Edward Feser and Vincent Torley

I have been following Vincent’s spat with Edward Feser (A Catholic philosopher with some reactionary views – his blog) over whether Feser’s own “cosmological argument” has the merit Feser seems to think. Here’s Vincent’s latest post on the matter.

Not being able to post at Uncommon Descent, I thought I might catch up with Vincent at Feser’s blog but I seem to have worn out my welcome. In case anyone decides to pop in from Feser’s blog, I thought I’d offer this thread for discussion. And please regard it as an open thread. Nothing will be considered off-topic. Usual rules apply!

193 thoughts on “Edward Feser and Vincent Torley

  1. walto: I think your translation is much more specific and position-excluding than my pre-analytic version. I’d make your description ONE way that “Minds depend on brains” could be true–but not the only way.

    Ok, fair enough — that’s just my preferred way of giving a semi-precise sense to the assertion that “minds depend on brains”. I’m well-aware of having packed a lot of John McDowell etc. into my preference.

  2. BruceS: Putnam has a different view of how to use the word color, as I understand him.His articles are pretty clear and short and worth reading, working backwards from the link in my note to Walt..

    He is well aware of illusion and context,and includes them in a discussion of subjective looks, intersubjective illusions, and objective properties.

    I don’t want to try to explain his stuff in detail as I am still grappling with it myself.

    Struck me that he must surely be aware but “hues are identical to reflectance profiles” seems unambiguous to me, especially as he defined ‘reflectance profiles’ in the blog post. Maybe I’ll read backwards as you suggest..

  3. BruceS: If you say movement is caused by both mental and physical causes, then I think Kim’s arguments against overdetermination of causes apply: you’d have overdetermined causation of the movement.

    Unless one is an anti-realist about causes as well as about objects, as L&R are. For them, all that’s real are the extra-representational real patterns. So there’s no overdetermination of causes; instead, the “mental causes” and the “physical causes” are discipline-specific practical devices for book-keeping very similar real patterns, where the similarity consists of the spatio-temporal and energetic scales of pattern-resolution involved.

    The next book I’m reading is Horst’s Beyond Reduction (reviewed here). After that, it’ll probably be Thompson’s Mind in Life and Rockwell’s Neither Brain Nor Ghost.

    I’ve decided that, in order to play to my strengths, I’m going to focus as much as I can in philosophy of mind. I’ve done a lot of reading already in that area and continuing down that road is easy. Some of the book touched on philosophy of language, but that’s not my core area — I certainly couldn’t teach an undergrad course in philosophy of language and I certainly wouldn’t want to!

    Of course I keep on meaning to come back to my first loves in philosophy — ethics and political philosophy, the stuff that actually matters — but so far it hasn’t happened yet.

  4. walto:
    BruceS,

    Bruce, I hope to spend some serious time on Putnam, Block and Raffman at some point (unless I can get somebody else to do it–I’ve tried to convince Guy Longworth and Keith Wilson, but so far no dice).But so far, I’ve only read through their stuff pretty quickly.Lately I’ve been concentrating on my ethics lectures and on a paper on (of all things) aesthetic value and musical form. Anyhow, I don’t think I’m in a position to opine on Putnam’s (constantly shifting) views on perception. I’d probably get them all mucked up.

    OK.

    I have to go back to try to understand how a “look” differs from quale (if it does).

    Also, the last paragraph of his Aug 19 on how we can attend to how it could look as well as how it does look and that all the looks represents objective properties ( if perception is vericidal) seems to sum up his points.

    Though I am not sure to what total.

    But, geez, still publishing books and articles, and now a blog and G+ too at near 90.

  5. Kantian Naturalist: So there’s no overdetermination of causes; instead, the “mental causes” and the “physical causes” are discipline-specific practical devices for book-keeping very similar real patterns, where the similarity consists of the spatio-temporal and energetic scales of pattern-resolution involved.

    If you keep everything discipline specific, that seems fine.

    But what concerns me is consilience: how can you have discipline-specific causes and events and still look at consilience (and mechanism) involving several science disciplines, none of which is physics.

    Which is what real science does at times.

    I’ve decided that, in order to play to my strengths, I’m going to focus as much as I can in philosophy of mind.

    Thanks for reading ideas. As always, I’m interested in anything you have time to share.

    I’m currently re-attempting Prinz’s Conscious Brain which I’ve skimmed before and which is very much a neuroscience-driven book on philosophy of mind.
    I find phil of language confusing and would prefer to avoid it, but the challenge for me is that philosophy of mind often uses philosophy of language basic concepts.

    For example, Prinz talks about a Fregean concept of qualia as “modes of presentation” of reality.

  6. davehooke: Struck me that he must surely be aware but “hues are identical to reflectance profiles” seems unambiguous to me, especially as he defined ‘reflectance profiles’ in the blog post. Maybe I’ll read backwards as you suggest..

    I think his core motivation is to justify his “liberal functionalism” (so that he thinks that perceptual states have “long arms” to include aspects of the external world).

    Also, I am not sure, but he may subscribe to some kind of representational explanation of qualia in which case he would benefit from an objective color for qualia to represent.

    But that is just speculation on my part.

  7. BruceS

    But that is just speculation on my part.

    I left out something important:

    Putnam wants to avoid anything that could be interpreted as “sense data” or as saying we “perceive qualia” for reasons he provides in several discussions of Russell.

  8. BruceS,

    Yeah, he’s a very impressive guy. But no philosopher (since Russell, anyhow) has changed his views as often and as significantly as Putnam has. He’s even written a paper on why he should be congratulated for that. I mean, it’s great to not be hide bound and to recognize your errors and not be averse to admitting them, etc. But it’s very hard to pin somebody like that down. Especially since he’s gone back and forth a bit too.

  9. I met a guy who studied under Putnam at Harvard – although eventually went on to become a composer rather than pursue philosophy (and it was in a musical context in which I met him).

    He offered that he had never met anyone who could return intellectual serves, on any topic, as adeptly as Putnam.

    He also noted that at Harvard a “Putnam” was (affectionately) considered a unit of time – specifically, the interval between Putnam’s articulation of a position and his later rejection of it.

  10. Reciprocating Bill,

    Enjoying your forays into Uncommon Descent. Pleased to see that you are avoiding wrestling with a certain tar-baby who shall remain nameless otherwise waves of burning oil of ad hominem will ensue

  11. Other news!

    A chink in the Catholic armour has appeared. Apparently Ed Feser’s unassailable and much misunderstood “Thomist Cosmological Argument” (or at least the First Way) is partly based on the premise that there is an outside to the universe.

    Disbelief must be suspended while assurances are sought. Excuse the on-topic interruption.

  12. Alan Fox:
    Apparently Ed Feser’s unassailable and much misunderstood “Thomist Cosmological Argument” (or at least the First Way) is partly based on the premise that there is an outside to the universe

    If I can change the “the” to a “this” as in “this universe”, then for the outside of this universe we can use Brane Cosmology

    “The central idea is that the visible, four-dimensional universe is restricted to a brane inside a higher-dimensional space”

    Who knew that Aquinas was the first string theorist?

  13. BruceS,

    Can’t have that, Bruce. Other universes? How do you know that? 🙂

    Thanks for pointing me to that link. Worth a mention, I think.

  14. Alan Fox:
    Can’t have that, Bruce. Other universes? How do you know that?

    If the logic and revelation via Aquinas doesn’t convince you, then I’ll have to call out the Really Big Guns: Brian Greene

  15. Kantian Naturalist:

    The chief error of contemporary Scholastics like Feser (and there are many others)

    Review of New Scholasticism Meets Analytic Philosophy
    From the review:
    “This volume contributes to the exciting international conversations that are currently developing among metaphysicians of different ‘affiliations’
    […]
    In conclusion, this collection is a valuable and stimulating read at the forefront of an important developing trend in metaphysics.”

    From the reviewers CV:
    Externally funded Research Projects (which I direct)
    The Metaphysics of Entanglement (2014 2017) Funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation; award of the value of £ 839,000 [=US $1.4 Million]

    Hmm,. maybe there IS something to this Aristotle stuff….

  16. BruceS,

    That there’s interesting work being done on the conversation between the new Scholasticism and analytic metaphysics does count for something. However, as a pragmatic naturalist, it doesn’t count for a whole lot by my lights — since I’m deeply suspicious of analytic metaphysics on its own merits.

    My current research/writing project is on Huw Price’s criticism of metaphysics, based on his “Metaphysics After Carnap: The Ghost Who Walks?” (PDF) (from his Naturalism without Mirrors, reviewed here). I’ve written a good bit on Price for conferences but haven’t published on him yet. I want to show that there’s a weird and interesting consilience between Price’s critique of analytic metaphysics and Ladyman and Ross’s polemic against what they call the “neo-scholasticism” of metaphysicians, even those who purport to be “naturalists”.

    Once the draft is done, I’ll put it on my Academia page and post the link at TSZ.

  17. KN:

    I think that L&R are asking us to think much harder about what exactly talk of “constraint” here means, and what it commits us to. Does biology constrain psychology? If so, how?

    keiths:

    How could it not? Minds depend on brains, and brains are biological entities.

    KN:

    I think that this claim is much less obvious than it seems, but more importantly, there’s no reason at all for naturalists to say so.

    keiths:

    To argue that minds don’t depend on brains is to argue that they can function independently of brains. If you have any evidence that this happens, I’m all ears.

    KN:

    I didn’t claim that minds don’t depend on brains; I claimed that it’s not really obvious that minds do depend on brains.

    The evidence is overwhelming that minds depend on brains. We can discuss it in depth if you’d like, but you can start by considering the effect of drugs, trauma, degenerative diseases, hypoxia, etc. These all impair brain function for reasons that are scientifically well-understood, and they have corresponding effects on the minds associated with those brains.

    More importantly (for my purposes), the claim that minds depends on brains is pretty obscure — what exactly is being claimed here?

    That the brain must function in order for the mind to function. I don’t think that’s obscure at all — it’s a very well-known (and well-supported) claim!

    …and it’s not a claim that any naturalist must be committed to, simply by virtue of naturalism.

    Of course not. It’s science that establishes the truth of the claim, not naturalism.

    There’s nothing I can see in naturalism that commits us to reductionism…

    But the unification of the sciences can take lots of different forms, and that needn’t be reductionist…

    A reduction has to earn its keep…

    [etc.]

    I think you’re confusing the fact that psychology is constrained by biology with the idea that psychology can be reduced to biology. The latter is not entailed by the former.

    Now, what’s the relation between “minds depend on brains” and “psychology can be reduced to neuroscience”? One might think that it would still be reasonable to assert that “minds depend on brains” even if psychology cannot be reduced to neuroscience.

    But I am not at all sure about that, because I worry that reference is theory-dependent. And if that’s so, then “mind” is what our psychologies theories refer to, and “brain” is what our neuroscientific theories refer to. Hence if reference is theory-dependent, then the reasonableness of “minds depend on brains” follows from, and is not independent of, the reducibility of psychological explanations to neurological explanations.

    Again, “is constrained by” is not synonymous with “can be reduced to”. Also, I don’t see why theory-dependent references should be an obstacle to reduction. For example, ‘atoms’, ‘electrons’, ‘orbitals’ and ‘compounds’ are all theory-dependent references. Do you think that presents a problem for the project of reducing chemistry to physics?

  18. keiths,

    I agree with pretty much all of this post. I’m not sure about the last graph, regarding problems for reduction presented by theory-dependent terms–I’d have to think about it. All the rest seems fairly obvious to me.

    It may be, though, that our differences with KN result from something he suggested above: he takes “depend” as a technical term, and means something by “Mind depends on brains” that is quite different from our pre-analytic understanding. As I’ve said, I object to that “translation.”

  19. keiths: I think you’re confusing the fact that psychology is constrained by biology with the idea that psychology can be reduced to biology. The latter is not entailed by the former.

    I agree that there’s no entailment here. My worry is that we know pretty much exactly what we’re affirming or denying when we talk about “reductions”, because the logic of reduction has been exhaustively studied by people like Carl Hempel, Ernst Nagel, and many others since. Whereas when we talk about “constraint,” it’s much less clear what we’re talking about.

    keiths: Also, I don’t see why theory-dependent references should be an obstacle to reduction. For example, ‘atoms’, ‘electrons’, ‘orbitals’ and ‘compounds’ are all theory-dependent references. Do you think that presents a problem for the project of reducing chemistry to physics?

    Yes, I do. I think I’m entitled to a high degree of skepticism as to whether chemical concepts like “reaction” or “catalyst” can be reduced to quantum-mechanical concepts like “orbital” or “wave-function”.

    walto: It may be, though, that our differences with KN result from something he suggested above: he takes “depend” as a technical term, and means something by “Mind depends on brains” that is quite different from our pre-analytic understanding. As I’ve said, I object to that “translation.”

    I doubt I’ve made myself sufficiently clear, so I’ll start over. I don’t actually have a strenuous objection to “minds depend on brains” or “brain functions constrain mental functions”. I do think that there is something true about those claims, for all the empirical reasons that keiths cites and which are well-known to all of us here.

    My complaint wasn’t that those statements are false, but that they aren’t precise enough to be true. Taking talk of “constraint” or “dependence” to be ways of talking about reduction is but one way of making them more precise. And it’s the reductionism that I object to — not the general talk of constraint or dependence.

    To be sure, if there’s a different way of making precise sense of “constraint” and/or “dependence” without reduction, I’m all for it. In fact, I presented one such way of doing so above:

    As a constitutive explanation, any and all conceptual, perceptual, conative, and affective capacities are capacities of, and enacted by, a living animal in an environment. As an enabling explanation, any and all conceptual, perceptual, conative, and affective capacities that we are presentably able to observe are causally actualized through well-functioning neurocomputational mechanisms.

    Now, if someone doesn’t like my way of parsing this out — and why should they? — but they also want to make sense of “constraint” and/or “dependence” without reduction, and they are interested in being as precise as possible, then I’d say the burden is on them to present their own proposal

  20. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,

    Ah, as always there is semantic wiggle room!

    This universe is just a part of the universe!

    I’ll see your Brian Greene and raise you a Max Tegmark
    Tegmark Multiverse (good stuff starts at around 4:00 minutes)

    Temgark adds a whole new dimension to the issue by postulating a 4-level multiverse. With universes at one level having the possibility of different physical constants, and universes at another level having differing laws altogether, I’d see it as stretching language too far to call them all THE universe.

    But of course there is a version of me (or maybe infinite versions of me) that would say that you are right and THE universe is fine.

    I don’t know if any of this is true or even likely, but it is fascinating that many scientists take some of these ideas seriously and see them as necessary consequences of our best theories.

  21. Kantian Naturalist: As an enabling explanation, any and all conceptual, perceptual, conative, and affective capacities that we are presentably able to observe are causally actualized through well-functioning neurocomputational mechanisms.

    I missed originally noticing that on the face of that you are a believer in the computational theory of mind/body for all human capacities. I suspect there are subtleties in “causally actualized” and “enabling explanation” that I am missing.

    I’m surprised Neil also remained silent about that.

    Thanks for the link the Huw Price paper which I read through (up to the section on Lewis and modal realism). I don’t have the background for a deep understanding of it, but I did find that he writes very clearly and so I think I caught some of his basic points.

    I’ll look forward to your paper.

  22. walto:

    “Mind depends on brains” that is quite different from our pre-analytic understanding.As I’ve said, I object to that “translation.”

    Are you saying that an Ordinarly Language understanding of words which are also being used as scientific terms should be good enough to explore technical issues like reduction or constraint of scientific theories? That seems to simplistic. But I am not clear on what else you could mean.

    As for “constraint”, I agree with KN that there are interesting issues in what it means to say one science constrains another.

    For example, if you are a functionalist about mind, then you could very well believe that the role of brains is to realize the mind. Other substrates could serve as well as long as they allowed for the equivalent implementation of all the causal relations in your functionalist model of the mind.

    In that case, you could claim that the mind is constraining the brain, since it dictates the properties that a physical substrate like the brain has to take.

    I personally am not that type of functionalist. My point is rather to point out that one way constraint is not a given and hence the issue of what constraint could mean is well worth exploring in detail.

  23. BruceS: Are you saying that an Ordinarly Language understanding of words which are also being used as scientific terms should be good enough to explore technical issues like reduction or constraint of scientific theories? .

    No. I’m saying that such sentences can’t be translated into scientific talk without changing their meanings. To illustrate, and to answer KN’s challenge above

    “Now, if someone doesn’t like my way of parsing this out — and why should they? — but they also want to make sense of “constraint” and/or “dependence” without reduction, and they are interested in being as precise as possible, then I’d say the burden is on them to present their own proposal.”

    we might take “X-states depends on Y-states” to mean something like “It is physically necessary that if Y does not obtain, then X does not obtain.” Admittedly, that’s not terribly edifying–for one thing, it requires an explanation of physical necessity. But, IMO if it WERE edifying, I think it would be a bad translation. “Depends” means something (and I’m not talking about diapers) in ordinary English and what it means is true of minds and brains. If we flesh it out in anything like the manner KN proposed we’re saying something else, something more sophisticated, and, very likely something that is NOT true–or something that is at least controversial.

  24. BruceS: I’m surprised Neil also remained silent about that.

    The whole discussion is a bit puzzling.

    Keiths says that brains constrain minds, and therefore biology constrains minds.

    The thesis of AI is that you can have minds without brains and without biology.

    As far as I know, Keiths favors AI.

    I’ve been sitting back and watching where this is going to go.

  25. Neil Rickert: The whole
    I’ve been sitting back and watching where this is going to go.

    It was the “perception is computational” interpretation of KN’s quote that I thought might have gotten you to comment.

  26. walto: No. I’m saying that such sentences can’t be translated into scientific talk without changing their meanings.

    OK, but I thought the need for that type of translation would be a given in the context of KN’s discussion of L&M.

    If we flesh it out in anything like the manner KN proposed we’re saying something else, something more sophisticated, and, very likely something that is NOT true–or something that is at least controversial.

    I was surprised by KN’s summary because it seems to me to be statement of the standard reductive approach to mind and brain, and I did not think he was sympathetic to that reduction. I’m sure I am missing something.

    I don’t know if his summary is true, but I think something like it is the basis for a lot of the research programs in cognitive science.

  27. BruceS: It was the “perception is computational” interpretation of KN’s quote that I thought might have gotten you to comment.

    It does not seem useful to start an argument every time someone says something that I disagree with.

  28. Neil,

    The whole discussion is a bit puzzling.

    Keiths says that brains constrain minds, and therefore biology constrains minds.

    The thesis of AI is that you can have minds without brains and without biology.

    As far as I know, Keiths favors AI.

    I’ve been sitting back and watching where this is going to go.

    The minds we know of depend on brains, but that does not mean that this will always be true.

    Remember, the exchange began with KN’s question about whether psychology is constrained by biology:

    I think that L&R are asking us to think much harder about what exactly talk of “constraint” here means, and what it commits us to. Does biology constrain psychology? If so, how?

    My reply:

    How could it not? Minds depend on brains, and brains are biological entities.

  29. KN,

    Whereas when we talk about “constraint,” it’s much less clear what we’re talking about.

    I’m surprised to hear you say that, since constraint plays a prominent role in Ladyman and Ross’s unification project. It’s even enshrined as part of their “Primacy of Physics Constraint”, to which they refer repeatedly:

    We now give the more precise formulation of the PPC:

    Special science hypotheses that conflict with fundamental physics, or such consensus as there is in fundamental physics, should be rejected for that reason alone. Fundamental physical hypotheses are not symmetrically hostage to the conclusions of the special sciences.

    This, we claim, is a regulative principle in current science, and it shold be respected by naturalistic metaphysicians. The first, descriptive, claim is reason for the second, normative, one.

    keiths:

    Also, I don’t see why theory-dependent references should be an obstacle to reduction. For example, ‘atoms’, ‘electrons’, ‘orbitals’ and ‘compounds’ are all theory-dependent references. Do you think that presents a problem for the project of reducing chemistry to physics?

    KN:

    Yes, I do. I think I’m entitled to a high degree of skepticism as to whether chemical concepts like “reaction” or “catalyst” can be reduced to quantum-mechanical concepts like “orbital” or “wave-function”.

    The question isn’t whether you’re entitled to be skeptical of the reduction. It’s whether you’re entitled to be skeptical of the reduction because the references are theory-dependent. Why should theory-dependent references be an obstacle to reduction?

  30. The concepts of reduction and translation are quite thorny (or at least seem so to me) precisely because languages are theory-dependent.

    One of the papers in my book, “Metaphysical Realism and the Various Cognitive Predicaments of Everett W. Hall” is largely devoted that topic, which, incidentally, includes an interesting dispute between Putnam and Hartry Field on the nature of realism.

  31. keiths: Minds depend on brains

    My two cents:

    If minds are what brains do, then minds cannot exist without brains or some other equivalent substrate that we are perhaps currently incapable of constructing but not incapable of envisaging.

  32. Alan Fox,

    FWIW, I was not impressed with his videos, to which I was led by Neil’s blog (though TBH, I only watched two). As I commented on one of them, Wilkins doesn’t seem to have any idea what structural realism is. I think he confuses it with “structuralism” of the continental variety. It’s all garbled up, anyhow.

  33. walto,

    The concepts of reduction and translation are quite thorny (or at least seem so to me) precisely because languages are theory-dependent.

    Could you elaborate? How is the reduction of chemistry to physics impeded by the theory-dependence of the terms, for example?

  34. keiths:
    walto,

    Could you elaborate?How is the reduction of chemistry to physics impeded by the theory-dependence of the terms, for example?

    I suspect KN is assuming the theory reduction developed by Hempel and Nagel which requires translation of terms (or at least bridge laws between terms in different sciences) in order to properly complete what they consider theory reduction to be.

    I’m not sure about Walto, but I think he is starting with that and adding the further complication that we have to understand how we are using language to do that properly.

    To me, this is all epistemic reproduction: that is, reducing our knowledge expressed in some science to knowledge expressed in another science.

    I think this type of reduction is mainly of interest to some philosophers. I see science as using more opportunistic reduction, eg reduction in methodology (understand inheritance by looking at molecular chemistry) or reduction by reducing to a mechanism of suitably arranged working parts and explaining interactions by another science.

    Further, I think all these kinds of knowledge reduction are different from ontological reduction. I think it is reasonable to suppose that everything is what physics tells us are the basic constituents of the world, eg patterns of quantum fields. That is, everything is ontologically reducible to the entities of a complete physics.

    That is not the same as saying we could develop useful, understandable, or computable models with only physics.

    I don’t know what kind of reduction you are assuming. It might be helpful to the discussion to explain how you are using the word.

  35. Alan Fox:
    John Wilkins blogged on emergence and reduction a while ago.

    Surprisal value. Discuss!

    I think he is correct in saying that emergence is a result of limitations in our ability to predict, ie epistemic.

    There is no downward causation and no ontological emergence.

    But since doing science is about extending and using our knowledge, the lack of ontological emergence is more of interest to philosophers than scientists.

    Physicists may try to make more money by doing being financial quants, but their physics is not going to help them.

  36. Here’s a slightly hacked up excerpt from the paper I was talking about. I removed all the footnotes, and some of them are helpful, I think. But what’s left still gives some idea of why I think translation/reduction questions are hard and confusing.

    David Anderson (1992: 51) has provided what he calls “three tenets of metaphysical realism.”

    (M1) Correspondence Truth. Truth is a particular sort of relation of correspondence between pieces of language and world (i.e. ding-an-sich-reality). A statement is correspondence-true iff it bears this unique relation to ding-an-sich-reality.

    (M2) Semantic Realism. Statements that express an existential commitment to concrete objects (whether middle-sized or theoretical) will be true or false in virtue of the intrinsic nature of mind-independent reality and thus in virtue of conditions the obtaining of which may be in principle inaccessible to human beings.

    (M3) Ontological Realism. All or most of the objects countenanced by the best science or common sense (or both) depending on the particular type of realism being espoused—exist independently of any mind.

    It is my opinion that while this list is a good start, it is likely incomplete. A fourth criterion, and one that might seem to threaten Whorfians and Hallians alike, is suggested by a dispute between Hartry Field and Putnam over the issue of whether metaphysical realism implies the existence of a single exhaustive set of truths about the universe. In a review of Putnam’s Reason, Truth and History, Field (1992: 553-554) argued that it is no part of metaphysical realism to maintain that there must be “exactly one true and complete description of the way the world is.” Based on the fact that the particular concepts we use to understand and describe the objects of our thoughts are not inevitable and can be expected to differ significantly from those utilized by extra-terrestrials (or, presumably, even an earth child raised by wolves), Field (1992: 554) argues that “the view that there is exactly one true and complete description of the world just seems false, and should not be taken as a component of any sane version of realism.” Was he right about this? Let us look at Putnam’s proposed “exactly one” claim for a moment and consider whether Field’s objection to placing it among the criteria for metaphysical realism is persuasive.

    (M4) Total Truth Realism. There is exactly one true and complete description of the world.

    The “is” here may be troublesome to some readers. If there is such a description, where is it? And, presumably, if there were no sentient beings, there would be no actual conceptual schemes and no “descriptions of the world’ at all, complete or incomplete. It might therefore be better to read M4 as “It is possible that there be a true and complete description of the world, and, necessarily, there is no more than one such true and complete description.” Safer still, would be to avoid these modal issues as much as possible and simply rewrite it as follows:

    (M4*) Total Truth Realism. There is no more than one true and complete description of the world.

    In this way we can, perhaps, retain the realist intuition of exclusivity without offending those who are skeptical of possibly existing schemes or truths.
    As indicated, Field denied that sensible realists will hold (M4) based on the seemingly undeniable fact that the conceptual array at our disposal is both accidental and limited. His conclusion doesn’t actually seem to follow, however. Either the truths available in some conceptual scheme (“CS1”) comprise all the truths about the world or they do not. If they do, then there can be no true statement that can be made in some other conceptual scheme that cannot be made in CS1. If, on the other hand, there are truths about the world that are expressible in some scheme CS2 that are not included in the possible compilation of truths that can be expressed in CS1, then we could simply conjoin the truths from CS1, to those of CS2 and all other possible schemes allowing for truths that are untranslatable into CS1. That process should get us all the truths about the universe. While it is undeniable that we would not have “a true and complete description of the world” until we have conjoined all the distinct truths expressible in every possible CS that are not entirely included or translatable into some other CS; nevertheless, after the elimination of all redundancies, if metaphysical realism is correct, there could not be more than one complete (or most complete, if we prefer to stick with actually existing CSs) set of truths. And that is precisely what (M4*) asserts (again ignoring modal considerations). Thus, Putnam seems to me to have been right to maintain that metaphysical realists can agree to (M4*). I don’t think that this result ought to suggest that there is, or one day must be, either a neutral (“God’s eye”) perspective or an infinite supply of conceptual machinery. (M4*) does not imply either that anyone will ever be in a position to believe (never mind know) all truths, or even that there actually exists some conceptual scheme or conjunction of them such that every truth may be expressed in it.

    Let us, in any case, add the (M4*) criterion to our list for the moment, and take (M1)-(M4*) as a reasonably complete set of basic tenets to which metaphysical realists are likely to agree. Is it consistent with NR as defined above? If we leave aside Hallian predicaments and any effect they may have on “internality” for a moment, it seems fairly clear that one who endorses NR is likely to agree to all of our criteria for metaphysical realism. If we restrict ourselves to the common-sense disjunct of (M3),35 its entailment by NR seems obvious, and I think that, although there is no straightforwardly semantical or involving the merely possible existence of these CSs and any “truths” that may be found within them.

    One might, then, simply suggest that since Hall believed that there really are independently existing roses, and since anyone who has such a belief must be a metaphysical realist, Hall, ontological relativist or not, was a metaphysical realist. Unfortunately, if we want to ensure that Hall’s positions were not self-contradictory, the matter is somewhat more complicated than is suggested by the above remarks. This can be seen from the fact that when Anderson tells us how to recognize a non-realist, he mentions the expectation that such a philosopher will insist on the two following principles (Anderson 1992: 490):

    (N1) Commitment Relativity Ontological commitment is always internal to a conceptual scheme.

    (N2) Ontological Relativity There is no scheme-independent fact of the matter regarding the ultimate furniture of the universe.

    Two questions immediately arise. First, do these really provide a good set of criteria, if not for anti-realism, at least for categorial relativity? Second, is either (N1) or (N2) actually inconsistent with the conjunction of (M1)-(M4*)? Putnam (1981) has talked as though both of these questions should be answered in the affirmative. He says, at any rate, that (N1) and (N2) are both true and are important parts of what characterize his post-metaphysical-realist philosophy.37 As indicated above, Hall, a naïve realist, would likely have assented to (M1)-(M4*). But, since he also believed that we are stuck in a categorio-centric predicament (in Putnam’s terms, can never have available a “God’s Eye” perspective on the world), I think he would have also assented to the patently epistemic (N1). But what about (N2)? It may seem obvious to some readers that if different schemes somehow result in ultimately-true-but-dissimilar world pictures, metaphysical realism must be false. I believe, however, that, depending on how (N2) is fleshed out, it too may be consistent with metaphysical realism of the standard, Hallian sort. How can that be?

    First, consider again the difference in perspectives between Carnap and the Polish Logician, and assume for the moment that the difference between these gentlemen is befuddling enough for us to say that we have two conceptual schemes. We saw that the world need not contain intrinsic or metaphysical contradictions, even though the number of “objects” on some table is (truly) said to be three by one person and two by another, because of a subtle difference between what each means by “object.” That is, alternative parsings could result in disparate, yet accurate, answers to “What is there in the world and how many of these things are there?” without affecting either the world or the nature of truth. It is, in fact, precisely the differing criteria for object1hood and object2hood that allows this. But, it might be objected, even if Carnap and the Polish Logician may both be right, they can’t both be ultimately right! If (M1) correspondences may be about trans-scheme evaluative facts like that blarqs are the most ultimate things in the universe, it seems we might have some assertions that are true in CS1, and (not just meaningless but) actually false elsewhere.

    But what does this word “ultimate” mean? If it just means something empirically determinable like “smallest,” it seems again that any differences of opinion between CSs will require either an equivocation, or a purely factual error. But perhaps it is something a bit more exotic. We might stipulate something to the effect that, for any an CS, CS1’s furniture can be said to be more ultimate than any CS2’s just in case CS1 denizens can “say more” (in some sense of “more”) about the world than can be said utilizing CS2. But, even if sense could be made of that stipulation—and translatability-requiring agreements were forthcoming about who actually is saying “more,”—we have no a priori reason to suppose that there is a most ultimate (non-conjunctive) CS based on any such “information-thickness” criterion. The “uber-scheme,” our conjunction of all the CSs, would seem to be the winner in this type of contest, simply because we have stipulated that more is better. But, obviously, this giant conjunction cannot be inconsistent with any of its conjuncts: since it is taking only truths from each scheme, it is “more ultimate” only by way of engulfment. So, if explanatory power is to be the key to ranking separate schemes with respect to metaphysical ultimateness, the hunt for non-scheme-relative “atoms” (or whatever the most basic elements of the world might be) seems clearly hopeless.

    In sum, without a “God’s Eye View,” ultimateness would seem to be true of this or that furniture arrangement only in some categorial system or other, there being no reason to suppose that there is any fact of the matter with respect to what is more ultimate with respect to separate schemes. But the necessity of such inter-scheme modesty does not seem to contradict any of (M1-M4*), so long as the (M3) assertion of the independent existence of various items isn’t taken to imply the ultimate atomicity of that equipment, only its existence and externality. The moral is that in maintaining the existence and independence of entities and facts in the world, the metaphysical realist need not thereby commit himself to scheme-independent characterizations that involve assertions about the manner in which the world should be parsed.

    (I know, I know, but…..keiths asked!)

    ETA: There’s an earlier section on intertranslatability and what that means, exactly, which is also relevant to the question of reduction. But enough.

  37. BruceS: I suspect KN is assuming the theory reduction developed by Hempel and Nagel which requires translation of terms (or at least bridge laws between terms in different sciences) in order to properly complete what they consider theory reduction to be.

    Yes, that’s what I was trying to talk about.

    We can call that “epistemic reduction” if you wish, and the denial of that would be perhaps “epistemic pluralism”. Horst calls it “cognitive pluralism” and proposes it as a theory, grounded in some intuitively plausible conclusions of cognitive science, for why Nagel-style reductions are rather rare in the history of science. (There is no mention of Horst in ETMG, so it would take some fancy footwork to show that cognitive pluralism converges in any neat and tidy way with ‘rainforest realism’.)

    But without epistemic reduction, can ontological reduction get off the ground? I don’t see how. Without epistemic reduction, ontological reduction amounts to simply the unity of science as a regulative ideal of scientific inquiry — something like, “whenever possible, seek consilience amongst the sciences!” That’s not entirely toothless but it’s considerably less substantive than the ontological reductionism of ‘traditional materialism’ (i.e. 17th-century mechanistic physics inflated into a world-view). It is, however, a bit different from the pluralism of Dupre or Cartwright.

    A brief comment on my use of “neurocomputational mechanisms” above — I wasn’t trying to say that neurocomputations are necessary and sufficient for causally instantiated mental capacities, though I do take them to be physically necessary (not sufficient) for the instantiation of those capacities. But the casual allusion to “constitutive explanations” and “enabling explanations” is a distinction I introduced into the conversation far too quickly.

    This distinction, which I’m getting from John McDowell, puts a lot of weight on the distinction between explanations that tells us what it is for something to be an X and explanations that tell us what processes have to be at work in order for Xs to be instantiated. The former are constitutive; the latter are enabling. (I would also say, though McDowell is not explicit on this point, that constitutive explanations are grounded in transcendental reflection and enabling explanations are grounded in empirical adequacy.)

    So I was not appealing to neurocomputationalism as a theory of what it is to perceive, or to be a perceiver — I was appealing to neurocomputationalism as a theory of brains process sensory data and generate motor output. This very same distinction can also be put in terms of Dennett’s distinction between the personal level and the subpersonal level. (McDowell develops his distinction in a paper on Dennett’s distinction. McDowell takes it that these distinctions correspond to each other, and I agree, but I don’t know what Dennett thinks about that.)

  38. BTW, KN, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I saw McDowell last Feb. at a Sellars conference at U. Chicago.

  39. walto: BTW, KN, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I saw McDowell last Feb. at a Sellars conference at U. Chicago.

    No, you didn’t! I really wanted to go but it was a workshop by invitation only, and no one invited me, even though I’ve been working closely with many of those people. [Insert sad puppy-dog eyes here]

    But, I will be going to a workshop on McDowell and Hegel next May!

  40. Bruce,

    I suspect KN is assuming the theory reduction developed by Hempel and Nagel which requires translation of terms (or at least bridge laws between terms in different sciences) in order to properly complete what they consider theory reduction to be.

    Sure, reduction requires translation and/or bridge laws, but that’s just a description of reduction. It doesn’t point to any problems with the fact that references are theory-dependent.

    Looking at KN’s original statement again, I think he was just confused about the distinction between constraint and reduction:

    Now, what’s the relation between “minds depend on brains” and “psychology can be reduced to neuroscience”? One might think that it would still be reasonable to assert that “minds depend on brains” even if psychology cannot be reduced to neuroscience.

    But I am not at all sure about that, because I worry that reference is theory-dependent. And if that’s so, then “mind” is what our psychologies theories refer to, and “brain” is what our neuroscientific theories refer to. Hence if reference is theory-dependent, then the reasonableness of “minds depend on brains” follows from, and is not independent of, the reducibility of psychological explanations to neurological explanations.

    I don’t think that’s right. It’s possible for minds to depend on brains even if psychology can’t be reduced to neuroscience, and that remains true even if references are theory-dependent.

  41. keiths: It’s possible for minds to depend on brains even if psychology can’t be reduced to neuroscience, and that remains true even if references are theory-dependent.

    I’m not denying that some good philosophical sense can be made of that assertion — I’ve already given an example that does just that! — I’m just pointing out that there’s a certain kind of philosophical work to be done here.

    Sheesh. You people are so argumentative. 🙂

  42. KN,

    It’s a pretty important point. You can’t make sense of Ladyman and Ross unless you understand that constraint and reduction are distinct. Otherwise, their embrace of the Primacy of Physics Constraint would commit them to reductionism.

  43. walto,

    That paper seems more concerned with the identification of an ultimate, fundamental description of reality and less concerned with reduction per se. Reduction is possible even if we’re unaware of the ultimate description, and even if such a description does not exist at all (i.e. if it’s turtles all the way down).

  44. Say you think everything I call “tables” can be reduced to what you call “blarqs” in various blarquian arrangements. You’re going to need to understand what I mean by “table” to perform this reduction. But if the term is theory-dependent in such a way that you can’t understand it unless you believe my theory, and you don’t believe my theory, you’ll never know whether your reduction is successful.

    Now it could be that theory-dependence doesn’t require that you believe a theory in order to understand the terms it uses; maybe you only need to understand all of its axioms and how everything fits together in it. I think, though, that according to some views about inter-translatability, once you lose the belief in the “world” you lose the “world-view” to such an extent that you can’t really understand terms falling within it. I don’t agree with that, myself, but it’s a commonly held (Wharfian) view, and it’s something I discuss in that paper.

    In any case, I agree with you that dependence doesn’t require reduction.

  45. keiths: It’s a pretty important point. You can’t make sense of Ladyman and Ross unless you understand that constraint and reduction are distinct. Otherwise, their embrace of the Primacy of Physics Constraint would commit them to reductionism.

    Oh, sure, I get that. L&R make it perfectly clear what it means to say that fundamental physics constrains the special sciences: it means that the special sciences cannot posit the existence of objects or causal relations that contradict the laws of fundamental physics (GR, QM, and maybe the 2nd Law).

    That’s precise enough to satisfy me. Is that what you’re saying, then — that biology constrains psychology in an analogous way? How does that work, then?

    Maybe something like, “the empirical generalizations made in psychological explanations, about the objects and causal relations that are characterized by those explanations, should not (or cannot?) contradict the empirical generalizations made in biological explanations”?

    Or, “all cognitive systems must be causally realized in biological systems or a material-functional analogue”?

  46. walto,

    Say you think everything I call “tables” can be reduced to what you call “blarqs” in various blarquian arrangements. You’re going to need to understand what I mean by “table” to perform this reduction.

    So far, so good.

    But if the term is theory-dependent in such a way that you can’t understand it unless you believe my theory, and you don’t believe my theory, you’ll never know whether your reduction is successful.

    If I disbelieve your theory, then I won’t be expecting the reduction to succeed. If it does succeed, then either both theories are right or both theories are wrong.

    Now it could be that theory-dependence doesn’t require that you believe a theory in order to understand the terms it uses; maybe you only need to understand all of its axioms and how everything fits together in it.

    That’s certainly true of chemistry and QM. Can you think of any exceptions — cases in which you can’t understand the terms without believing the theory?

  47. keiths:

    It’s a pretty important point. You can’t make sense of Ladyman and Ross unless you understand that constraint and reduction are distinct. Otherwise, their embrace of the Primacy of Physics Constraint would commit them to reductionism.

    KN:

    Oh, sure, I get that. L&R make it perfectly clear what it means to say that fundamental physics constrains the special sciences…

    If constraint and reduction are distinct for physics, why wouldn’t they also be distinct for biology?

    Regarding my view of constraint, I don’t think it is as asymmetrical as Ladyman and Ross would like us to believe. Note the hedging in their statement of the PPC:

    Special science hypotheses that conflict with fundamental physics, or such consensus as there is in fundamental physics, should be rejected for that reason alone. Fundamental physical hypotheses are not symmetrically hostage to the conclusions of the special sciences.

    [emphasis added]

    What qualifies as “consensus” physics depends partly on how well it conforms to the solid conclusions and observations of other sciences. Cosmology can constrain physics, for example.

  48. Solid evidence of psychic phenomena would constrain physics, as would a nice burning bush.

    One characteristic of such evidence that would contradict physics is that it evaporates on close examination.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.