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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The metaphysics wars

by Massimo Pigliucci

 I am not a metaphysician (or a metaphysicist, as some call themselves), but I've been fascinated for a while by what I've come to think of as the metaphysics wars. Let me explain. Metaphysics is, of course, one of the classic branches of philosophy, tracing back at least to the pre-Socratic Thales of Miletus (the guy who thought that all is made of water), and of course getting its name from Aristotle's treatise (though that wasn't the original title, it was named so afterwards, because it came after Aristotle's Physics).

Metaphysics was very important to the ancient Greeks, and absolutely crucial to Medieval philosophers. Though, beginning with David Hume, it took a bit of a nosedive in terms of its reputation, even among philosophers. Hume, of course, proposed his famous "fork," a test to figure out whether a book was worth your time:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)
Needless to say, books on metaphysics failed the test, according to Hume. Closer in time to the present, the early 20th century logical positivists thought that metaphysical notions were not even wrong, indeed, they were literally nonsense, since they failed another famous test of their devising, known as the "verification principle" (if there is no way to empirically verify notion X, then notion X is incoherent - notoriously, the problem was that the verification principle itself cannot be verified empirically...).

Ever since the second part of the 20th century, though, metaphysicians have tried again to get their house in order, striving anew for logical rigor. Which brings us to the current "wars."

If you want to have an idea of just how split philosophers currently are about metaphysics, you need not go any further than two recent (voluminous, highly technical) collections of essays. The first, edited by David Chalmers (he of philosophical zombies, and more recently of Singularity memory), David Manley and Ryan Wasserman, about "meta-metaphysics" (but, really, about metaphysics). The second one, edited by Don Ross, James Ladyman, and Harold Kincaid, about "scientific" (also known as "naturalized") metaphysics. The two volumes couldn't have less in common (indeed, they cite largely parallel literatures), and couldn't present more of a stark contrast between two completely different ways of thinking about (and doing) metaphysics.

So, what's all the fuss about? Before going on, I must admit to finding Ross' and colleagues' argument a bit more compelling, and of course, as some of my readers know, I have come to pretty much distrust much of what Chalmers has to say, about anything. Still, I do think that there is a middle way (or perhaps a 2/3 of a way), perhaps along lines sketched by Cian Dorr in a review of a previous book by Ladyman and Ross.

The basic thrust of the meta-metaphysical approach (which I will less pretentiously and more accurately call "classical metaphysics") is that there is nothing wrong in principle with metaphysics the way it has been practiced since Thales, and that what needs to be done is to sharpen one's logical tools even further, clean up the house from outdated notions, and keep adding new, more sound ones. From this perspective metaphysics is entirely independent of science, for the simple reason that it is concerned with problems - and it deploys tools - that are quite distinct from those of science. My attitude toward this approach is ambivalent: on the one hand, I want to say "good for the metaphysicians!," stand your ground and forge your own path. On the other hand, I get irritated by some metaphysical papers that very quickly veer toward what Ladyman and Ross (perhaps a bit uncharitably) call "neo-Scholasticism." To put it as they do in the first chapter of their Every Thing Must Go manifesto: [this way of doing metaphysics] "contributes nothing to human knowledge," its practitioners are "wasting their talents," and the whole thing, although "engaged in by some extremely intelligent and morally serious people, fails to qualify as part of the enlightened pursuit of objective truth, and should be discontinued." Ouch.

So what do Ross and co. propose instead? They think that metaphysics ought to abandon the goal of figuring out the basic ontological structure of the universe, because this is now the province of science, especially fundamental physics. The metaphysicist, instead, should set as her goal to do what scientists themselves are too specialized to accomplish: to make unified, cross-disciplinary sense of what the special sciences (i.e., everything but fundamental physics) and fundamental physics together tell us about how the universe is structured. To put it simply: there ain't gonna be any metaphysics without taking on board science, a lot of science. They go on (in the above mentioned Every Thing Must Go) to develop the beginning of such a picture, something called Ontic Structural Realism, the details of which need not concern us here.

If you have great sympathy for the scientific enterprise (as I do, as a scientist), then you'll like the idea of naturalized metaphysics. If you are weary of the scientistic (a word Ladyman and Ross use with pride) excesses of some science authors (as I am, as a philosopher), then you'll want to at least temper the enthusiasm for naturalized metaphysics, while at the same time trying not to fall back into neo-Scholasticism.

And it is precisely this middle, or whatever, ground that no one so far has been able to stake out very clearly. Except perhaps for a review of Ladyman and Ross's Every Thing Must Go, published in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (link above) by the above mentioned Cian Dorr (thanks to our guest blogger, Michael Lopresto for bringing it to my attention).

Dorr acknowledges the bite of Ladyman and Ross's critique of classical metaphysics, but then attempts to stem the tide of naturalistic metaphysics in what I think are interesting ways that ought to be taken seriously.

To begin with, for instance, Dorr takes up a standard criticism of classical metaphysics (and, indeed, of much of analytic philosophy): its (alleged) reliance on intuitions. In the past several years even so-called experimental philosophers have gotten into this particular fray, with empirical studies purporting to show that what many analytical philosophers consider intuitive notions are not actually shared by common folks (but, really, who cares? Do physicists care that common folks don't share their notions of how the world works?), or by people from other cultures (again, many Chinese doctors don't share the Western skepticism of their traditional medicine, but too bad for Chinese doctors - and their patients!).

Dorr, however, doesn't take the predictable route of defending the intuitions shared by Western metaphysicians. He takes the more radical - and, in my opinion, more accurate - step of denying that much analytic philosophy actually depends on intuitions to test its own notions.

He begins by acknowledging that in (classical) metaphysics one is in the business of producing logical arguments. These are based on a number of premises, which are then logically connected in a manner that yields certain conclusions. It has been that way since at least Aristotle, who codified this way of doing things in philosophy.

Now, as it is well known to students of Logic 101, there are two characteristics of logical arguments, pointing to the two major ways in which one can mount counter-arguments: a given argument may be valid and/or sound (or neither). Validity refers to the logical structure of the argument: if the structure is such that, given the premises, the conclusions do logically follow, then the argument is valid. Soundness is concerned with the premises: are they, in fact, true (or at the least justifiable)? One can produce an argument that is valid, and yet founded on wrong premises (unsound); or one can have an argument that starts out with good premises, but reaches its conclusions in a way that is logically unwarranted (it's invalid); or - ideally - the argument can be both valid and sound. (The fourth possibility, that both the premises and the logical structure of the argument are bad is presumably rarely encountered among people whose profession is to argue logically, but you never know.)

Now, even Ladyman and Ross admit that much of the published classical metaphysical literature is done by professionals who can recognize an invalid argument (and if they can't, their peers will gleefully point it out to them at conferences or as soon as the paper is published). But what about the premises? As Dorr drily puts it, they don't come out of some hidden "premise factory." Whence then? Here is where the much maligned intuitions come in, since often (classical) metaphysicians (and more broadly analytic philosophers) find themselves saying things like "it is intuitive that..." or "it is counter-intuitive that..." Aha! But intuitions aren't the equivalent of scientific data, as Ladyman and Ross rightly say. Indeed, what makes classical metaphysicians think that our faculty of intuition - which presumably evolved in the prehistoric times of our species - is reliable about anything other than mere survival (and reproduction)?

Let us set aside for a moment that if Ladyman and Ross's criticism were taken just a tiny bit further we would have a really hard time explaining how, say, intuitions about quantum mechanics, not to mention mathematics, are possible also (neither has to do even remotely with survival and reproduction). Instead, Dorr's rebuttal is much more mundane, though just as devastating. I will leave him the floor for a minute:
[Ladyman and Ross's] is an understandable worry, and one that metaphysicians have invited in their attempts to reflect on their own methodology. These reflections make it look like 'appeals to intuition' are part of a distinctive method for doing metaphysics, a method we could contemplate giving up in its entirety, as the authors indeed advocate: 'as naturalists, we are not concerned with preserving intuitions at all.' But very often, 'intuition' talk is playing no such distinctive role. Often, saying 'Intuitively, P' is no more than a device for committing oneself to P while signaling that one is not going to provide any further arguments for this claim. In this use, 'intuitively … ' is more or less interchangeable with 'it seems to me that … ' There is a pure and chilly way of writing philosophy in which premises and conclusions are baldly asserted. But it's hard to write like this without seeming to bully one's readers; one can make things a bit gentler and more human by occasionally inserting qualifiers like 'it seems that.' It would be absurd to accuse someone who frequently gave in to this stylistic temptation of following a bankrupt methodology that presupposes the erroneous claim that things generally are as they seem. But the sprinkling of 'intuitively's and 'counterintuitive's around a typical paper in metaphysics is in most cases not significantly different from this. It may be bad style, but it is not bad methodology, or any methodology at all, unless arguing from premises to conclusions counts as a methodology.
Here is another way to put it, which is consistent with my own experience in doing philosophy. When an analytic philosopher says that "it is intuitive that..." she is simply putting out in the open the (unargued for) premises of her reasoning. There is nothing wrong with unargued premises: mathematicians do it all the time (they call them axioms), and you can dig them out also of scientific papers (which, after all, don't start every time by defending the entire edifice of knowledge accumulated up to that moment). The point is that such premises are out in the open for everyone to see - and therefore potentially to be argued against. And that's precisely how analytic philosophy works: your colleagues will either challenge the logical paths through which you have arrived at your conclusions (i.e., the validity of your argument) or the premises from which you started (i.e., the soundness of your argument), or, of course, both.

So when classical metaphysicians appeal to "intuition" they don't (or, at least, ought not) refer to some magical ability only they possess. Rather, they are simply using rhetorical language (of which there are many other examples in philosophy: "surely..." "it is obvious that...") while parading their starting points in plain view. As Dorr puts it, it's nonsense to dismiss the entire enterprise by quibbling on matters of style.

But there is at least another major bone of contention between naturalistic and classical metaphysicians, and that's the issue of what metaphysics is for.

Here it is clear that Ladyman and co. do have at least a partial point: part of the original scope of metaphysics was to investigate the physical structure of reality. Thales thought it was all water, for Heraclitus it was all about fire, etc. That sort of enterprise has, in fact, been delegated to fundamental physics. It is the latter that is going to tell us whether the stuff of reality is made of quarks, strings, or - according to ontic structural realism - of mathematical relations (yeah, chew on that one for a while). But this is nothing new in the history of philosophy: science itself used to be natural philosophy, but it is now a panoply of independent disciplines. Does that mean that philosophy has therefore inched itself closer to being out of business? Not at all, witness the spectacular flourishing of philosophy of science (and of biology, of physics, etc.) during the past century or so.

In this sense, Ladyman and others' project of turning metaphysics into an interdisciplinary, cross-sciences field, makes perfect sense. But there is another project for metaphysics, that is not "scientific" in nature, and yet appears to me to be perfectly valid: to make sense of the logical structure of the world. (If you think the world doesn't have one, then pray explain to me how you think we can make sense of it.)

Here are some examples of this kind of metaphysics, again from Dorr's review:
What is puzzling about [Ladyman and Ross's rejection of classical metaphysics] is that it instructs us to ignore a very large class of arguments without telling us anything at all about where they fail. Consider a simple metaphysical argument that refers to no scientific hypotheses: 'the statue on my desk was made this morning; the lump of clay on my desk has existed for a long time; so the statue on my desk is distinct from the lump of clay on my desk; so distinct material objects sometimes spatially coincide.' Or an argument that appeals to only one scientific hypothesis [Ladyman and Ross require at least two, since scientific metaphysics is about building bridges between sciences]: 'If presentism is true, simultaneity is absolute; but simultaneity is not absolute [because of relativity]; so presentism is not true.'
Now, admittedly spending your time thinking about lumps of clay or the issue of presentism may not be your cup of tea. In which case I would advise against a career in (classical) metaphysics. Then again for most people, thinking about 13-dimensional universes also isn't their cup of tea, and yet we don't relegate the (so far, possibly perennially) empirically untestable string theory to the heap of neo-Scholasticism. As Dorr says, it's hard to see why this sort of metaphysics doesn't contribute to the store of human knowledge, at least in the same sense as modal logic or Fermat's Last Theorem do (i.e., as interesting - to some - intellectual puzzles that may or may not someday have some practical application, but that's not why we engage them).

All in all, it seems to me that when metaphysicians of the type that contributed to Chalmers et al.'s volume reject outright scientific input as irrelevant to what they do they are mistaken, or at the least they do so at their own peril. But Ross and co-authors seem to make precisely the opposite mistake by not leaving any space at all to metaphysics except as a highly constrained handmaiden to science. Both projects (and some hybrids too!) are worthwhile, so long as all interested parties use logic and (relevant) evidence properly while refraining from unproductively insulting their colleagues across the isle.

53 comments:

  1. Listening to the Brain Sciences podcast with Patricia Churchland, a bit taken back at the 48 minute mark when she says they still don't understand the thalmus, even though it sources and syncs the layers of the neocortex into the CNS. Sort of like listening to someone say that they are trying to reverse engineer a computer but they can't figure out what those data busses and address busses which go in and out of the CPU do.

    http://traffic.libsyn.com/brainsciencepodcast/55-brainscience-Churchland.mp3

    Honestly Massimo isn't the thalmic function the thing that gives you that certainty feeling when you really know someting or the lump in your throat when you're baffled by the negative zombie conceivability argument?

    Victor Panzica

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  2. Massimo: But there is another project for metaphysics, that is not "scientific" in nature, and yet appears to me to be perfectly valid: to make sense of the logical structure of the world. (If you think the world doesn't have one, then pray explain to me how you think we can make sense of it.)

    If "logical structure" is interpreted to mean that we (both scientists and common folks in our daily lives) observe regular patterns in the world (which scientists can often describe in mathematical terms), then who would argue with that?

    But perhaps it's the pragmatist in me that's uncomfortable with describing the world as "logical", inasmuch as it connotes a kind of disembodied thought process "out there" in the world, to which a human thought process "in here" must correspond, in order to qualify as true.

    The latter may not be what you or other philosophers & scientists intend (although I'm pretty sure that some do), but in any case, I admit that it raises my skeptical hackles - whether it be because it seems to have theological overtones (e.g. as a fallacious projection of human mental life onto the world in general), or because I believe that recent developments in cognitive science cast doubt on it (e.g. as per the embodied cognition thesis).

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    1. Does not philosophy revel in de-contextualisation and or disembodiment?

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  3. Truth is truth.
    And Scientivistic, logical positivistic notion X's of classical or naturalized meta - metaphysical neo-scholastical fundamental ontic structural realism of quantum mechanical, Aristolian, mathematical, physics, and Eastern Western philosophies is only immature or childish name calling of something else.
    "Commit it then to the flames."

    =

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  4. I don't think the clay/statue example would convince too many neutral observers of the merits of non-scientifically-based metaphysics. If that's the best that classical metaphysicians can come up with, they're in trouble, I'd say! (But then I'm not a neutral observer.)

    Philosophizing (meta-thinking, whatever we want to call it) happens, and it can be compelling and even useful. I don't think it matters too much what professional designation these meta-thinkers have. Speaking generally and personally, I'm certainly more interested in reading or listening to scientifically (in a broad sense, including maths/logic) informed philosophizing than philosophizing that is not scientifically informed.

    So the gist of the post I agree with, but I wouldn't concede quite as much as Massimo seems to to classical metaphysics.

    Not sure exactly what he has in mind regarding the "logical structure of the world." Seems to me you could deal with it via physics and/or maths/logic, or (taking a very different approach) via psychology and linguistics. All potentially interesting. But I don't think classical (stand-alone) metaphysics has much to contribute.

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  5. Very interesting article. I just want to point out that is more accurate to elucidate the "is intuitive that..." as "this is not controversial among the philosophical community, so I can take it for granted here", because this also gives an explanation why those premises where chosen as such. After all, I don't think those premises could be called "axioms" in a mathematical sense. They are more like that "edifice of knowledge" you talk about regarding the unargued part of natural science papers (with the difference that the quantity of uncontrovertial/assumable knowledge in philosophy is lesser).

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  6. It think that the intuitions of philosophers and the intuitions of scientists are not analogous. The reason physicists can leave aside worries that most people do not share their notions of how the world works is they have evidence for those notions. If all they had to say in support of those notions was "that's the way it seems to me/us" then there would certainly be cause for concern.
    It seems to me that many philosophical intuitions are much more analogous to observations & experimental results, at least in regards to how philosophers use them. (Of course, it wouldn't cause us any particular worry if non-scientists didn't make the same observations and get the same experimental results as scientists either.)

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  7. It seems to me ( or my intuitions :) ) that the middle ground would require that metaphysical arguments should be both informed by and consistent with current state of scientific knowledge (not appealing to the super-natural).

    This does not require a strict adherence within known scientific borders as there is much that is unknown and philosophical abstraction is needed to consider new hypotheses ( and perhaps connect connect known scientific branches ).

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  8. I'm not sure what to make of this outside of what seems like the natural inclination of men to celebrate their own proclivities while denigrating the proclivities of others. This seems like an argument, perhaps a good one, over how to proceed with "gray" after we have identified "black and white." If science addresses specific problems with an aim toward solution, who cares how one characterizes what is, and who and how one frames, the nature of the problem. It is all human endeavor. And is this not an obstacle: "so long as all interested parties use logic and (relevant) evidence"? But these too are part of the discussion/debate even when you qualify them with "properly."

    I'm in Popper's camp when he says all knowledge is provisional. So when Ladyman and Ross discuss Ontic Structural Realism, what sort of conversation are they engaging in?

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  9. Victor,

    > Honestly Massimo isn't the thalmic function the thing that gives you that certainty feeling when you really know someting or the lump in your throat when you're baffled by the negative zombie conceivability argument? <

    Ahem, maybe, but I'm not sure what the question has to do with this post...

    mufi,

    > perhaps it's the pragmatist in me that's uncomfortable with describing the world as "logical", inasmuch as it connotes a kind of disembodied thought process "out there" in the world <

    Well, I'm not a pragmatist, so I don't have that problem. Would you then also be bothered by talk of natural laws in physics, say?

    > whether it be because it seems to have theological overtones (e.g. as a fallacious projection of human mental life onto the world in general), or because I believe that recent developments in cognitive science cast doubt on it (e.g. as per the embodied cognition thesis). <

    Well, I can assure you that in the context of this discussion you can set worries about theology aside. As for cognitive science, not sure why that would undermine (or support, really) the idea that the world as a "logical" (and I do use the word broadly) structure. btw, the world also seems to have a mathematical structure. Again, does that kind of statement bothers you as a pragmatist?

    Mark,

    > I don't think the clay/statue example would convince too many neutral observers of the merits of non-scientifically-based metaphysics. If that's the best that classical metaphysicians can come up with, they're in trouble, I'd say! <

    It isn't the best, it's just an off the cuff example the author I quoted came up with. And it really shouldn't bother actually neutral observers. As I write in the post, it may not be the sort of thing that stimulates your adrenalin production, but the issue here is whether it is nonsense to be avoided, not whether it is "interesting" (which truly is a highly vacuous, value-laden, human category).

    > Not sure exactly what he has in mind regarding the "logical structure of the world." Seems to me you could deal with it via physics and/or maths/logic <

    But logic is part of philosophy, and it is precisely the tool of metaphysicians...

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    1. Well, I'm not a pragmatist, so I don't have that problem. Would you then also be bothered by talk of natural laws in physics, say?

      As a manner of speaking, no, but that's only because speech is riddled with metaphor.

      Given that the prototype of a law is a human social construct, who legislates these laws? On a naturalistic/atheistic account, no one, yet the language suggests otherwise.

      Same goes for logic and math, which are activities that humans do (some professionally). Only metaphorically would I say that the world is structured logically and/or mathematically.

      Then, again, I'm not a philosopher, so perhaps I'm less invested in the belief that the world is literally structured that way - as opposed to the way that we modern humans have modeled it, in the most effective and elegant way that we know how.

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    2. Well maybe I wasn't reading the post as being about metaphysics but more about intuitions. If it's empirically difficult to identify the thalamus function scientifically or metaphysically because of the forest-trees problem of it being the seat of intuitive certainty.

      As a computational function the address and data busses in a computer do not pass address and data information but rather enact timing or the electronic computer is pure electronic causation just like the brain and cns is pure biological causation.

      So what does this have to do with the post? Any scientist can claim an AI Singularity but there is no metaphysical claim for sentient-intuitive AI.

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  10. sadf,

    > I don't think those premises could be called "axioms" in a mathematical sense. They are more like that "edifice of knowledge" <

    Well, assumptions in philosophical reasoning are not *exactly* like axioms in mathematics (for one thing, because they are not expressed in mathematical language), but I fail to see any profound difference between the two. In both cases they are "given" starting points for exercises in (largely) deductive reasoning.

    Dervine,

    > The reason physicists can leave aside worries that most people do not share their notions of how the world works is they have evidence for those notions. If all they had to say in support of those notions was "that's the way it seems to me/us" then there would certainly be cause for concern. <

    Yes, the analogy is partial, but there is a reason for the divergence: science is concerned with empirical facts, philosophy with logical arguments. In this sense philosophy is a hybrid of science and math, and in all three fields intuitions by professionals ought to be respected and analyzed, not dismissed out of hand.

    Seth,

    > It seems to me that the middle ground would require that metaphysical arguments should be both informed by and consistent with current state of scientific knowledge (not appealing to the super-natural). <

    That strikes me as exactly right. There are issues in metaphysics where science is very much relevant and it ought to be taken on board seriously. Then there are other areas where science is marginal or even entirely irrelevant (because the question is logical, not empirical) and metaphysics can go on do what it does.

    Thomas,

    > who cares how one characterizes what is, and who and how one frames, the nature of the problem. It is all human endeavor <

    Well yes, so is having sex or painting. Seems to me that there are some interesting distinctions to be made all around...

    > So when Ladyman and Ross discuss Ontic Structural Realism, what sort of conversation are they engaging in? <

    Definitely one that is informed by the best available fundamental physics, they are very explicit about that.

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  11. But my point, Massimo, is not that there are not "some interesting distinctions," but rather is about who claims higher authority to make such distinctions, or whether or not it is valid for them to do so. This is analogous to clerics of different faiths engaging in a dispute and ending it by applauding each other's sincerity. Neither Ladyman nor Ross is a physicist, and, as you suggest, they can draw on "the best available fundamental physics" (or any intellectual discipline for that matter)to frame this discussion and how it is best approached, but still my question goes unanswered. Dressing in one's Sunday best doesn't really change what's underneath the clothes. And the difference between metaphysical questions and sex/painting is chiefly one of timing: for most who engage, the metaphysical questions come later.

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  12. Massimo

    >... it may not be the sort of thing that stimulates your adrenalin production, but the issue here is whether it is nonsense to be avoided, not whether it is "interesting" (which truly is a highly vacuous, value-laden, human category).<

    The word "interesting" is value-laden, but it need not be vacuous, either in ordinary or in more intellectual contexts. Mathematicians talk about whether a particular result is interesting or not, don't they? I think philosophers have not only to avoid actual nonsense but also triviality, portentous platitudes, etc.

    >>Not sure exactly what [you have] in mind regarding the "logical structure of the world." Seems to me you could deal with it via physics and/or maths/logic...<

    But logic is part of philosophy, and it is precisely the tool of metaphysicians.<

    The phrase "physics and maths/logic" may have served my purpose better than "physics and/or maths/logic". I used the latter form merely to indicate my openness to the possibility that some kind of ultimate explanation for the existence of the cosmos may draw heavily on logico-mathematical factors.

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  13. I've often wondered whether Ladyman engages in actual scientific routines, namely one's that require scientific education (and that might usually include donning a white coat?) If not then is Ladyman's brand of metaphysics just an excessively intellectualised form of scientific journalism? Either you're teaching, practicing or reporting science, or you're doing something categorically independent from it. Does Ladyman contribute to the success of the physical sciences or is it the other way around?

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  14. Re: "metaphysics ought to abandon the goal of figuring out the basic ontological structure of the universe, because this is now the province of science, especially fundamental physics"

    Here's the problem with that particular proposition: I would be very skeptical of what theoretical physicists say to you. Not particularly their mathematical theory or its verification with (experimental) data, but the terms in which they describe it, generally for the layman. A lot of that is rubbish.

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  15. mufi,

    > Only metaphorically would I say that the world is structured logically and/or mathematically. <

    Well, that's very much an open question. According to a number of physicists and mathematicians the universe *literally* is structured in a logical-mathematical manner. But it's a long discussion, of course...

    Thomas,

    > my point, Massimo, is not that there are not "some interesting distinctions," but rather is about who claims higher authority to make such distinctions, or whether or not it is valid for them to do so. <

    Not sure there is a question of authority here. Ladyman, Ross et al. are pushing for one vision of how to do metaphysics; Chalmers et al. for another. It will be up to the broader community of philosophers to weigh the issues and proceed according to their best sense.

    Vitor,

    > maybe I wasn't reading the post as being about metaphysics but more about intuitions <

    The post is about metaphysics, but it does touch on intuitions. The problem is that that word - in the context of philosophical analysis - has a very specific, technical meaning, so that literature on "intuition" more broadly construed, as interesting as it is, isn't particularly helpful for the issue at hand.

    Mark,

    > Mathematicians talk about whether a particular result is interesting or not, don't they? I think philosophers have not only to avoid actual nonsense but also triviality, portentous platitudes, etc. <

    Agreed, but it seems to me that the best judges of what's interesting in philosophy are philosophers, just like mathematicians judge what's mathematically interesting, no?

    > I used the latter form merely to indicate my openness to the possibility that some kind of ultimate explanation for the existence of the cosmos may draw heavily on logico-mathematical factors <

    Agreed, I don't think that deep explanations in science can do without logic and math. But that's why I consider the science+math+logic+philosophy quadrumvirate to make up what used to be called "scientia," i.e. knowledge broadly construed.

    jimpliciter,

    > Does Ladyman contribute to the success of the physical sciences or is it the other way around? <

    I find that a somewhat odd question. Ladyman is a philosopher of science (of physics, in particular), so he draws from science/physics to inform his philosophy. While there are areas in which philosophy of science contributes to science, the two are intellectually independent fields, so it is certainly not required for a philosopher to contribute to the science.

    Philip,

    > I would be very skeptical of what theoretical physicists say to you. Not particularly their mathematical theory or its verification with (experimental) data, but the terms in which they describe it, generally for the layman. A lot of that is rubbish. <

    Well, why I am not *that* skeptical of what theoretical physicists tell me, I think you just made an excellent case for the role of philosophers of science...

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    1. >The problem is that that word - in the context of philosophical analysis - has a very specific, technical meaning, so that literature on "intuition" more broadly construed, as interesting as it is, isn't particularly helpful for the issue at hand.<

      Isn't that the problem in a nutshell with these competing levels of reality debates over competing intuitons. With only a philosophic "technical" definiton but no scientific one, we are in a no man's land. Hence anything goes as they say.

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    2. Massimo: Well, that's very much an open question. According to a number of physicists and mathematicians the universe *literally* is structured in a logical-mathematical manner. But it's a long discussion, of course...

      I'm sure it is, so suffice it to say: it's quite possible that "a number of physicists and mathematicians" have deluded themselves in this regard. What's more, in my estimation, they are akin to those who see colors and believe that they really exist out there in the world (or outside of their embodied minds, despite what recent developments in cognitive science suggest).

      Delete
    3. Massimo,
      I suppose I was making the somewhat pragmatic suggestion that a thorough going scientific understanding/education is, for the most part, redundant if you’re not going to engage in either, specifically scientific activities or scientific reportage. At the unaided quotidian level of phenomenal experience “thought and actuality are made of one and the same stuff, the stuff of experience in general” (James). Knowing what happens at the quantum level in the parlance of QM offers little assistance in helping you perfect that twice cooked pork belly w. pear& lime sauce and the right pinot concomitant (which in turn might help you impress that lovely lady as to your culinary prowess!) Why learn the lay of a land upon which you shall never alight? Perhaps I’m a little too biased as to how metaphysical philosophy can inform the everyday agency of the everyday laity, especially when couched in an all too recondite, theoretically obese, scientific vernacular. I’m also conceding that “Everything Must Go” was a tough read.

      Delete
  16. Hi Massimo,

    Nice post. I think I have no major issues with anything you wrote.

    I do see where certain people might get the idea that metaphysical talk which has no empirical implications is in a sense meaningless. In a way, I think they're right, but I also think that it may be a worthwhile pursuit in order to clarify concepts to enable sensible discourse, as well as to explore what human intuitions entail and which sets of human intuitions are mutually consistent or inconsistent.

    Personally, I think there is no fact of the matter for most metaphysical questions. There is only consistent or inconsistent, coherent and incoherent.

    I have said to you before that I regard questions such as mathematical platonism to hinge only on how competing views interpret the concept of "existence". Both views may be equally consistent and so equally correct. Which view one adopts should be determined on the basis of not only consistency but also utility - on how the intuitions consistent that view may be useful in thinking about real problems. I find mathematical platonism useful, so I am a mathematical platonist.

    This is also why I think experimental philosophy is not a dead end as you seem to think. If metaphysics ultimately boils down to the study of human intuitions, and not to objective facts about the universe, then what philosophers are doing when they come up with rigorous definitions of concepts such as "justice" is to capture and make robust those intuitions common in the populace at large.

    If this is the case, then it really ought to matter what those intuitions actually entail out in the wild - otherwise philosophers have not defined justice at all but something else.

    Also, by the way, I think that I am probably an ontic structural realist (OSR), because I believe that the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is correct. This implies that the universe is fundamentally a mathematical construct (which entails OSR, I believe) and also that all possible universes exist, since universes are mathematical objects and all mathematical objects exist platonically.

    Am I right then in thinking that although the MUH entails OSR, OSR doesn't necessarily entail the MUH? Or does it?

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    Replies
    1. PUH: Programmatic Universe Hypothesis

      The only mathematics (MUH) that counts is that which can be represented by programs. And object-oriented programs provide the basis for OSR. It's all there.

      Informational Realism

      What is the ultimate nature of reality? This paper defends an answer in terms of informational realism (IR). It does so in three stages. First, it is shown that, within the debate about structural realism (SR), epistemic (ESR) and ontic (OSR) structural realism are reconcilable by using the methodology of the levels of abstractions. It follows that OSR is defensible from a structuralist-friendly position. Second, it is argued that OSR is also plausible, because not all related objects are logically prior to all relational structures. The relation of difference is at least as fundamental as (because constitutive of) any relata. Third, it is suggested that an ontology of structural objects for OSR can reasonably be developed in terms of informational objects, and that Object Oriented Programming provides a flexible and powerful methodology with which to clarify and make precise the concept of “informational object”. The outcome is informational realism, the view that the world is the totality of informational objects dynamically interacting with each other.

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    2. Hi Philip,

      >The only mathematics (MUH) that counts is that which can be represented by programs.<

      Could you give an example of a kind of mathematics that is not representable by programs?

      Delete
    3. There is the study of finding undecidable problems: "a type of calculation which requires a yes/no answer, but where there can not possibly be any computer program that always gives the correct answer; that is any possible program would sometimes give the wrong answer or never give any answer at all."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_undecidable_problems

      Delete
    4. Yes, I was wondering if you were thinking of this.

      I'd say all those problems can be *represented* by programs, they just can't be computed by programs. The PUH is thus equivalent to the better known CUH (Computable Universe Hypothesis).

      Delete
    5. PUH is the working implementation of CUH.

      Delete
  17. Massimo: "Not sure there is a question of authority here. Ladyman, Ross et al. are pushing for one vision of how to do metaphysics; Chalmers et al. for another. It will be up to the broader community of philosophers to weigh the issues and proceed according to their best sense."

    First, I'm not sure that metaphysical questions are meaningful, but I really don't have a problem with "anyone," philosopher, physicist, biologist, "religious thinker," etc raising them. But it seems to me that Ladyman, Ross et al. with an emphasis on the Principle of Naturalistic Closure and the Primacy of Physics Constraint(perhaps sensibly if one "wants" to engage in metaphysical speculation at all)are prescribing an agenda/methodology for how metaphysical speculation "should" proceed. Since I don't think a unified vision across scientific disciplines is a realistic goal, the question then is whether or not they are ultimately engaging in more than dressed-up reportage. This is jimpliciter's point when he comments: "If not then is Ladyman's brand of metaphysics just an excessively intellectualised form of scientific journalism? Either you're teaching, practicing or reporting science, or you're doing something categorically independent from it." Aside from my preference to strike "excessively intellectualized," I think he raises a valid question and makes a valid point.

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  18. Intuition and analytical thought work in tandem. To favor the latter over the former is akin to favoring the right brain over the left. You need both to be a complete human being.

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  19. Isn't the whole discussion about the Chinese Room in your previous post an example of the wrong use of intuition in metaphysics?

    That is, many seemed to be trying to conclude what types of mechanisms are conscious or not based solely on intuitions about examples like the original Chinese Room, or Eliza, or the Robot of the robot reply to Searle's argument.

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  20. Why limit metaphysics to premises and validity (deductive logic), instead of truth and inductive strength (as well as validity)? Philosophers do seem to mostly restrict their argumentation to validity, and "it's not valid" is usually regarded as a fatal flaw - but why? Why not, invalid, yes, but still inductively strong; or, invalid and inductively weak.

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  21. Don't trust (too much) the vocabulary of physicists when they describe what they believe is going on.
    Don't trust (much) the vocabulary of physics reporters when they describe what they believe is going (supposedly after talking to physicists).

    So who does that leave?

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  22. It does seem to me that at least some of the situations invoked in trying to find a meaningful place for metaphysics (like the statue vs lump of clay thing) are just silly wordplay.

    It's simply an unstated (and wrong) assumption that if you describe something in two different ways, then you've automatically identified two different physical objects "out there".

    The lump of clay has existed for a long time. Most of atoms that compose it have most likely existed for billions of years. And while the statue was made this morning, what you're recounting is the story of the temporal evolution of the geometric arrangement of atoms in front of you. At it's most basic it's a bunch of atoms (or a wavefunction of quantum fields) which we assign labels to (clay, statue etc.).

    The assumption that the world around us is fundamentally made up of "material objects" is also taken for granted and should be up for discussion.

    Then again, the assumption that the world is made up of "mathematical relations" or "physical laws" is just as presumptuous.

    One can imagine that the reason why we can make sense of the world with logic, is because we live in a world built from stuff which behaves consistently in a way described by the Pauli exclusion principle. This allows geometric arrangements of atoms (which we model as "objects") to rarely cross borders, and so our brains evolved to expect that an object is either there or it isn't; that is, to explain the world in terms of "true" and "false". It wouldn't surprise me if it turns out our ability to do math and logic comes from how our building blocks work. And the assumption that the world is made up of something familiar is just putting the carriage ahead of the horse (nowadays it's math, it used to be gods).

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  23. Thomas,

    > I'm not sure that metaphysical questions are meaningful <

    Not sure why you are not sure. One may question methods and answers, but the questions themselves?

    > Ladyman, Ross et al. with an emphasis on the Principle of Naturalistic Closure and the Primacy of Physics Constraint are prescribing an agenda/methodology for how metaphysical speculation "should" proceed. <

    Oh, for sure. But it’s not like they have the “authority” to impose it. They are doing what any academic would: try to persuade their colleagues that their approach is promising and better than the competitor ones.

    > Since I don't think a unified vision across scientific disciplines is a realistic goal, the question then is whether or not they are ultimately engaging in more than dressed-up reportage <

    I do think it’s possible, but even if not, it will be interesting to see how and why it will fail. They are doing a lot more than reportage, dressed up or naked.

    Alastair,

    > Intuition and analytical thought work in tandem. To favor the latter over the former is akin to favoring the right brain over the left. <

    Please pay attention: I wrote both in the main post and in the comments that the word “intuition” here is used in a very specific sense, which is not the common one you are referring to in your comment, and which makes your comment therefore besides the point.

    DM,

    > I do see where certain people might get the idea that metaphysical talk which has no empirical implications is in a sense meaningless. <

    I don’t. Logic and math have no empirical content, but they are certainly not meaningless. Yes, I can see why people think *some* metaphysics is questionable or even meaningless, but it irks me when people reject the whole field, positivist-style.

    > I think there is no fact of the matter for most metaphysical questions. There is only consistent or inconsistent, coherent and incoherent. <

    Yes, except when one brings in facts of the matter from either science or common experience. Though I would drop the “only” part of your sentence, it sounds dismissive.

    > I find mathematical platonism useful, so I am a mathematical platonist. <

    Welcome aboard! ;-)

    > This is also why I think experimental philosophy is not a dead end as you seem to think. If metaphysics ultimately boils down to the study of human intuitions, and not to objective facts about the universe, then what philosophers are doing when they come up with rigorous definitions of concepts such as "justice" is to capture and make robust those intuitions common in the populace at large. <

    I believe you (and the X-Phi people) here are making the same mistake I chided Alastair for. “Intuition” here doesn’t mean what the layperson version of the term means, see the main post.

    > I think that I am probably an ontic structural realist (OSR), because I believe that the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is correct <

    I am very tempted by that position myself, but haven’t quite embraced it yet.

    > Am I right then in thinking that although the MUH entails OSR, OSR doesn't necessarily entail the MUH? Or does it? <

    Yes, I think you are correct.

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    Replies
    1. > > I find mathematical platonism useful, so I am a mathematical platonist. < <

      > Welcome aboard! ;-) <

      Oh no! Another lost sheep. :-o :-)

      Delete
  24. bruce,

    > Isn't the whole discussion about the Chinese Room in your previous post an example of the wrong use of intuition in metaphysics? <

    No. First, because I insist that Searle is right on the CR; second because it is philosophy of mind, not really metaphysics.

    f0 etc.,

    > With only a philosophic "technical" definiton but no scientific one, we are in a no man's land. Hence anything goes as they say. <

    No. Once more: when a philosopher says “it is intuitive that X...” he simply mean (or should mean, there are exceptions) to take X as the starting point, the assumption, the axiom of whatever follows. This is perfectly normal in any kind of reasoning. X is clearly and openly stated, so it can also always rejected, unpacked or criticized. People, don’t get hang up on the word “intuition,” it is highly misleading in this context.

    OneDay,

    > No, I didn't meant to compare you to Chalmers and Kurzweil at all. I agree with your opinion of them. I should have written "one" instead of "you." <

    Phew! Thanks!

    mufi,

    > it's quite possible that "a number of physicists and mathematicians" have deluded themselves in this regard. What's more, in my estimation, they are akin to those who see colors and believe that they really exist out there in the world <

    Maybe, but the arguments in favor of ontic structural realism are complex, empirically based, and not that easy to dismiss.

    Phiwilli,

    > Why limit metaphysics to premises and validity (deductive logic), instead of truth and inductive strength (as well as validity)? <

    Not sure anyone has suggested that. Even classical metaphysicians invoke facts from common perception of the world (the statue and the clay example), so even they use partly inductive logic.

    > Philosophers do seem to mostly restrict their argumentation to validity, and "it's not valid" is usually regarded as a fatal flaw - but why? <

    I don’t think this is correct. Philosophers pay attention to both validity and soundness. If an instance of reasoning is invalid it is just bad in form, and it get criticized on that ground; its inductive strength rests with the degree of soundness of its premises.

    jimpliciter,

    > Perhaps I’m a little too biased as to how metaphysical philosophy can inform the everyday agency of the everyday laity, especially when couched in an all too recondite, theoretically obese, scientific vernacular. <

    But since when we dismiss fields of inquiry that are not pertinent to everyday life? That means most of mathematics, most of logic, and, frankly, most of science. (Not to mention history, the arts, etc.). We would have a highly impoverished view of human intellectual endeavors.

    Anonymous,

    > It does seem to me that at least some of the situations invoked in trying to find a meaningful place for metaphysics (like the statue vs lump of clay thing) are just silly wordplay. <

    Or perhaps you don’t grasp what they are getting at. I’m getting a little tired of people who have probably never read a single technical paper in metaphysics dismissing the whole field as “silly.” It’s too easy, and more than a bit anti-intellectual.

    > Then again, the assumption that the world is made up of "mathematical relations" or "physical laws" is just as presumptuous. <

    Have you read Ladyman & Ross, or anything about ontic structural realism? If not, I have a good idea of who’s being presumptuous here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...the arguments in favor of ontic structural realism are complex, empirically based, and not that easy to dismiss.

      Granted, we cannot do justice to any philosophical theory worth arguing over in a format like this one (i.e. blog comments). The best I can do (especially given my time constraints) is to summarize my own theoretical pets, based on what I've read thus far, in contrast to yours.

      And, should you remind me that I'm only a lay person, I'll remind you that there are experts (e.g. scientists and philosophers) who disagree with you, Ladyman, & Ross.

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    2. Massimo, My statement was "Isn't that the problem in a nutshell with these competing levels of reality debates over competing intuitons...." or metaphysics may not have gotten it completely wrong or completely right. Thales believing everything was water was close since water is plentiful and undergoes obvious state changes (it did go below 32F in Greece) and of course fire is energy.

      VP

      Furthermore: "With only a philosophic "technical" definiton but no scientific one, we are in a no man's land. Hence anything goes as they say.".... or when we scientificaly understand how our biology makes intuitions, then we will be closer to one reality instead of "statues and clay". Mathematics which is grounded in a rule based system of intuitions may have given us the tools to perceive deeper reality but in the process we may have jumped an unexplained gap in our own ontology.

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    3. Me: Isn't the whole discussion about the Chinese Room in your previous post an example of the wrong use of intuition in metaphysics? <

      Massimo No. First, because I insist that Searle is right on the CR; second because it is philosophy of mind, not really metaphysics.

      If metaphysics is at least partly about the structure of the world, then I would think how that structure supports consciousness can be considered metaphysical.

      I know you don't want to talk more about your previous post, but I will say I find the SEP summaries of the robot reply, causal connections, and meaning convincingly refute Searle's argument about syntax and semantics.

      What is left is consciousness. As far as I can tell, only intuition is being used make decisions about what can be conscious and what can not be by the previous post by almost all contributors. The SEP expands on this problem with Searle's argument. (Specifying living/evolving does not help: what about bacteria versus insects versus bats ....)

      I only mentioned it here because I found it ironic that you posted about wrong usage of intuition after a discussion which seemed to rely so heavily on such usage.

      I'll look forward to the podcast.

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  25. Me:I'm not sure that metaphysical questions are meaningful.

    Massimo: Not sure why you are not sure. One may question methods and answers, but the questions themselves?

    I think the point is not that aren't "meaningful" questions, but that "metaphysical" questions may not be meaningful. It's is not like this has not been suggested before in both philosophic and scientific communities. Who's suggesting that metaphysical questions shouldn't be asked? But don't suggest surprise if someone says that the question is unintelligible or expresses an aim that is unobtainable.

    Me: Since I don't think a unified vision across scientific disciplines is a realistic goal, the question then is whether or not they are ultimately engaging in more than dressed-up reportage."

    Massimo: "I do think it’s possible, but even if not, it will be interesting to see how and why it will fail. They are doing a lot more than reportage, dressed up or naked."

    For me, one of the questions raised by the approach of Ladyman, Ross, et al. is whether or not philosophy of science has been reduced to one of reportage. It seems to me one of their contentions is that "naturalized" (conservative?) metaphysics cannot be separated from scientific methodology. The benefit of this is that scientific findings are less likely to be accepted uncritically (scientism). But does science really need philosophy to serve this function? And so, is it not also reasonable to ask whether the sciences and scientific methodology need a naturalized, or any, metaphysics to proceed? If not, the relevance of philosophy of science is undermined.

    I know you feel otherwise, but I simply disagree.

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  26. A distinction drawn at the very beginning of this post holds the key to avoiding the host of (non)issues at play here. Should it be Meta-physician or Meta-physicist? It is clearly tempting for those in the humanities to try to imitate the hard sciences but Philosophy is, when understood properly, much more akin to medicine than to physics. I refer you to Nussbaum's book The Therapy of Desire for a sustained treatment of this point.

    Conceived as Meta-physician rather than Meta-physicist, the practitioner [and note that it is, primarily and essentially, a form of praxis rather than theoria] aims not to construct a model of reality but rather to treat and correct the pathologies of the mind. No doubt in doing this the Meta-physician will often draw on the models and theories of reality constructed by the special sciences and may make corrections to those systems if that is something they have a penchant for. But the fundamental telos is quite different.

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  27. Metaphysics wars? Sounds very bloody. Would a short casualty count be possible?

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  28. To be chopped away by Ockham's Razor is a fate many fear.

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  29. mufi,

    > should you remind me that I'm only a lay person, I'll remind you that there are experts (e.g. scientists and philosophers) who disagree with you, Ladyman, & Ross <

    Of course. If I objected to the opinions of lay people I wouldn’t engage in discussions on this blog...

    Thomas,

    > Who's suggesting that metaphysical questions shouldn't be asked? But don't suggest surprise if someone says that the question is unintelligible or expresses an aim that is unobtainable. <

    Fine, but that ought to be addressed case by case, there is no sense in dismissing metaphysics *as such*, i.e., as a discipline.

    > one of the questions raised by the approach of Ladyman, Ross, et al. is whether or not philosophy of science has been reduced to one of reportage. <

    As a scientist and philosopher I’d say, no, clearly not.

    > does science really need philosophy to serve this function? <

    Yes, for the reasons that L&R clearly state in the first chapter of their book. Basically, scientists are really bad at making conceptual connections across multiple fields. Not surprisingly, since it isn’t their job, and they are not trained at it.

    brucexs,

    > If metaphysics is at least partly about the structure of the world, then I would think how that structure supports consciousness can be considered metaphysical. <

    Of course, but now you risk claiming that everything is metaphysical, because everything depends on the structure of the world. True, in a sense, but not very useful.

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    Replies
    1. >Of course, but now you risk claiming that everything is metaphysical, because everything depends on the structure of the world. True, in a sense, but not very useful.

      Maybe it is true that metaphysics underlies philosophy in the same way that physics underlies science?

      Seriously, the point about intuition stands regardless:

      1. It is dangerous to use intuition to draw conclusions (as opposed to using it as a polite way to assume premises)

      2. When it comes to what can be conscious (as opposed to intelligent), intuition is what the CR relies on for its conclusion.

      'Nuff said on this for me.

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  30. Massimo: On a more conciliatory note, I hope that it's clear that I value what philosophers do, and that I recognize that even a lay person like myself takes for granted some folksy version of metaphysics (e.g. minimally, that solipsism is false, that the material world, featuring other minds, exists, etc.). It's only when we approach the less conventional, more conjectural (as Hume put it), brand of metaphysics (e.g. what ultimately exists) that my skeptical hackles rise.

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  31. Why is it that you never discuss Mario BUnge's work on this and another subjects? I'm intrigued, since he has offered good answers to metaphysics questions.

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  32. @ Massimo

    > Please pay attention: I wrote both in the main post and in the comments that the word “intuition” here is used in a very specific sense, which is not the common one you are referring to in your comment, and which makes your comment therefore besides the point. <

    Why are you always attempting to redefine terms?

    Merriam-Webster defines "intuition" as "a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence," "a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why" and "something that is known or understood without proof or evidence."

    This sounds like "intuition" involves a strong element of "faith." That's probably explains why you're attempting to redefine the term. God forbid that you should invoke faith to make a rational argument.

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  33. bruce,

    > It is dangerous to use intuition to draw conclusions (as opposed to using it as a polite way to assume premises) <

    But the latter, not the former, is exactly what philosophers do, as argued in the article quoted in the main post.

    > When it comes to what can be conscious (as opposed to intelligent), intuition is what the CR relies on for its conclusion. <

    I disagree, for the reasons I explained in the separate post and commentary.

    mufi,

    > It's only when we approach the less conventional, more conjectural (as Hume put it), brand of metaphysics (e.g. what ultimately exists) that my skeptical hackles rise. <

    As they should. At any rate, I didn’t think we were having a fight, so there is no need for conciliatory notes. ;-)

    anibal,

    > Why is it that you never discuss Mario Bunge's work on this and another subjects? <

    Because I’m not that familiar with it (I’m not a metaphysician), and it usually doesn’t come up in the readings I do.

    > Why are you always attempting to redefine terms? <

    I attempt to clarify the technical use of terms, which is what philosophers do. Quoting the Webster does precisely nothing, since their definition refers to the layperson’s version of the term intuition, which is decidedly NOT what we are talking about here.

    > God forbid that you should invoke faith to make a rational argument. <

    I don’t think God would forbid it, but rationality certainly does.

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  34. @ Massimo

    > I attempt to clarify the technical use of terms, which is what philosophers do. Quoting the Webster does precisely nothing, since their definition refers to the layperson’s version of the term intuition, which is decidedly NOT what we are talking about here. <

    Puhlease! Here's your "technical" definition of "intuition"..."it is obvious that" or "it seems to me that."

    I would argue that Merriam-Webster's definition of the term was slightly more technical than yours. (Actually, it was a lot more technical than yours.)

    > I don’t think God would forbid it, but rationality certainly does. <

    Every rational argument is ultimately based on beliefs (premises) taken on faith. And, of course, this harks back to my first comment on this thread: "Intuition and analytical thought work in tandem." It was spot on then; it still is.

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  35. A very good piece that has bearing on this particular blog and from which we can all find something to think about: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/modality-and-metaphysics/

    ReplyDelete
  36. From President Obama's talk on Syria: "First, many of you have asked: Won't this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

    My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad's capabilities."

    As he laid out out his argument he could have laid out the objective premises from he and his advisors that the Iraq War was costly economicaly and there was little popular support (polling data). Instead he cited a letter from a citizen and a veteran. Although the objective argument was correct, for a speech to the people he shifts to a first person, intuitive, "what its like to be a citizen" posture.

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  37. This reminds me of something a professor told me a few years ago. He said if you are assigned to critique a paper and are having problems coming up with criticisms you should look for the word "intuitively". You will probably find a premise the author didn't feel the need to or want to support.

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