more) complex and ambiguous (etc.) and (ii) clean history, that is, one that extracts some determinate claim about the way it was (other than being messy). In practice, Myth tends to be clean (but, say, Foucault practices the genre, in part, by being very messy). Mythical history (be it Mish, clean, messy, or not) is philosophially interesting because it can structure how we think about the world and the way we conceive of the nature of the the problems at hand (or overlooked).
The fact that the discipline of economics hasn’t helped us improve our
predictive abilities suggests it is still far from being a science, and
may never be....Over time, the question of why economics has not (yet) qualified as a
science has become an obsession among theorists, including philosophers
of science like us...What is economics up to if it isn’t interested enough
in predictive success to adjust its theories the way a science does
when its predictions go wrong?--Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain, in the New York Times.
Sometimes I receive the following back-handed, compliment-question, "Why do you do history? You might make a decent real philosopher." A part of the answer is that the second-order stories we tell ourselves -- often handed down by mentors and supervisors, and senior peers -- about where we come from and what we do often are just as interesting and important as the first-order activities; they may also influence us and others in ways that are often hard to spot. This by way of introduction because in what follows I primarily challenge the conceptual oppositions (and associated historical myths) in Rosenberg and Curtain's Opinionater piece (allowing that the genre they are writing in need not require scholarly precision). Perhaps, my challenge allows some clarity about the first-order issues to emerge.
The main stated point of Rosenberg & Curtain (hereafter RC) is that "the task of the Fed’s next leader will be more a matter of craft and wisdom than of science." Surprisingly enough, given that RC are philosophers, they spend very little words on conceptualizing the nature or origin and causes of such "craft and wisdom," even though at the end of their piece they boldly assert that "the Fed chairman must,
like a first violinist tuning the orchestra, have the rare ear to
fine-tune complexity (probably a Keynesian ability to fine-tune at
that)." We are not told why of all the crafts and skills, the fine-tuning violin is the most appropriate exemplar for a Fed chairman. Even if we grant the fruitfulness of the tuning metaphor, a fine-tuning violinist possesses a skill that may not require (much) wisdom; she tunes an orchestra that is oriented toward a common goal with skilled performers. The Fed-chairman deals with a more heterogeneous population with ends that are -- I hope -- not unified.
In fairness to RC, most of their piece is focused on a self-described "obsession:" is economics 'science?' So, let's turn to that first.
The ideal of a pure language in which a pure, pared-down, unambiguous translation of
the truths of pure mathematics can be effected deserves a more extended discussion
than I have given it here. But I will limit myself to pointing out that this ideal language is very far indeed from the languages of man as conceived by Whorf; for to Whorf the least visible structures of a language, those that seem most natural to its Speakers, are
the structures most likely to embody the metaphysical preconceptions of the language
Community. On the other hand, the case of gravitational attraction does not at all
demonstrate what Whorf asserts about Newtonian cosmology as a System, namely that
the key concepts of the cosmology emerge smoothly from or fit smoothly into, the
structures of Newton's own language(s). Instead we find in Newton a real struggle, a
struggle sometimes — e. g., in the General Scholium to Book III of the Principia —
carried out in awareness of the issues involved, to bridge the gap between the non referential
symbolism of mathematics and a language too protean to be tied down to
single, pure meanings.--J.M. Coetzee (1982) "Newton and the Ideal of a Transparent Scientific Language," Journal of Literary Semantics.
Among recent philosophy the Whorf hypothesis is primarily an object of curiosity as background to Kuhn's Structure (and maybe Quine's Word and Object), although two of my favorite philosophers, Lieven Decock and our very own Helen de Cruz (and a few others), work on it. (Undoubtedly part of the lack of interest is recent, philosophical abhorrence of relativism, but the thesis has not disappeared from linguistics and psychology.)* A charismatic economist, Keith Chen, rediscovers a version of it in economics by focusing on the surprising impact of linguistic structure and financial activity (saving rates)--here's a popular video. (HT Hülya Eraslan; I ignore my methodological qualms today.) In the article quoted in the epigraph above (it's his conclusion), Coetzee is interested in the version -- he attributes it directly to Whorf -- that "we see nature along lines laid down by our native languages." I call this version, the "narrow Whorf thesis" (to distinguish it from broader claims about linguistic/cultural relativism and also Whorf's explanation for the narrow Whorf thesis.)
Now, what does the narrow Whorf thesis have to do with Newton and Coetzee?
A draft summary of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been leaked to the press. Although I don't have access to the draft itself, the reporting alone is interesting, but also potentially confusing to the average layperson. The New York Times tells us that "An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades," and quotes the document as saying, "It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010." We are also told that whereas in 2007, "the chances were at least 90 percent that human activities were the cause" of climate change, saying that now in 2013 "the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause." Reuters words this slightly differently: "it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities - chiefly the burning of fossil fuels - are the main cause of warming since the 1950s." But what do the phrases "near certainty," "extremely likely," "95 percent odds," "95 percent likely" mean? [the emphasis is mine in all of the above quotes]. In this context, I think they all mean the same thing, but that's not entirely obvious.
The following three sub-fields are highly specialized: Ancient philosophy, seventeenth/eighteenth century philosophy, and philosophy of physics. The following sub-fields have a low level of specialization: metaphilosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of probability, philosophy of the social sciences, decision theory, and philosophy of race and gender. Highly specialized sub-fields tend to require extensive knowledge in some area beyond the typical training of a philosopher, and outside of philosophy proper.--Brad Wray.
Brad Wray, a Kuhnian-naturalistic philosopher of science, has mined the PhilPapers data with an eye toward "the degree of specialization in each area of specialization" in the discipline. (Wray is a bit too confident that this is a "representative sample of the profession;" I worry about selection and, especially, geographical effects; even so the numbers are pretty large (3,226 people in total and 1,803 'philosophy faculty or PhD') so that the results can be illuminating if used with caution.)
Wray: "The degree of specialization of an area is a relative measure of how specialized a particular area is" and is calculated as follows: "The number of people who claim the area as their primary area of specialization/The number of people who claim the area as an area of specialization." I have posted a chunk of the abstract, which contains the core results, in the epigraph above. One of Wray's finding would not have surprised Adam Smith: "an analysis of the data suggests that the size of a specialization is correlated with the degree of specialization."
Wray's crucial result (which seems to have been explored at the prompting of a referee) is this one: "a high degree of specialization is the exception, not the norm in philosophical specialties. Many specialties seem to depend, to a significant degree, on the involvement of many who work in the area but who do not identify the area as their primary area of specialization." Of course, this says nothing about the way in which specialists set the agenda with a specialization.
Either way, this data suggests that there are still quite a few generalists in philosophy (it is amusing to me that I work in a 'specialist' area because us 'early modernists' cover two hundred years of systematic philosophy with ongoing discussions pertaining to M&E, value, science, and increasingly philosophy of religion). The question as to what degree Wray's pattern is born out by publication and citation-data is worth exploring in the future.
One can’t help but share in
Chagnon’s frustration at the hasty decision of the majority of his disciplinary
peers to disown its historical connection to any branch of the complex and
variegated scientific tradition. After all, until very recently (and to some
extent to this day still in languages such as French and German), a ‘science’
was any relatively systematic body of knowledge, anything the goal or product
of which was scientia, and it is only
in the very most recent times that the notion has been reduced to the figure of
somber men seeking to run the world on the basis of claims of unassailable
expertise. Yet the cartoon version of science that Chagnon proposes in
response, in its total failure to recognize that there might be special
problems of theory-ladenness, power inequality, looping effects, prejudice --in
a word, all those factors that make the scientific study of humans a more
delicate matter than the study of other domains of nature--, can easily make
one wish to take the ‘postmodern’ turn oneself, if only to get away from this
astoundingly simplistic pretense of scientificity.--Justin Smith (writing about Napoleon
Chagnon’s book, Noble Savages: My Life
among Two Dangerous Tribes- The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists (Simon
& Schuster, 2013).
Justin is one of the leading historians of philosophy of my generation. He is also a staunch defender of the fact that "one can in fact approach the subject matter
of anthropology naturalistically, using the conceptual tools of European
traditions of thought, and still come up with theoretically sophisticated
accounts of indigenous beliefs that remain nonetheless sensitive to the actual
concerns, to the ‘voices’, of the people being studied." (He also wants to bring some anthropological methods into the history of philosophy.)
If this collection leaves it unclear just what naturalized metaphysics
comes to, its advocates are at least making a serious attempt to engage
with our pre-eminent knowledge-producing disciplines. Newton famously
compared his efforts to those of a boy on the seashore who succeeded in
picking up a smoother pebble or a prettier shell while the great ocean
of truth lay all undiscovered before him. While naturalist
metaphysicians are at sea trying to oversee the reconstruction of
Neurath's boat, many a contemporary analytic metaphysician remains on
the beach embellishing his or her own sand castle, oblivious to the
incoming tide.--Richard Healey.
I mentioned Healey's review favorably a few days ago. Even so, the polemical closing paragraph above, which gives voices to "the deep suspicion" of "many naturalistically inclined philosophers," is unfair and dangerous myth. Before I turn to argue this, some terminological clarification. Healey's review is about a book about "scientific metaphysics" and he calls the practitioners of it, "naturalist metaphysicians," which are contrasted with so-called "analytic metaphysicians." He never settles on definitions, but after some empirical analysis, he writes, "Whatever naturalized metaphysics comes to, it is clearly less enamored
with logical analysis of language but pays much closer attention to
actual science than a lot of what goes by the name of analytic
metaphysics." This is a decent first approximation (and captures nicely the contrast between those that, say, start-from-David Lewis and those that, say, develop their views from grappling with the Scientific Image, or Structure).*
[This post was inspired by an email correspondence with John Doris.--ES]
The sciences play an important role in (at least) two ways of doing philosophy these days: (a) as an ingredient or constraint in so-called 'naturalistic turns;' (b) as an object of study in Philosophy of X (POX) -- with X = any particular science -- or General Philosophy of Science (GPOS). This (a-b) is not to deny the existence of other roles of science in philosophy, including: (c) functioning as the exemplary model of doing philosophy--I tend to refer to this as "Philosophy as Normal Science" (PANS; regular readers know I want us diminish PANS) and (d) being a source of discipline of philosophy (as, say, Williamson wishes). In practice, there are lots of blended positions. I will not define "philosophy" or "science", and I recognize that those of us that work in Europe (and, perhaps, elsewhere) are often taught (and paid/evaluated) to think of ourselves as scientists.
Here I focus on some problems that (a) and (b), especially, share in practice. The source of these is that we philosophers are generally not practicing scientists. (What I am aboout to claim also applies to those that have a PhD in some science, but it may not apply fully to those that also have ongoing research projects within some science.) This means that any science we rely on (in a-d) will be inevitably: (i) dated (science can move very fast as Bertrand Russell emphasized--it is hard enough for the professionals 'to keep up'); (ii) potentially misunderstood (we are -- despite our fabulous reasoning and conceptual skills -- not the experts in the science, after all); (iii) a partial perspective (most sciences are much larger than philosophy and can have a huge division of intellectual labor). Even if one were to ignore the effects of (i-iii) in (a-d) bits of science 'travel' from properly (stabilized) scientific domains/contexts to philosophical contexts; it is, thus, very likely that (iv) science will be partially transformed in translation (one need not be a Quine-ean holist, Kuhnian incommensurabalist to see that any disciplinary appropriation is not prima facie truth or meaning/pragmatics preserving). In practice, i-iv can be blended--and, perhaps, the list ought to be longer. I call the effects of i-iv, "NAPPs." The idea is that NAPPs is internal to naturalism (and not to be confused with excesses such as scientism or positivism).
[My wife is a physician-PhD, so I doubt I am an impartial observer here.--ES]
In reality, medical care during pregnancy seemed to be one long list
of rules. Being pregnant was a good deal like being a child again. There
was always someone telling me what to do, but the recommendations from
books and medical associations were vague and sometimes contradictory.
It started right away. "You can only have two cups of coffee a day." I
wondered why. What did the numbers say about how risky one, two or three
cups were? This wasn't discussed anywhere.
The key to good decision making is evaluating
the available information—the data—and combining it with your own
estimates of pluses and minuses. As an economist, I do this every day.
It turns out, however, that this kind of training isn't really done much
in medical schools. Medical school tends to focus much more,
appropriately, on the mechanics of being a doctor--Emily Oster in WSJ [HT Diana Weinert Thomas via Facebook].
Oster's editorial is a pre-publication to a commercial book. It's supposed to be provocative. Indeed, it 'ticks off' all the 'right boxes:' babies, a desire for self-ownership/autonomy ("Pregnant women...want to assess risks for themselves and make their own best decisions"), rejects scientific over-reach ("fuzzy science and half-baked research"), embraces the good life ("a glass of wine every now and then, plenty of coffee, exercise when I wanted it") etc. Her editorial also offers a glimpse into the eugenic ideals of the new epistemic elite: "the other big concern with alcohol [consumption during pregnancy] is low IQ" of the child. (Fetal alcohol syndrom is not just about IQ.)
Evelyn Fox Keller (whom I cited yesterday) has long been one of my favorite philosophers. No small part of that attraction has been her critique of the search for "master molecules." As I put it here in the article I did on her for The Edinburgh Dictionary of Continental Philosophy, a "master molecule" is
an isolated and transcendent command centre
whose unidirectional commands account for the order of an otherwise chaotic or
passive material. Against all such hylomorphism – which has been consistently gendered in Western
culture and science (the active command centre figured as masculine and the
passive or chaotic matter figured as feminine) – Keller points us to the study of the
morphogenetic patterns of complex interactive systems, that is, to processes of
immanent self-organisation across multiple levels.
So I was greatly interested in recently coming across these 2009 lectures, where Keller writes about a stage in the origin of life that falls between physical self-organization and cellular autopoiesis, what she calls "smart matter":
[UPDATE 8 August, 2:25 pm CDT: comments by Roberta Millstein and by "bizarre" have convinced me that the author of the review, David Haig, is better seen as *diagnosing* tough guyism in his neo-Darwinist colleagues rather than as exemplifying it. My thanks to them for pushing me to see this. I'll leave the post as is -- for the record, as it were -- but ask readers to keep this change of view in mind in reading it.]
This is a fine review of Transformations of Lamarckism, ed. Gissis and Jablonka (MIT, 2011), but its conclusion is somewhat marred by a classic flaw: it attributes an "emotional reaction" to its targets without acknowledging that its own position is also emotionally inflected rather than being simply "intellectual." We can call this the self-denying political affect* of tough guyism.
[X-posted at Prosblogion] In the epistemology of religion, authors like Swinburne and Alston have argued influentially that mystical experience of God provides prima facie justification for some beliefs we hold about God on the basis of such experiences, e.g., that he loves us, is sovereign etc. Belief in God, so they argue, is analogous to sense perception. If I get a mystical experience that God loves me, prima facie, I am justified in believing that God loves me.
Alston relies critically on William James' Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). This seminal, but now dated psychological study draws on self-reports by mystics to characterize mystical experience. The mystical experiences James (and others) describe are unexpected, unbidden; they immediately present something (God) to one's experience, i.e., they provide a direct, unmediated awareness of God. More recent empirical work on the phenomenology of religious experience, such as that conducted by Tanya Luhrmann and other anthropologists, suggests that ordinary sense experience is a poor and misleading analogy for religious experience.
Even most Kuhn-haters are committed to the popular idea that an important measure of scientific truth is consensus among the experts. The downside of this commitment is on display in Roberta Millstein's important piece on "the removal of gray wolves from endangered species status in the U.S." One could debate the merits of the proposal, of course, but a scary aspect of her account is the manufacture of scientific consensus by a government-agency. I quote the relevant bits first, and comment below the fold:
The problem is, as the authors of the proposal acknowledge, that
there is a lack of consensus among scientists on what species are, what
subspecies are, and how many species and subspecies of wolves there are.
Nonetheless, they declare that one paper, Chambers et. al (2012),
"is the only peer-reviewed synthesis of its kind conducted for North
American wolves and summarizes and synthesizes the best available
scientific information on the issue."...Chambers et al. (2012) appears in the journal North American Fauna,
a publication of the FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] itself; it is unclear why the paper wasn't
sent to a more recognized peer-reviewed journal in the field, such as Conservation Biology. According to the website for North American Fauna,
Chambers et al. (2012) is the only publication since 1991; it appears
as though the journal was reborn specifically to publish the wolf study
only to languish again afterward....In short,
the FWS service has taken one of the most well-studied animals, about
which there is great controversy...and benighted one paper, authored by itself (perhaps by some of the
same people who wrote the proposal) as "the best available scientific
information"....What is the urgency – so urgent that the FWS must hastily designate
itself as the source of the best available science – to make policy when
the science is so unsettled?"
On June 13, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed removing the gray wolf, Canis lupus, from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Under this proposal, the species of gray wolves – which was at one time protected across the 48 contiguous U.S. states – would no longer be so protected. Only one subspecies of gray wolf would be granted protection: the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi). This would, in effect, protect only 75 of the wolves in the U.S. (the current size of the wild population of Mexican wolves). The FWS is soliciting comments on this proposed ruling here, where you can also find the text of the proposal. If you find this proposed ruling as problematic as I do, I would urge you to submit a comment.
Philosophers of biology such as myself, many of whom are well-versed in the challenges of defining the terms "species," "subspecies," and "population," not to mention skills in evaluating arguments, are particularly well placed to see the flaws in the proposed ruling. I was first alerted to potential problems in the proposal upon reading this editorial, which blamed the ruling on pressure from "a loose coalition of hunters' groups, outfitters, and ranchers." While I don't have any evidence for this assertion, after reading through the ill-defended proposal one has to wonder, "Why this? Why now? And why has the fact-finding process of the Endangered Species Act been corrupted with a 'government-manufactured scientific consensus'?" (thanks to Eric Schliesser for the felicitous phrase).
"Horn 1: no predicates carve at the joints. Here only two attractive options seem open. One is Goodmania: all talk of objecive joints in reality is simply mistaken." T. Sider (2011) Writing The Book of the World, 186.
"Let it be clear that the question here is not of the possible worlds that many of my contemporaries, especially those near Disneyland, are busy making and manipulating." N. Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, 2.
One nugget in the Healy citation data is the near-absence of Nelson Goodman. The only work by Goodman found in the top 500 is The Structure of Appearance (1951) with 11 citations in the H4 (between 1993-2013). No mention of Goodman's Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (over 3000 citation according to google.scholar) or the foundational work in mereology; there is no harm--even Harvard professors can be forgotten (recall Jon on Collingwood paradoxicality; it seems Goodman's reputation went into decline around 1996). A more serious matter is that Goodman's Languages of Art (published in 1976), which over 4000 citations, is invisible in the H4. So, this tells you at once that nominalism is discussed and aesthetics is seriously neglected in our supposedly, generalist journals. This should come us no surprise (recall this post earlier in the week.) Given the significance of the widely deployed aesthetic principles embedded in the theoretical virtues of simplicity, elegance, harmony, this absence is something of a scandal (over and beyond the intrinsic value of aesthetics). (By the way: in the Stanford Encyclopedia, Goodman's aesthetics is the only entry primarily devoted to Goodman--it even contains a biographical sketch, as if the editors doubt there ever will be a systematic Goodman entry.)
The absence of Goodman's (1978) Ways of Worldmaking (WOW) is in some sense more important. (For the record: I never met Goodman.) Let me explain.
over sixty years it has been widely accepted that twinning, the process
that results in identical or conjoined twins, normally occurs about two
weeks after fertilization, or conception. This assumption has been used
as a premise in what philosophers call the "twinning argument." The
idea behind the twinning argument is that since one thing cannot be
identical to two things, a twin cannot be identical to a zygote, or
fertilized egg. Arguing from that
to the general conclusion that none of us is identical to a zygote is
more complicated and involves the further premise that it is not fully
determined at the time of fertilization whether a zygote will undergo
Brian Weatherson has done some nice data crunching of his own inspired by the Healy-data (eliciting an important comment by Jennifer Nagel), especially here. In particular, he looked at citations in a broader range of journals than the H4. Now Brian's crucial point is: "Lesson 1: It’s easy to be wrong about what people are talking about, if you try to generalise from personal experience." This is important to keep in mind for all of us that need to make decisions about the future of the field (i.e., future job candidates and those that supervise them.) Brian is a privileged observer having helped shape cutting-edge M&E as a presence at a variety of top departments. (I made a similar observation last week in light of converging evidence.) His data also show that the recent debate over philosophical intuitions (see Catarina [and Mohan and here]) is generating a lot of discussion outside of the H4. This is part of a larger phenomenon: while H4 articles are cutting edge (by stipulation), their citations are a lagging indicator of current trends (see also here and here). This may be due, in part, to their relatively slow refereeing process (thus, building in delay from submission to acceptance), or it may be due to in-crowd refereeing (so that in effect citations of high status males are privileged).
Here I focus on Brian's surprise about "336 citations for a paper about mechanisms!" This is a reference to "Thinking about mechanisms" by P Machamer, L. Darden, CF Craver in Philosophy of science (2000) [here for direct access]. (Hereafter MDC) There is no evidence that Brian thinks MDC does not merit attention. Brian's lack of awareness of the importance of this paper is indicative of a genuine split between: (a) post-Lewisian folk that take the metaphysics and epistemology of science, especially inspired by text-book physics, seriously and (b) those of us that focus more on scientific practice, past and present, in our philosophy of science, epistemology, and even metaphysics. Moreover, Brian's tendency to suggest that the high citation-rate for MDC must be due to a non-philosophical audience suggests (with N=1) that folk in (a) tend to underestimate how large the community of (b) is within philosophy.
Williamson's final paragraph begins: "In making these comments, it is
hard not to feel like the headmaster of a minor public school at speech
day, telling everyone to pull their socks up after a particularly bad
term". I cannot speak for the participants at the conference, but my own
reaction to being compared to a wayward British schoolboy was: So who
died and made you headmaster?--Tim Maudlin
I much prefer searching self-criticism than kicking the outsider. So, I was about to start really liking Williamson. But it turns out, Williamson is not above kicking down. For the very same passage continues: "within the analytic tradition many philosophers use arguments only to the extent that most ‘continental’ philosophers do: some kind of inferential movement is observ able, but it lacks the clear articulation into premises and conclusion and the explicitness about the form of the inference that much good philosophy achieves." (11) Okay, so the point is: most analytical philosophers think they are superior in philosophical virtue to continental philosophers, but they are as bad as the legitimately despised continental philosophers. Yes, in context Williamson says he is deploying "crude stereotypes," but he is not disowning the stereotype about continental philosophy! (Cf. "Much even of analytic philosophy moves too fast in its haste to reach the sexy bits." (15; emphasis added--ES)) The main point of Williamson's piece is to double-down on the stereotypical virtues of analytical philosophy: "precision" and "rigour" (15), and to do so in opposition to the despised 'other.' In fact, the un-argued hostility toward Kant, which I noticed yesterday, is a trope in Williamson: "if we aim to be rigorous, we cannot expect to sound like Heraclitus, or even Kant: we have to sacrifice
the stereotype of depth." (15; logically that allows Kant to rigerous, of course, but if you sound like Kant, etc...) [Doubling-down is not the whole story, but about that more tomorrow.]
The idea that there is something like an efficient market in scientific ideas (EMISI), supporting a ruling 'paradigm,' is very dangerous in the policy sciences. Even if we assume that scientists are individually pure truth-seekers,
imperfections in scientific markets can produce non-epistemic
(and epistemic) externalities (recall here, including criticism of a famous paper by Aumann). EMISI provides cover for 'The Everybody Did It' (TEDI) Syndrome (recall here). With Merel Lefevere, I have been exploring in what circumstances the presence of TEDI Syndrome is indicative of collective negligence (or a negative externalities). One possible consequence of our approach is that those scientists/institutions that interface with policy should seek out critics and critical alternatives to the existing paradigm. Jon Faust, an economist, sometimes acts as such an in-house critic at the United States Federal Reserve (the Fed) and the Riksbank. Two of his relatively non-technical papers (here and here) prompted this post.
Central Banks rely, in part, on models developed by academic economists to set monetary policy. Yet, Faust notes two problems in the way the intellectual supply-chain works: (i) there is almost no venue for "high-level conversation" about "academic work and its relation to actual practice." (53) (ii) State of the art models are often applied without full knowledge of all their possible consequences in the real world because these models models "have substantial areas of omission and coarse approximation" (55) In light of (i) and (ii), Faust's aim (iii) is to help central bankers and the modellers develop "a formal literature on best methods and practices for using materially flawed models in practical policymaking," (55) or "how to make the most responsible use in policymaking of what we now know." (60) My first reaction was, 'it is about time;' my second, more generous response was warmth in my philosophical heart that Faust is engaging in philosophy of scientific methodology and non-ideal regime/institution construction. His main idea is to adapt a kind of policy protocol from a literature that "goes under names like “human relevance of animal studies” and “interspecies extrapolation” (57) in the practice(s) of Toxicology.
If you find it useful, please feel free to share with students and colleagues. And if you see things that are missing or mistaken, please let me know. I am happy to make additions and corrections. Apologies in advance if I have overlooked your page of publicly available HPB articles or other important internet source for HPBers.
But mainly, having put in the effort to maintain it, I'd love to know that others besides myself are using it!
DeLanda provides a doubled
difference, a differentiation and differenciation,
of Deleuze. While DeLanda certainly provides a straightforward explanation of
the process Deleuze calls counter-actualization (moving from the actual to the
virtual), he does so not by an interpretation of Deleuze’s full philosophical
output, but by a reconstruction of the ontology and epistemology of Difference
and Repetition and The Logic of Sense: ‘This line of argumentation
... is, in fact, not Deleuze’s own, although it follows directly from his
ontological analysis’ (39). As DeLanda puts it: Deleuze’s world rather than his
words. But this folds Deleuze back on himself, giving us a virtualization of
Deleuze, moving from the actual productions of Deleuze (his books) to the differentiated structures of his
production process (the network of his concepts) in order to produce a new,
divergent, differenciation (DeLanda’s
book). By virtue of being a book on Deleuze, of course, this product has itself
the all-important fold of explaining the structures of all processes (or more
precisely, explaining that all processes are structured, and that the structure
of the realm of those structures, the virtual, can itself by explicated).
And here's an outline of ISVP I did for a course I taught back then.
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.
In an earlier
post, I began to write about John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan’s analysis of teleological
causation. (Eric has written about related topics too.) My aim there was
primarily to summarize H&N’s analysis. Here I have some critical thoughts—I
have only been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, so my opinions are
far from final. H&N ask two questions:
Is teleology coherent? Is teleology consistent with contemporary physics? Can it be added on? In my
opinion, their analysis demonstrates coherence. (That's not a very high bar, but they clear it with ease.) I am less clear about
consistency with physics.
Let’s start by considering the motion of a
single particle. (I’ll consider ensembles of particles in a further post.) H&N
distinguish three types of process (all more fully described in my earlier
post): mechanical (for simplicity’s sake, Newtonian), retrotemporally mechanical (like
Newton’s, but moving backward in time), and teleological or goal-directed. Since Newtonian
trajectories are reversible—the temporal reversal of a trajectory is possible
if the trajectory is possible—the paths of single particles do not distinguish
between the first two options. If they are consistent with Newtonian mechanics,
they are also consistent with time-reversed Newtonian mechanics. (See Eric Winsberg's comments on my earlier post.)
Now, Hawthorne and Nolan open the door to
two ways of distinguishing goal-direction or teleological causation from both
mechanical and retro-mechanical causation at the level of single particles.
Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself...I agree with Alvin Plantinga that...the application of evolutionary theory to the understanding of our own cognitive capacities should undermine, though it need not completely destroy, our confidence in them. Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole. I think the evolutionary hypothesis would imply that though our cognitive capacities could be reliable, we do not have the kind of reason to rely on them that we ordinarily take ourselves to have using in them directly--as we do in science. Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 27-28 (emphasis in original)
A non-trivial (albeit not the most fundamental) feature of Nagel's book (recall my here, here, here; see Feser's response to me and also Mohan's posts: here, here, here and here) is his reliance on Plantinga's so-called evolutionary argument against naturalism (hereafter EAAN; see also pp. 74-78). Let's leave aside the fact that Nagel pretends in his book that this (evolving) EAAN argument has not been subject to significant criticism. (It must be convenient to think that one is obliged to engage only with one's referee [Sober, although even his criticism of EAAN is ignored], one's colleague [Street], one's cheerleader [Plantinga], and one's deus ex machina [Hawthorne & Nolan].) Here I explore a response to this style of argument that is overlooked by Nagel and, I think, not explored in the literature (but would love to learn otherwise--it's not my field). So, let's grant -- for the sake of argument -- the claim that "Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the
everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the
construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole." What follows from this?
My quick and dirty answer is: nothing. For the crucial parts of science really do not rely on such mechanisms of belief formation. Much of scientific reason is or can be performed by machines; as I have argued before, ordinary cognition, perception, and locution does not really matter epistemically in the sciences.
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
At his blog Edward Feser has been responding to Thomas Nagel's
critics (no, not me (yet)!). In response to Sober's review he concludes
with the following sociological remark:
think, is precisely what is going on -- the “presuppositions that Nagel
trying to transcend” run so deep in contemporary academic philosophical
that it is difficult for most philosophers to get any critical distance
on them. They lack, as Nietzsche might have said, the courage
for an attack on their own convictions. And
yet the evidence that there is something deeply wrong with the
consensus is all around them even in “mainstream” academic philosophy --
work of renegade naturalists like Nagel, Searle, Fodor, McGinn, et al.;
like Chalmers, Brie Gertler, Howard Robinson, John Foster, et al.; and
like the “new essentialist” metaphysicians and philosophers of science
Ellis, Martin, Heil, Mumford, et al.) and the analytical Thomists
Haldane, et al.). It’s psychologically
easy (even if philosophically sleazy) to dismiss one or two of these
as outliers who needn’t be taken seriously.
But as their ranks slowly grow, it will be, and ought to be, harder both
psychologically and philosophically to dismiss them.
Which is no
doubt why the more ideological naturalists would very dearly like to strangle
this growing challenge to the consensus while it is still in its crib -- hence
the un-philosophical nastiness with which Nagel’s views have been greeted in
some quarters. But Sober, to his credit,
is not an ideologue, and is sober enough to acknowledge at least the possibility that Nagel is on to something.--Edward Feser.
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.
When I was a child one of my favorite books was about a pair of
identical twins who decided to switch clothes. They looked so much alike
that their parents had had to dress one in blue and the other in green.
The twin boys fooled their parents for a long long time. An obedient
3-year old, I was thrilled by their ingenuity and boldness.
parents can usually tell the difference between their identical twins--grandparents, teachers, neighbors and peers sometimes cannot. And for
good reasons. Identical twins very often look almost exactly alike. No
surprise there, if identical twin share all of their DNA.
Yet, it seems that one can reasonably ask why one should join a society like the PSA these days. It used to be that many people joined in order to get the journal, Philosophy of Science. But now, most academics get access to the journal through their universities. Some old-fashioned types like me join societies whose goals they want to promote and whose communities they feel a part of; in addition to the PSA, I am member of HSS, ISHPSSB, ISEE, and the APA.
However, if one is not moved on that score, why join? Why join the PSA, or any academic society, for that matter?