This Week’s Special: Jerry Fodor’s “Special Sciences (Or: the Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis)”

By Daniel A. Kaufman

http://fitelson.org/woodward/fodor.pdf

On tap this week is one of the most influential essays in the philosophy of science, since the Second World War:  Jerry Fodor’s “Special Sciences,” which appeared in the journal Synthese, in 1974.

The paper did two very important things.  First, it struck a crippling blow against a certain kind of positivist view of the relationship between the special sciences and the physical sciences.  Second, it undermined a common positivist fantasy about the sciences as a whole, one that it is commonly held by people who otherwise would not identify themselves as positivists (the physicist Lawrence Krauss immediately comes to mind).

What counts as a special science is not entirely clear.  When I studied this paper, back in college and graduate school, several decades ago, the special sciences were presented as consisting of the social sciences and psychology.  I have sometimes heard the term used in a way that also includes biology.  The Wikipedia entry on the subject deems any science other than physics a special science, including chemistry.  Given, however, that the reason for talking about the special sciences at all has to do with the question of their reducibility to the physical sciences, it seems strange to describe chemistry, a physical science — and the one for which there is the least question about reducibility – as being a special science.  Of course, there are distinctive problems that arise with respect to the reduction of biology to chemistry and physics, but insofar as Fodor’s focus is on the relationship of the social sciences and psychology to the physical sciences, I will use the expression ‘special sciences’ to refer to the social sciences and psychology.

Reductionism, as Fodor understands it (and his understanding is drawn, largely, from the canonical account of it given by Ernest Nagel, in his 1951 book, The Structure of Science), describes the following relationship between sciences:

Science A can be said to reduce to Science B, if the laws of Science A can be shown to be equivalent, in some relevant sense, to the laws of science B.  The laws of Science A can be shown to be equivalent to the laws of Science B, if both the antecedents and consequents of the laws of Science A can be shown to be materially equivalent (or identical with) the antecedents and consequents of laws of Science B.

The statements describing these material equivalencies between the predicates of the reduced science and the reducing science are commonly referred to as “Bridge Laws.”

It should be made clear at the outset that the ambition of the reductionist is more than simply to assert a kind of “token physicalism,” by which we mean the view that every individual thing or event is a physical thing or event.  To be a token physicalist about money, for example, is simply to hold the view that every instance of money is some sort of physical object or event, whether it be paper, gold, precious stones, or electronic codes.  The reductionist’s claim, however, is much stronger than this: it is that the property of being money is itself a physical property and that therefore, any laws regarding money – such as those one might find in economics – are ultimately physical laws.  This “type physicalism” is what the reductionist is ultimately after, since his main aim is to demonstrate the explanatory and ontological generality of physics.  To accept that there are explanations — and therefore, laws, and therefore, types or kinds — that cannot be reduced to physical explanations, laws, types, and kinds, on the other hand, would be to reject the idea that physics is general in this way, something that the positivists were loath to admit, as they thought it meant opening the door to any number of woolly varieties of metaphysics.

Fodor’s argument is relatively simple.  For any special science predicate, there is going to be an indefinite number of materially equivalent physical predicates.  The trouble, then, is twofold:  Not only is that disjunction of physical predicates not, in itself, a predicate of any physical science, but the resulting  law, in which both the antecedent and consequent consist of disjunctions of physical predicates, is not itself a law of any physical science.

The example that Fodor uses is a law of economics — Gresham’s law — which says, essentially, that bad money drives out good money.  That is, if a nation’s currency includes commodities of varying degrees of value, but which are worth the same amount in exchange – say, silver coins versus paper notes – the less valuable money – i.e. the paper – will chase the more valuable money – the silver –  out of circulation and into hoards.  Now ‘money’ is a term that refers to a type or kind in economics, and certainly, any particular instance of money is going to be some physical object or other (or a physical event, in the case, say, of an electronic transfer).  But notice that there are indefinitely many possible physical instantiations of money:  money can be instantiated in paper; gold; silver; diamonds; electrical impulses; etc.  If I want to reduce Gresham’s law to some law of a physical science, then, I need to provide a bridge law, in which ‘money’ will appear on the left side of a bi-conditional and the corresponding physical type or kind appears on the right.  The result is something like this.

M ↔ P1 or P2 or P3 or P4 or P5… or Pn.

When done with both the antecedent and consequent of Gresham’s Law, the fully reduced law will look something like this.

P1 or P2 or P3 or P4 or P5… or Pn → P1a or P2a or P3a or P4a or P5a… or Pna

But as already mentioned, neither the antecedent or consequent of this law is a type or kind of any physical science and the law itself, is not a law of any physical science.  That is, the indefinite disjunction, consisting of paper, gold, silver, diamonds, electrical impulses, etc., is not a type or kind of any physical science, and laws containing disjunctions like these are not laws of any physical science.

The lessons of this are manifold.  One is that the positivistic idea of a unified science gives way to a picture of highly decentralized, mutually autonomous sciences, each with their own distinctive vocabularies, taxonomies, ontologies, and laws.  Another is that while every object and event may admit of a physical description and thus, fall under some physical law or other – as paper and gold, for example, certainly do – when it comes to the sorts of things the special sciences talk about and explain, these physical descriptions, laws, and explanations are largely beside the point.  They do not speak to what interests us about these things.  As Fodor puts it with regard to monetary exchanges, surely what is interesting about them is not their commonalities or behavior under some physical description or law, but rather, how they function within economies.

It is fascinating to me that this rather simple – and I would say, obvious – point has received so much pushback and that so many eminent scientists are still shilling not just for reductionism, but for the larger “unity of the sciences” thesis.  Fascinating, but not surprising.  Hope, after all, springs eternal, and for those whose entire careers have been invested in “theories of everything,” the unity of the sciences thesis is a crucial component of that hope.

30 Comments »

  1. Fodor’s view is also the codicalist view, as I see it:

    On one side, we grow languages, for ourselves and our machines to come to grips with the world. On the other side, there’s a (possibly ultimately) ineffable substrate that appears to be some kind of gigantic, heterogeneous network of unconventional, natural computers. The specialized languages (known as DSLs) are domain-specific. Questions of reducibility are reduced to questions of translatability. The sciences are (dis)unified by their various DSLs, each one an effort to reverse engineer some aspect of nature.
    http://codicalist.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/the-babel-of-languages-and-the-substrate-of-nature/

    The role of science is to reverse code engineer (RCE) some aspect of reality (AOR) into some domain-specific [programming] language (DSL).
    http://codicalist.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/code/

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  2. Hope, after all, springs eternal, and for those whose entire careers have been invested in “theories of everything,” the unity of the sciences thesis is a crucial component of that hope.

    Well, wait a moment, this seems to imply that the Positivists championed the idea of a theory of everything, which is wrong. When the Positivists talked of the unity of science they did not mean to suggest that there was a “theory of everything”, in fact the explicitly and emphatically rejected that view.

    Apparently even a whiff of such an idea would bring a contemptuous shout of ‘Metaphysics!’ from Neurath. So if anybody is suggesting that the Positivists championed the idea of a “theory of everything” then that is emphatically wrong. It is one of the things Planck hated about them.

    Rather the Positivists sought to unify science at the level of language about observations of physical things. Neurath was at pains to explain this difference to those in the social sciences who suspected that the Positivists’ idea was that there was a theory of everything. One of the selling points of Physicalism (as originally defined) was that it did not promote such an idea. I often wonder if modern philosophers even get the distinction between the observer language and the theory language. Certainly a reading of “Every Thing Must Go” suggests that at least three of them don’t.

    Whether or not the Positivists were right about this path, we should not misrepresent it, they emphatically rejected the idea of a theory of everything.

    Maybe we can have Neurath’s essay “Physicalism” as a special one day in order to set the record straight. I don’t think that there is a free copy on the web and mine is a photograph of the book from our State Library and so I can’t supply that.

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  3. Nagel was a logical positivist, and the Structure of Science is one of the most famous works in that tradition.

    By a “theory of everything,” I am talking about the aspirations of some physicists, and this does not include metaphysics.

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  4. Just to clarify my understanding, economics, as I learned it, is the science of needs and scarcity, an examination of the interaction of players who want or need to use resources with each other.

    At the highest level there is a complete abstraction of value “utility” where utility is, whatever utility is, ie whatever it is that the person gets from a resource.

    Value is an empirical measurement of a physical fact, ie what one person will exchange with another person (where person might be individual or aggregate of people) so if I exchange my hat for your shoes then your shoes, in this instance, are the current value of my hat and vice versa.

    Currency is obviously a token about value, an agreement about a common standard for this exchange.

    So Gresham’s Law is a statement about the difference between the agreement or token value and the empirical fact about the exchange value of the token itself, in other words what people are actually prepared to exchange it for.

    What we are prepared to exchange for what is obviously a matter of psychology and so clearly, if you were going to reduce (in this sense) Gresham’s Law then psychology (including group psychology) would be the better candidate, the physical properties of the tokens only being relevant in the disposition of our various minds towards them.

    Now I have doubts that you could actually write any meaningful bridge laws about that, but I don’t think it has any of the problems suggested in the article.

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  5. I entirely agree with the physicists. The discovery of the Big Bang has made the unity of the sciences self evident.

    Think of it this way. Momentarily preceding the Big Bang there were in existence a set of Laws of Nature(fundamental physics) that determined the precise way in which the Big Bang would take place. Inflation took place, a hot, uniform soup of quarks and gluons formed, all in accordance with the Laws of Nature. There was no chemistry, no biology, no nothing else. This hot mixture expanded, cooled, condensed into hydrogen. The hydrogen collapsed under gravitational forces into stars, eventually forming supernovas and then the heavier elements(don’t fault my extremely abbreviated description, it is necessarily inaccurate and incomplete).

    All the while the fundamental laws of physics reined supreme. These heavy elements collapsed into planets and chemical processes started taking place. And thus chemistry was a direct derivative of physics. The laws of chemistry could not be invented anew(How?). They could only arise as a consequence of the laws of physics and therefore are derivable from physics. And then the chemical processes formed a mixture which allowed life to develop. Biology was thus born from chemistry which was born from physics.

    And so it goes on. Every succeeding layer of science was necessarily born from some preceding layer of science in the order that the Universe developed from the Big Bang. There is therefore a clear thread of dependency from the present day laws of science, step by step, to the fundamental laws of physics. This conclusion is inevitable from our knowledge of the Big Bang and the manner in which the Universe developed from that moment on. There must therefore be a fundamental unity of the sciences. From our limited human perspective we cannot see this unity because of our defective perception, lack of knowledge and lack of computational power. To argue from our defects to a disunity of sciences is plainly and simply an error of logic.

    To make your argument stick you would have to postulate that new laws of science came into being at critical junctures of the Universe’s development from the Big Bang onwards. How could that possibly happen? How could you possibly show that? It is pure conjecture with no evidence to support it and in all likelihood the conjecture is motivated by metaphysical fears.

    The history of our Universe shows quite clearly that everything is derivable from fundamental physics. Those are in fact the only real Laws of Nature. What we call chemistry, biology, sociology, etc, are human constructs we impose on nature for explanatory purposes. These explanatory mechanisms have no real existence outside our minds. Being human constructs they are incomplete and riddled with inconsistencies. Thus we conclude there is a disunity. The disunity is a property of our perception and powers of description, nothing else.

    I think this is a semantic problem. The Laws of Nature(fundamental physics) are the engine that drove the development of the Universe from its origin to the present day. In the process interactions multiplied creating great complexity. We observe this complexity and deal with it by creating layers of understanding. These layers of understanding we call the laws of science. Their disunity is a consequence of our descriptive powers. So, one can quite accurately say there is a disunity in the laws of science but there is no disunity in the Laws of Nature. But the disunity is merely the consequence of our own limitations.

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  6. By a “theory of everything,” I am talking about the aspirations of some physicists, and this does not include metaphysics.

    The point is that the Logical Positivists regarded such an idea as metaphysics and rejected it on that basis.

    Although the term “Positivism” had been around since the 19th century, the term Logical Positivist was coined by Carnap in “Philosophy and Logical Syntax” in 1935, specifically to refer to the views espoused by the Vienna Circle. So Logical Positivism refers to the views of the Vienna Circle and fellow travellers, especially those views explicitly identified as representing the views of the Circle (as they frequently did). We have these views in their own words.

    By 1951 Logical Positivism was well past its prime and it’s ambitious projects had ground to a halt. I am not aware that Nagel ever aligned himself with the views of the Circle, but if so then he had radically parted ways with them by 1951.

    The Structure of Science is the antithesis of Logical Positivism, putting a thesis which was explicitly and strenuously rejected by them.

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  7. Thanks Daniel, as this does further help get me up to speed. It actually reminds me of the EA’s two part “realism” series from a month back (found here: https://theelectricagora.com/2015/09/13/knowledge-and-reality/). I’ll be taking the same position once again, and therefore some may perceive me to be “dangerously reductionist.” If anyone is able to verbalize holes in my logic however, please do speak up!

    I not only believe that reality happens to be “real,” but presume this definitionally — if anything were to define anything, then it would need to exist under a “reality.” Thus I see no way of logically disputing “ontic realism.” Nevertheless I also realize that everything which I personally perceive to be real may instead be illusory (except of course that “I think” itself). Thus I’m also an “epistemic anti realist.”

    Moving now to my position on reductionism versus emergentism, here I must resort to a certain belief — I believe that reality does ultimate function in a cause/effect manner. Thus I presume that there is reason, or foundation, which incites events to occur specifically as they do. Observe that in a void of causality there will be no such foundation to incite events, and thus “magic” would instead be needed for them to occur. Therefore I am an “ontic reductionist,” or believe that all of reality does ultimately explain itself. (For this reason I’m even a complete physical determinist). Nevertheless the human is surely just an idiot regarding ultimate reality itself, so I also believe that our quite non reduced sciences shall generally remain extremely emergent. (This may thus be viewed as “epistemic emergence,” rather than the ontic sort.)

    One thing more. I believe that our “special sciences” (as in “Special Olympics”?) do indeed remain extremely handicapped today. (Well that should earn me a trip to Hell! 🙂 ). The “hard sciences” have done their thing for a while now, so perhaps tremendous breakthroughs in them will become less frequent. Conversely the “soft sciences” seem not yet to have even found their “Newton”! How does one effectively explore cognitive science today, for example, without some kind of model of the human mind from which to work? Poorly, I think. So if I were a young intellectual (and I know there are plenty here) I’d look to these “special sciences” for signs of a great revolution — this is exactly where I’d want to be!

    (By the way Dantip, lovely perception argument so far. I’ll jump in as soon as I’m able!)

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  8. Robin:

    Sorry, but you’re just wrong about Nagel. He is one of the central figures of the Logical Positivist movement.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Nagel

    And the Structure of Science is considered one of the great works of the tradition.

    I think you may be making a mistake as to what I am saying. I am *not* attributing the “theory of everything” to the positivists, but rather, to certain contemporary physicists. However, that theory of everything is perceived as *depending* on the unity of the sciences thesis, which *is* a positivist notion.
    ————————————-

    Labnut: Your discussion completely ignores the points regarding the laws, categories, and ontology of economics. If you think that the reason that Gresham’s Law can’t be reduced to a law of physics because of *our* limitations, then you did not understand the argument that Fodor is making.

    Money exists. And yet, it is not a physical kind. An indefinite number of physical substances and events can instantiate money. The set of those is also not a physical kind. And thus, no law of economics can be reduced to a law of physics. The same will turn out to be true of virutally every social science category and law.

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  9. Dank-K,
    Your discussion completely ignores the points regarding the laws, categories, and ontology of economics

    I am afraid what has really happened is that you have failed to address or maybe understand my argument.

    Your mistake starts when you apply the term ‘law’ to phenomena in economics. I know that is commonly done but it is not a law at all but a generalizable pattern. The use of the term ‘law’ is really just a courtesy title when talking about patterns of human behaviour. To use patterns of human behaviour to rebut my arguments about Laws of Nature is far worse than comparing apples with oranges. At least they are both fruit and some sort of comparison is possible, unlike your example.

    That pesky thing called free will is the reason. Free will decouples our mind from the rigid determinism of the Laws of Nature. And so quite naturally we cannot reduce our behaviour to the laws of nature and it is wholly inappropriate to use laws of nature concepts to describe our behaviour. The problems you describe are constructions of the mind and say nothing about the laws of nature. To draw conclusions about laws of nature from the strange constructions of our mind is far fetched indeed. You can’t put so-called ‘laws of economics’ in the same room as laws of physics because they are not the same kind of thing and they have no relationship to each other. There is a wall between the two and it is called free will.

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  10. Sorry, but you’re just wrong about Nagel. He is one of the central figures of the Logical Positivist movement.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Nagel

    And the Structure of Science is considered one of the great works of the tradition.

    What, based on a Wikipedia article that says that he is “sometimes seen as a major figure of the Logical Positivist movement” and has nothing whatsoever in the rest of the article to support the contention? Barack Obama is sometimes seen as a Nigerian born Muslim, but it doesn’t make it so.

    Note that the article you quote also says : “His 1961 masterpiece, The Structure of Science, practically inaugurated the field of analytic philosophy of science.” which might say something about the accuracy of the Wikipedia article.

    Is there any evidence that he was ever aligned with the Logical Positivists, never mind a “major figure”?

    Again, his thesis was something the Logical Positivists (those who we can definitely call Logical Positivists for the reasons, based on primary sources, that I have given) explicitly rejected.

    As I say before, their proposal to unify science was to do so at the level of observational language about physical objects, not at a theoretical level. They rejected the idea of unifying it at a theoretical level. They are two different things.

    Having now had time to read Fodor’s paper, I am calling it as an elaborate straw man. He never manages to state who it is that would agree with his characterisation of reductionism. In fact I may have to go back to “Structure of Science” to find out if Nagel ever actually suggested that reductions would always be possible.

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  11. I have been re-reading Neurath’s essay “Physicalism” and he does make it very clear that when he talks of the “unity of science” he is talking about a framework where different sciences, with their different laws, can be used co-operatively to make common predictions. The example he gives is the prediction of whether a building will burn depends not just on the properties of the building materials, but also on the behaviour of the people in and around it. So we would not only have physics and chemistry, but also psychology and maybe sociology working co-operatively. He meant that there had to be common framework at the level of observatonal language and not that they should be reduced to a theory in physics.

    I can see where there is confusion because he sometimes speaks of the common language as “the language of physics”, but the context makes it clear that mean language about objects with sensible qualities that can be measured, compared, counted etc.

    So theories of physics have to be translated to this language in order to be tested and so do theories in psychology or sociology.

    A Logical Positivist approach to Gresham’s Law might be to say that there are many disciplines of science, each with their separate laws at play here, besides economics. The conductive properties of copper increases the opportunity cost of copper coins, but the Bun Queen or the dandelion threepenny bit had a commodity value that outstripped their token value for reasons of psychology and even aesthetics. If one were to make a prediction with Gresham’s Law (and I am not saying that this is a practical proposition) one might have to have all these areas working co-operatively.

    I haven’t yet gotten hold of a copy of “The Structure of Science”, but I read in the Commentary Magazine “In any case, Nagel is by no means an old-fashioned mechanist: he explicitly denies that all branches of physics are reducible to mechanics, and that all other sciences are reducible to physics.“. (https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-structure-of-science-by-ernest-nagel/) I can’t confirm this because they do not give a direct quote, but it increases my suspicion that the essay is a straw man.

    Who exactly holds these views that he is refuting? His bibliography has two entries, one co-authored by himself and one by Noam Chomsky, who I am pretty sure is not the radical reductionist he is addressing.

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  12. Robin:

    We’re going around and around. I’ll say one more thing about this, and then I’m done — at least with this line of discussion.

    1. I said that Nagel provides the definition of the sort of reduction Fodor is talking about. I did not say that Nagel thought it could be done.

    2. There certainly is more than one kind of Reductionism. Carnap’s Logical Structure World is reductionist, but not in the way discussed in “Special Sciences.”

    3. Fodor maintains that the unity of the sciences thesis is a positivistic ambition and I agree with him, though of course, the claim is disputable.

    4. Neurath is not the only positivist.

    5. in the philosophy of mind, type-Identity theorists were quite common for some time. It was this paper — as well as papers by Putnam — that really damaged the brand and led many people to functionalism. And to this day, I hear prominent physicists like Lawrence Krauss advance views that while not fully articulated as reductionist in the way described in Special Sciences, is certainly i that spirit.

    6. The paper has been enormously influential in philosophy — though by no means universally accepted — was published in one of its most respected journals, and this typically does not happen if all the author has done is create “an elaborate strawman.”

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  13. Labnut wrote:

    That pesky thing called free will is the reason. Free will decouples our mind from the rigid determinism of the Laws of Nature.

    ——————————————————————————————-

    This is not the reason why social science laws have more “problems” than laws of the physical sciences. One of the reasons typically cited is their far greater context sensitivity — resulting in fatter ceteris paribus clauses.

    Don’t be so sure there are laws of nature either. If I want to start getting skeptical about laws, I can bring many of the same arguments to bear against the idea of laws in the physical sciences.

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  14. Dan-K,
    This is not the reason why social science laws have more “problems” than laws of the physical sciences.

    The role of free will in decoupling behaviour from the Laws of Nature inevitably means that human behavioural cannot be genuinely law-like. This decoupling gives a large role to noise, randomness and, as you say, context sensitivity. Context sensitivity is important precisely because free will has decoupled our behaviour from the strict determinism of the Laws of Nature.

    Don’t be so sure there are laws of nature either.

    I am sure.

    I can bring many of the same arguments to bear against the idea of laws in the physical sciences.

    I will happily consider your arguments.

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  15. Robin Herbert,

    “Value is an empirical measurement of a physical fact, ie what one person will exchange with another person (where person might be individual or aggregate of people) so if I exchange my hat for your shoes then your shoes, in this instance, are the current value of my hat and vice versa.

    Currency is obviously a token about value, an agreement about a common standard for this exchange.”

    This would be an interesting theory – if money had just recently been invented, putting an end to the era of barter. Unfortunately, money has been around for many, many centuries; thus it is a social phenomenon fully integrated as signifying system within the communications of any culture in which it appears.

    In simpler terms, money is not (or at least not only) token representation of value. In an important way, it functions as a distinct language communicating social power (including the power to enforce the right of exchange, or to alter the terms of exchange, including measurement of value). As a language, it’s pervasive social presence is not entirely reducible to formulas, except at the ends of the spectrum of social activity – the gross level of national economies (studied by economics), the micro level of immediate transactions (studied by behavioral psychology). Everything in between is simply socialization and culture per se – the price of art, grants for education, tax breaks for churches, migration trends among displaced laborers; mating opportunities and marital relations, including divorce negotiations and custody hearings; cocktail parties among the rich, ability to hang out in local bars, etc. etc. If we can find some social exchange where the functioning of money is not somehow explicitly or implicitly involved (defining, to some extent, what we are socially, and therefore what we can do), then we can talk about “tokens.”

    (BTW, his causes serious problems for a host of theorists of economics, like Smith and Marx, as well as social philosophers, like Mill and Dewey.)

    labnut,

    “I know that is commonly done but it is not a law at all but a generalizable pattern.” This is pretty much what Kant says about the ‘laws of nature’ – it’s what resolves Hume’s critique of causality. The regularities of nature’s patterns are rigid and formulaically predictable, but they are only referenced as ‘laws’ by trope. In close analysis, ‘generalizable patterns’ is the best we can say of them in the literal sense.

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  16. Value is an empirical measurement of a physical fact, ie what one person will exchange with another person (where person might be individual or aggregate of people) so if I exchange my hat for your shoes then your shoes, in this instance, are the current value of my hat and vice versa.

    Currency is obviously a token about value, an agreement about a common standard for this exchange.

    ——————————————————

    Good to know that you don’t think there is such a thing as money. You won’t mind, then, I suppose, if I take yours?

    I know, a silly joke. But not as silly as suggesting that money isn’t a thing.

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  17. Labnut:

    “Don’t be so sure there are laws of nature either.”

    I am sure.

    ———————————–

    Good for you. That doesn’t mean you can make the principled distinction you want to make.

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  18. Labnut: context sensitivity speaks to the question of defeating conditions. There are more of them in the case of social scientific laws, but it is not the case that there are none in the the case of the laws of physical sciences. Thus, the question of which are “genuine” laws or not is going to be a matter of where you draw the line at “too many defeating conditions!” And that’s just arbitrary.

    I geneerally think it’s better not to talk of laws at all, in either case, which bypasses all of these problems.

    As for free will, you know that I think that this is largely an ill-conceived concept that rests upon a number of mistaken views of human action, so I’m never going to find invocations of it useful, in any context, other than the most casual discourse.

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  19. Hi ejwinner

    This would be an interesting theory – if money had just recently been invented, putting an end to the era of barter

    And that would be an interesting point if I had even mentioned money, which I didn’t,

    I said “currency” which is not the same as money. Despite its popular form, Gresham Law is about currency, about things which have a token (nominal or face) value as well as a commodity or exchange value. In spite of it’s popular form, Gresham’s Law does not apply to money in general.

    Without the token value there would be no Gresham’s Law, or currency for that matter

    But not as silly as suggesting that money isn’t a thing

    I don’t recall suggesting that money was not a thing. I didn’t even say that currency was not a thing

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  20. Robin:

    Well, neither money nor currency are reducible to any physical kind, so it really doesn’t matter which we talk about. The Gresham’s Law example is just an example.

    Doesn’t appear like we’re getting anywhere but going around in circles. We’ll just have to disagree on this one.. You think Fodor’s article does nothing but set up a big fat strawman. I and many other professional philosophers think it is one of the most important articles in the philosophy of science of the last half century.

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  21. Robin,

    The distinction your trying to make, between money and currency, cannot be maintained. The implication is that there are forms of money that have intrinsic value. Money in circulation, as money, never has intrinsic value.

    Gresham’s Law is an archaic expression of the era when businessmen and financiers, as well as government economists, were becoming aware of the necessity to keep money in circulation in order to assure increase of value in exchange. This finally led in the next century to the end of the ‘metal standard’ (silver, gold) basis of national economies, since these were not really needed, and to some extent impeded investment capital.

    Gresham’s Law is an expression of anxiety of more conservative businessmen and economists over such developments. There is some truth to it, but it’s real truth is only discoverable once it’s evaluative qualifications are rejected: There is no such thing as bad money, nor is there any good money. The truth then reveals itself as that economic communities will tend toward the use of more fluidly exchangeable forms of money as available, and will continue to increase the fluidity of money as wealth increases, and increasingly circulates.

    This has led to an odd (but inevitable) situation: “Bank money, which consists only of records (mostly computerized in modern banking), forms by far the largest part of broad money in developed countries.” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Money ) Making distinctions between face-value currency and, say, lumps of metal in exchange, misses the truth of money – its existence is a social reality, not a set of physical things. The physical thing, when presented, signifies the social understandings implicit in the exchange.

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  22. Hi Dan,

    The paper has been enormously influential in philosophy — though by no means universally accepted — was published in one of its most respected journals, and this typically does not happen if all the author has done is create “an elaborate strawman.”

    Fair enough. My only complaint was sheeting the blame for this home to the positivists, who, in my reading, meant by “unity of science” just what Neurath said and not what Fodor says, which seems to me more of a materialist ambition, or an ambition of physicalists in the more modern sense. I think that the Vienna Circle acknowledged the kind of disunity of science that Fodor is talking about.

    Identity Theory seems to me to be a metaphysical system and one thing that definitely marks out the Logical Positivists was the strident rejection of any metaphysics, including Materialism.

    Well, neither money nor currency are reducible to any physical kind, so it really doesn’t matter which we talk about.

    I am not sure why you think that I think that it matters. You accused me of saying that money was not a thing and I am perfectly entitled to point out that I neither said, nor implied that money or currency were not things.

    As I said later, at the time of my first remark I had not read the paper properly.

    On reading I saw that Fodor explicitly deals with formulations of Greshams’s Law similar to what I suggested and so I would probably not even have raised it if I had read the paper first.

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  23. Indeed we will have to disagree.

    My claim was that the Logical Positivists meant something by “unifying science” that is completely different to the sense this is used by Fodor.

    First I provided a primary document by Carnap showing the origin of the term “Logical Positivism” to refer to the ideas proposed by the Vienna Circle and fellow travellers, then I produced another primary document by Neurath, one of the key members of the Vienna Circle, written in it’s heyday and announcing, on behalf of the Circle, their project to unify science and explaining what they meant by unifying science and outlining their plan to do so.

    This seems to me pretty good evidence for what the Logical Positivists meant when they said “unify science”.

    So now I hear that the brand was damaged because apparently, by common agreement of others, they have a particular metaphysical view (even though they clearly rejected any kind of metaphysics including materialism) although there is no evidence of any positivist having held such a view and the inability to name even one person (positivist or not) who held the view that Fodor is refuting.

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  24. Fodor referred to positivistic philosophy. I refered to positivist philosophy. As far as Fodor and I are concerned, people like Ayer and E. Nagel and others, who were not members of the Vienna Circle, are nonetheless positivistic philosophers. And we take the the unity of the sciences thesis to be *a* positivistic view of science. We did not say it was the only one.

    You disagree. Great. But stop trying to make it out to be some matter of objective fact. Do you really think that you noticed some simple, factual error that Jerry Fodor and the Editors of Synthese just missed?

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  25. Do you really think that you noticed some simple, factual error that Jerry Fodor and the Editors of Synthese just missed?

    Actually I think that it is perfectly obvious that Fodor has made a simple mistake here. He has read some second hand accounts of the Vienna Circle’s plan to unify science and misunderstood what they meant by it. These people are not infallible.

    The alternative would be that, apart from the Vienna Circle’s plan to unify science, which is well documented by them and their fellow travellers like A J Ayer, that there was a second positivistic plan to unify science in quite a different way.

    It is not just that there seems to be a complete absence of documentation for this second plan, but the fact that it flies so completely in the face of everything that had hitherto been meant by the term “positivist”.

    Having spent a good deal of the last 10 years reading up on this movement, in the words of the philosophers themselves then I think I have a reasonably good feel for it. Identity theory, which you mention, is a metaphysical position, not a positivist one. Positivism getting a bad rap because of identity theory is like atheism getting a bad wrap because of Divine Command theory.

    The claim that it is a positivist idea that all the sciences, including the special sciences can be reduced to the laws of physics using identity law just makes me wonder what “positivist” could possibly mean in that context.

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  26. Dan-K,
    As for free will, you know that I think that this is largely an ill-conceived concept that rests upon a number of mistaken views of human action, so I’m never going to find invocations of it useful, in any context, other than the most casual discourse.

    Rather than being ill-conceived it is a real, observable and every day facet of our lives. I exercised real free will when I chose to respond. I am exercising free will as I formulate my response and as I choose my words. I am busy thinking about my future, imagining various possibilities and in that I am also exercising real free will. I am in control of my thoughts and imagination. I direct my thoughts where and how I please and in that way I exercise real free will.

    To say that you don’t find invocations of it useful is just a verbal dodge. It is rather like saying you don’t want to believe in it. The problem with denying free will is that it creates an insurmountable problem to account for how non-free willing automatons can act as we do and be responsible for our enormous and unlimited creative output. Even more fatal for your position, you need to account for the existence of consciousness. What is the point of consciousness if you don’t have free will? And even more fatal to your position is that you must account for evolution producing such a biologically expensive illusion.

    Your argument is akin to saying you don’t understand how it works and therefore it cannot exist. It is a comforting but useless illusion.

    I am afraid you are advocating for a hopeless cause. In cases like this I have found that when one scratches the surface there are deeper ideological motivations.

    I generally think it’s better not to talk of laws at all, in either case, which bypasses all of these problems.

    Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. If something looks like a law, behaves like a law and is in fact indistinguishable from a law, I think we are entitled to call it a law. As with free will, we don’t even have the faintest clue why laws of nature have the power they do, why they exist or what their source is. This is the ultimate and most baffling mystery in science. Denying they are laws does not make the problem go away, It does not promote understanding and it has no explanatory power whatsoever. It is the equivalent of looking the other way and crossing one’s fingers.

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  27. Labnut: I’ve discussed the Free Will issue at length before, in discussions on Scientia. Please do not pretend that I have no arguments for it. The topic simply is not germaine to the issue at hand.

    As for whether to call something a “law,” this is not something that you can simply determine by “looking”. It’s a matter of judgment as to things like “how many exceptions are too many?” and “how little generality is too little”?

    You might give me a bit more credit than to just say that I am “wishing things would go away.” I’ve been teaching these subjects for almost 25 years.

    ————————————

    Robin: I am tired of going around and around the same circle with you. As I have already said — and I am praying this is the last time — we will have to agree to disagree on this.

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  28. @ Robin Herbert:

    “Although the term “Positivism” had been around since the 19th century, the term Logical Positivist was coined by Carnap in “Philosophy and Logical Syntax” in 1935, specifically to refer to the views espoused by the Vienna Circle. So Logical Positivism refers to the views of the Vienna Circle and fellow travellers, especially those views explicitly identified as representing the views of the Circle (as they frequently did). We have these views in their own words.

    By 1951 Logical Positivism was well past its prime and it’s ambitious projects had ground to a halt. I am not aware that Nagel ever aligned himself with the views of the Circle, but if so then he had radically parted ways with them by 1951.”

    No offense, but your history is a little off. In 1936, Carnap took up a post in Chicago. In October of the same year, Carnap, Neurath and Charles Morris hit up Donald Bean of the UC Press pitching what would become the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, a brainchild of Neurath’s. After the vicissitudes of war, in 1947 the Boston Inter-Scientific Discussion Group renamed itself the International Institute for Unity of Science. It positioned itself as the continuation of the old Vienna Circle and the Ernst Mach Verein. Neurath is given aid by it and it also put a very substantial shoulder behind the ongoing work of the Encyclopedia (one of whose volumes was written by Nagel). Nagel is one of two vice presidents, along with Charles Morris. Some of its other members included Carnap, Feigl, Hempel, and Reichenbach. The Institute remained strong through the early 1950’s. Nagel’s famous work on reductionism is late, but clearly in that tradition, which was not by any means monolithic. Nonetheless, Nagel’s has been by far the most influential work on reductionism to come out of this movement.

    In brief, the usage of the term Logical Positivist in the literature goes beyond the original Vienna Circle and includes members of the Institute, which was designed as a postwar continuation of its work. Nagel is typically identified as such. If you wish to disagree with the historians of 20th Century Philosophy of Science, feel free. You can begin with Prof. Jordi Cat, author of the Unity of Science article in the Stanford Encyclopedia, who is also apparently (per your description of Fodor) a shallow skimmer of secondary sources, which must be why he identifies Nagel -as one might expect- as a Logical Positivist:

    http://www.indiana.edu/~hpscdept/people/cat.shtml

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  29. Dan-K,
    The topic[free will] simply is not germane to the issue at hand.

    On the contrary, I am arguing that free will is vital to the issue at hand. I claimed earlier that free will decouples our mind from the strict determinism of the Laws of Nature and therefore the so-called ‘behavioural sciences’ are not true science at all, because science cannot account for decisions made with free will. You don’t seemed to have noticed that I am supporting your thesis of the disunity of the sciences but for different reasons. I am saying there is a fundamental rift between the ‘behavioural sciences’ and the physical sciences, created by the presence of free will. I also argued that the physical sciences are one unified whole because of their linear descent from fundamental physics at the time of the Big Bang.

    An open question, in my mind at least, is whether the biological sciences represent a third fundamental group, with the presence of life partially decoupling the biological sciences from the more fundamental physical sciences. If that were to be the case there would be three fundamental groupings in science, physical, biological and behavioural. Determinism, and therefore reductionism, would apply wholly to the physical sciences, partially to the biological sciences and only slightly to the behavioural sciences.

    I’ve been teaching these subjects for almost 25 years.

    And your commentary leads me to believe you are an excellent teacher, probably at times somewhat irascible(understandably) with slower students like myself. Regretfully, all I’ve got to go by is what you say in your comments, and you’ve said very little about the Laws of Nature, apart from being quite dismissive.

    But I do read, and am fully aware that there is a fundamental division between the two views of the laws of nature, descriptive or prescriptive, the Humean and non-Humean views. There are serious arguments to be made for both views so I don’t readily accept off the cuff dismissals.

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