Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics: Philosophy, Science, and “Common Sense”

by Daniel A. Kaufman

___

As these prolegomena begin to wind down, I want to step back and speak a bit more generally about the conception of philosophy – and of inquiry more generally — from which they spring. Sellars, of course, in the opening paragraphs of “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” gave his own account of what he takes philosophy to be doing:

The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term. Under ‘things in the broadest possible sense’ I include such radically different items as not only ‘cabbages and kings’, but numbers and duties, possibilities and finger snaps, aesthetic experience and death. [1]

I largely agree but want to be more explicit. Philosophy…

(a) describes and analyzes the logics, grammars, ontologies, and epistemologies of the different types of discourses/investigations/forms of life in which we engage, and

(b) endeavors to develop a framework within which these all can be understood as pictures of/activities within/lives belonging to a single world.

It is important to emphasize that philosophy is form of inquiry that takes place from within the Manifest Image. It considers the world as it is, including persons, their representations, points of view, and values, and when it engages with science, it does so with the aim of rendering its investigations and results intelligible from a human point of view and with regard to human interests. As Massimo Pigliucci and I have discussed,  scientific investigation is an activity that people engage in, which is why its essentially quantitative content appears within a narrational, qualitatively inflected frame. A truly “perspectiveless” science, if such a thing were even imaginable, would consist of nothing but statistics.

The Scientific Image aims at as perspectiveless a perspective as possible, by limiting its investigations to that which can be observed, in a highly disciplined way, from a third-person point of view and by restricting its scope to the study of quantifiable magnitudes. This is why between the two, the Scientific Image represents a greater degree of abstraction than the Manifest Image and is methodologically dependent upon it, as Sellars explains:

There are as many scientific images of man as there are sciences which have something to say about man. Thus, there is man as he appears to the theoretical physicist — a swirl of physical particles, forces, and fields. There is man as he appears to the biochemist, to the physiologist, to the behaviourist, to the social scientist; and all of these images are to be contrasted with man as he appears to himself in sophisticated common sense, the manifest image which even today contains most of what he knows about himself at the properly human level. Thus the conception of the scientific or postulational image is an idealization in the sense that it is a conception of an integration of a manifold of images, each of which is the application to man of a framework of concepts which have a certain autonomy…Thus ‘the’ scientific image is a construct from a number of images, each of which is supported by the manifest world.

The fact that each theoretical image is a construction on a foundation provided by the manifest image, and in this methodological sense pre-supposes the manifest image…

It is because philosophy belongs to the Manifest Image that the basic conditions of adequacy for philosophical theories lie in ordinary experience and language – what in philosophy is called “common sense” [2]  – and I want to suggest that the Scientific Image’s dependence on the Manifest means that the same is ultimately true of it as well. It is in acknowledgment of this that the late (and very great) Stanley Rosen wrote the following [my emphasis]:

My thesis is not simply that there is an ordinary language, reflective of the common stratum of human nature… I also claim that this ordinary language is retained as a basis… of all technical dialectsIt is this basis that serves as the fundamental paradigm for the plausibility or implausibility of theoretical discourse and particularly of philosophical doctrines. It is not satisfactory to evaluate philosophical doctrines on a purely technical or formal level because these grounds cannot establish their own validity or authority… [3]

It is important to remember that by ‘conditions of adequacy’ we do not imply or suggest that the elements of common sense (meaning, again, ordinary experience and language) constitute epistemic foundations or that they are infallible, indubitable, certain, etc.  They do not and are not. Rather, they represent the conditions under which the relevant inquiry or activity takes place and sometimes even its very subject matter and consequently function as constraints on what count as acceptable theories.

This is perhaps easiest to see in ethical and aesthetic theorizing.  As W.D. Ross observed, the feelings of obligation that we already have provide the subject-matter and motivation for moral theorizing, just as our experiences of beauty and ugliness provide the subject-matter and motivation for aesthetic theorizing. And just as no aesthetic theory could never ultimately override my experiencing of something as beautiful, no moral theory can ever ultimately override a feeling of obligation. [4] This does not mean that either our experiences of beauty of obligation are never incorrect or that we never can change our minds with regard to such things but rather that our experiences of beauty and feelings of obligation constitute the ultimate arbiter. This is why virtually every objection to a moral theory aside from those concerned with matters of internal consistency involves pointing out some way in which the theory contradicts the moral intuitions we already have in one way or another.

It is worth noting that we can say much the same about scientific theorizing.  It is motivated by and its subject matter consists of that which we observe and experience in the world.  Of course, these observations and experiences are not certain and do not constitute epistemic foundations, but rather are fallible and may be revealed as being illusory.  Nonetheless, they constitute the ultimate conditions of adequacy for any scientific theory: bogus experiences and observations are ultimately revealed by better ones, not by theories, and no theory or element therein stands outside the jurisdiction of observation and experience. [5] As Quine famously pointed out, even the most seemingly unmovable principles may be contradicted, given a sufficient confrontation with experience.

The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements.

Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. [6]

Human beings are, as far as we know, the only creatures who theorize and more broadly, engage in epistemic activities. Inquiry begins from and ultimately takes as its subject matter that which falls under the purview of human experience and is articulable in human language which means that at the end of the day, human experience and language impose the basic conditions of adequacy on all inquiry. Philosophy makes a fundamental mistake when it conceives not just of what it does, but what any inquiry does, as being in any way transcendent or as involving transcendent principles.  In “The Human Prejudice,” Bernard Williams observed that —

It is a muddle between thinking that our activities fail some test of cosmic significance, and (as contrasted with that) recognizing that there is no such test. If there is no such thing as the cosmic point of view, if the idea of absolute importance in the scheme of things is an illusion, a relic of a world not yet thoroughly disenchanted, then there is no other point of view except ours in which our activities can have or lack a significance. [7]

— and I would maintain that the same is true epistemically. So, just as Peter Singer is mistaken in believing that the principle of utility represents some disinterested, demonstrable, neutral principle that is part of some independent moral reality, when in fact it is an expression of human experience and interests, so we are mistaken in thinking that theorizing of any kind operates outside of or transcends or otherwise escapes human experience and language.

Notes

[1] http://www.ditext.com/sellars/psim.html, ¶1.

[2] I say this in order to distinguish the sense of ‘common sense’ as it is used in philosophy from its use as meaning “horse sense.”

[3] Stanley Rosen, Metaphysics in Ordinary Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 227-228.

[4] W.D. Ross, The Right and the Good (1930), p. 40.

https://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/readings/ross.pdf

[5] Ibid., pp. 40-41.

[6] W.V.O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” The Philosophical Review 60 (1951), Section VI, ¶2.

[7] Bernard Williams, Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 137.

30 Comments »

  1. A preliminary reaction. It seems almost as if you are trying to cut the universe down to human size. Your interests (and mine also, as it happens) are focussed on the human world. But this does not mean that we are the measure of all things or that our language is good for dealing with things well beyond the set of things with which it evolved to deal.

    The whole point about human (scientific) inquiry is that — although it is a human activity like any other and depends on ordinary observation and ordinary language — it seeks to go beyond the limits of ordinary observation and language. And it succeeds (to a great extent) in doing this.

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      • Let’s leave Rosen and Sellars aside for the moment. I have a good sense of what Bernard Williams believed on these matters and my views are generally close to his. I am fine with the quote from Williams. But you explicitly go way beyond what he is saying when you say, “I would maintain that the same is true epistemically.”

        “[W]e are mistaken in thinking that theorizing of any kind operates outside of or transcends or otherwise escapes human experience and language.”

        It goes without saying that human theorizing does not transcend or escape human experience. Because, obviously, human theorizing is part of human experience. But there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that it is not the case that all our thinking is directly natural language-based.

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        • As I did not claim that all our thinking is directly natural language-based — indeed, I explicitly said that it does not provide foundations, certainties, etc. — so there is no disagreement between us there.

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  2. Let’s leave Rosen and Sellars aside for the moment. I have a good sense of what Bernard Williams believed on these matters and my views are generally close to his. I am fine with the quote from Williams. But you explicitly go way beyond what he is saying when you say, “I would maintain that the same is true epistemically.”

    “[W]e are mistaken in thinking that theorizing of any kind operates outside of or transcends or otherwise escapes human experience and language.”

    It goes without saying that human theorizing does not transcend or escape human experience. Because, obviously, human theorizing is part of human experience. But there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that it is not the case that all our thinking is directly natural language-based.

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  3. Dan.
    I may have something more to say on this later; I like this quite a bit. Just wanted to note, that after skirting close to William James in this prolegomena previously, you seem now to be finding your way into Deweyan territory – which is a ‘logical’ progression, so to speak – although you are putting together an interesting ‘tradition’ of precursor scholars in order to do so.

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  4. This is all superficially attractive. After all, who could object to the idea that you need to look at things from more than one point of view? I think my problems are along the lines of:

    Is the Manifest Image static? Is there a core that is unchanging? Say, around human perceptual experience. I mean it seems quite plausible to me that much of the sensual aesthetic experience is timeless and universal . Is the MI just centred around eternal (ie unanswerable) questions? After all, you have argued earlier that you don’t see evidence of philosophical progress.

    Why do we need a special, privileged, Scientific Image that is separate? It’s not as if some moral realists, for example, don’t think the axioms of Moral Science are objective, timeless, and culture-free. If the institutional nature of modern Western science is some kind of epistemological secret sauce, surely qua institution it is in the MI, and can be co-opted for whatever purposes one wants to put it to. And all the interesting questions for humans are in the MI, surely?

    Following from the above, I took from previous essays of yours that the “Special” sciences, it seems everything except physics, aren’t really part of the Scientific Image anyway. As Kim puts it, “[c]urrent antireductionism as it concerns the
    special sciences seems almost like a replay of the influential doctrine in late nineteenth-century Europe that posited a fundamental difference between…the natural sciences and the humane sciences.” Kim thinks this fails as soon as one asks how beliefs (“MI”) have causal influences (“MI”) mediated by the nervous system (“SI”) – you, I think, try to argue that is some kind of non-question (in the same way Rorty does). I don’t think this quite works, and will try to put together some thoughts on that, but these things have been said well by many others in print before me.

    As to dissing “disinterested, demonstrable, neutral principle[s]”, which are “in fact it is an expression of human experience and interests” – the idea of disinterested neutral principles is how our modern societies run, and have an awfully large number of believers going back a few thousand years. Quite aside from those like David Gauthier who think that
    disinterested neutral principles arise naturally – that is, in a mathematically describable fashion – from mutual interactions of humans with experiences and interests.

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  5. No, the Manifest Image is not static. Both Sellars and I are quite explicit about that.

    RE: philosophical progress, I’ve not said that there is none, but rather that it takes a very different form from progress in science. Of course that’s because of it’s very different aims.

    Sellars is relatively explicit about which parts of the social sciences belong to the scientific as opposed to the Manifest Image. In my treatment, the demarcation occurs along the line of whether the science’s primary explanatory framework is causal or teleological.

    And yes, Kim’s objections are irrelevant, insofar as the explanations that Intentional states play a part in are teleological, not mechanical/causal. In this regard, I depart from Fodor and others who treat intentional explanations as causal. Indeed, that’s one of the “big mistakes” that I’m alleging has occurred and caused so many people to embrace what I am calling “crazy views.”

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    • Hi Dan.

      I think one sticking point for me is precisely with primary explanatory frameworks being only causal or teleological, or only first person or third person, and somehow immiscible. Instead of sciences of the immaterial spirit and of res extensa, you have that of immaterial intentionality and causal materiality, And this gives rise to those dudes who talk about the borrowed intentionality of computing machinery and nonintentionality of animal behaviour or unconscious human behaviours or “unintended” properties of societies.

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      • I address this issue. I do not view ontological commitment hypostatically, so intentionality is not immaterial. I made some effort in explaining that in an earlier installment. And the teleological and causal are in no way opposed. Taken together, stereoscopically, they are what provide us with a single view of a single world.

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  6. Dan, looking for a simple clarification on your last comment to davidduffy. I am guessing that a science that includes heavy use of telenomic but not teleologic metaphors (like biology) would fall on the SI side of your SI/MI demarcation as the telonomic explanations are not intentional. Is that correct?

    In the case of biologly the use of telonomic language would be an example of the SI being enveloped inside the MI, and would aid in complementary merging of the two timages, correct?

    Thanks.

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    • Yes, it would be within the Scientific Image. This is where I think Massimo and I tend to diverge a bit. He sees the sciences as all being on a spectrum, with Manifest/Scientific representing poles. He has often described biology as the transition point between purely causal and intentional explanation.

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  7. Dan

    I think we are talking past one another. There are a number of ways I could articulate my concerns apart from making the points I have already made here (too human-centered, etc.).

    Take this claim of yours: “A truly “perspectiveless” science, if such a thing were even imaginable, would consist of nothing but statistics.”

    Why statistics specifically? And the phrase “truly perspectiveless” suggests to me a false extreme. I would want to claim that science can be objective; at the very least, intersubjective. Why say “perspectiveless” rather than multi-perspectival (in the sense of coordinating multiple perspectives)? There are many ways of looking at the sciences and simple dichotomies are unhelpful. Certainly the sorts of claims I would want to make don’t require a commitment to a “truly perspectiveless” science.

    On the language issue, you deny that you are claiming that all thought is natural language-based. And yet haven’t you said that, for example, having beliefs requires having language? That dogs and cats can’t believe things (e.g. that there is someone at the door)? The way I see it, we share many thought processes with other animals. Language is a big deal but it builds on other modes of thinking (and leads the way to others).

    Also, much advanced thinking (scientific and otherwise) is metaphorical or visual or abstractly mathematical, i.e. not directly linguistic at all.

    I get Rosen’s point, but he was talking specifically about *philosophical doctrines.*

    Similarly, Williams was talking about human meaning and value. But, as I pointed out previously, you go much further when you say: “I maintain that the same is true epistemically.”

    Just because the sciences, like all human activities, operate within a linguistic context does not mean that scientific investigation does not take us — epistemically speaking — well beyond the world of natural language and common sense.

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    • And I never denied what you say in the last sentence, so again, you’re arguing with someone other than me.

      My point entirely has to do with conditions of adequacy, which is entirely different from what you are talking about.

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      • “And I never denied what you say in the last sentence, so again, you’re arguing with someone other than me.”

        This is the exchange which led me to think you were denying this:

        ME: “The whole point about human (scientific) inquiry is that — although it is a human activity like any other and depends on ordinary observation and ordinary language — it seeks to go beyond the limits of ordinary observation and language. And it succeeds (to a great extent) in doing this.”

        DK: “No it does not at the end of the day.”

        But if you accept how I put the point in the final paragraph of my previous comment — great.

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  8. Mark,
    If I may intrude on your discussion with Dan, and somewhat to the side of it:
    “But this does not mean that we are the measure of all things or that our language is good for dealing with things well beyond the set of things with which it evolved to deal.”
    These are ancient problematics, so we’re not resolving them here. But to the first suggestion (and I’ve always held Protagoras right and Plato wrong): if we humans are not the measure of all things, just what is? unless one accepts a divinity, or assumes some sort of pan-psychism, then, what we are talking about is what is knowable to human beings. The universe does not measure itself and then report to us.

    Measure is quantification. Language depends on rhythm, pacing, timing; none of which is perceivable to any other but the human ear. The border between quantity and quality is not a hard line but a fuzzy logic. A strong poem measures reality in a certain way, that’s what poetics are all about. Stripped of any poetry – any rhetoric – what is left can only be statistics and their computation. (I don’t know if Dan sees the matter in this way, but I have been elaborating this in my own mind and writings, and readings in support, for more than 30 years.)

    So whether in statistics, computation, mathematical formulae or scientific theory – we humans measure the universe knowable to us. Whether in poetry, novels, paintings, laws, essays, political speeches -we humans measure the world knowable to us. The difference between measuring the universe and measuring the (social) world is simply that the former requires us to confront essentially inert matter (thus emphasis on quantity), the latter requires we confront ourselves (thus emphasis on quality, since we value ourselves). The two confrontations come together to give us a whole greater than the sum of its parts. If there is any magic to our experience, the possibilities of our knowledge, this is it.

    To the second suggestion: Odd, coming from you, that this hints at an ‘ineffable.’ But we don’t have to go there, because language itself has evolved well beyond the set of things with which it evolved to deal. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a surplus of non-linguistic communication – as a hobbyist semiotician, I must assert there is. But I just don’t read Dan as denying this. He is approaching what can be known in language, and leaves the non-linguistic to the domain of ‘experience.’ And yet this domain looms large in the general point he is making.

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    • ejwinner

      I am a bit surprised at the construction which you put on the sentence you quote. There may be something in what you say, however. At least in the sense that we are talking about deeply felt attitudes and convictions. Do you recall Crispin Sartwell’s attitude to Dan’s humanism? I have a somewhat similar attitude but it is not associated with religious beliefs. It may, however, be associated with the fact of my once having had a strong interest in mysticism — nature mysticism but also Meister Eckhart and many others. (Thus my sympathy for some of Heidegger’s ideas.)

      “[Quoting me] “But this does not mean that we are the measure of all things or that our language is good for dealing with things well beyond the set of things with which it evolved to deal.” … [T]o the first suggestion (and I’ve always held Protagoras right and Plato wrong): if we humans are not the measure of all things, just what is? unless one accepts a divinity, or assumes some sort of pan-psychism, then, what we are talking about is what is knowable to human beings. The universe does not measure itself and then report to us.”

      I disagree that the options are as limited as you suggest. My father had in his motley collection of books an old Pelican paperback, James Jeans’s The Mysterious Universe, with a few monochrome plates of distant galaxies. That mystery always intrigued me and still does. (Jeans was very much opposed to Cartesian dualism. He was certainly sympathetic to idealism, but I think you can be a skeptic on these matters whilst remaining open to the mystery.)

      “Measure is quantification. Language depends on rhythm, pacing, timing; none of which is perceivable to any other but the human ear. The border between quantity and quality is not a hard line but a fuzzy logic. A strong poem measures reality in a certain way, that’s what poetics are all about. Stripped of any poetry – any rhetoric – what is left can only be statistics and their computation. (I don’t know if Dan sees the matter in this way, but I have been elaborating this in my own mind and writings, and readings in support, for more than 30 years.)”

      Certainly I wouldn’t put it like this, but nor would I scoff at what you say.

      “The difference between measuring the universe and measuring the (social) world is simply that the former requires us to confront essentially inert matter (thus emphasis on quantity), the latter requires we confront ourselves (thus emphasis on quality, since we value ourselves). The two confrontations come together to give us a whole greater than the sum of its parts. If there is any magic to our experience, the possibilities of our knowledge, this is it.”

      You may have seen that whole. I certainly haven’t.

      “To the second suggestion: Odd, coming from you, that this hints at an ‘ineffable.’ But we don’t have to go there, because language itself has evolved well beyond the set of things with which it evolved to deal.”

      I disagree that natural languages have evolved in the way you suggest. Yes, we have lots of new technical vocabulary but the nature and level of complexity of the basic structures (syntax, etc.) remains pretty much on a par with the earliest human languages we know about or can reconstruct.

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      • Mark, first, I appreciate your pushing me on the points you do. As you know, my plans are to take these installments and revise them into a more complete set of prolegomena, and I am using the dialogues with Crispin and the comments here to help me.

        This installment was the hardest to do thus far and will require the most revision. Not so much because I think I’ve made any fundamental mistakes — I doubt my view will change very much — but because I found the views in this area the hardest to articulate, in part because they are so fundamental; and in part, because there are so many ways one can misinterpret the idea of “conditions of adequacy” or conflate them with things like epistemic foundations, etc.

        So I want to throw a few things out here, in response to your criticisms and see what you think. There’s enough here that I actually thought of updating the installment, but I don’t want to confuse readers. Everyone who comments regularly and reads the comments could probably follow it, but the readership of the magazine is approaching 100k a year, with the overwhelming majority neither commenting nor reading comments. So, depending on how these remarks go down, they may simply get integrated into the revision.

        1. First, certainly, scientific investigation takes us far beyond ordinary experience and common language *in a certain sense*. For one thing, it often requires that we develop technologies to stretch our perceptual capacities far beyond their natural scope and for another, it requires the development of technical languages.

        2. This is why I thought Stanley Rosen’s formulation was so useful, for it aptly describes the sense in which *no investigation of any sort* transcends ordinary experience and common language. (For economy’s sake, I will use “common sense” as a shorthand for “ordinary experience and common language,” and remember that I take the Sellarsian view of it as being sophisticated and developing over time, as it belongs to the Manifest, not the “Original” Image.) Let me quote the relevant part again:

        “this ordinary language is retained as a basis … of all technical dialects. It is this basis that serves as the fundamental paradigm for the plausibility or implausibility of theoretical discourse and particularly of philosophical doctrines.”

        First, note that this clearly is not intended to apply solely to philosophical investigation — not only is Rosen explicit about that, but the logic of what he is saying entails it. Second, note that this does not suggest that investigation never takes us beyond common sense, but only that common sense provides the conditions of adequacy that any such investigation must meet. Not long after, he says the following:

        “It is my view that this meta-philosophical battle, between those who believe that the aim of philosophy is to transcend human nature and experience and those who believe that philosophy, indeed, inquiry as a whole, is only possible within the context of human nature and experience, is one of the most fundamental and important battles in human intellectual history…one in which I have taken a decisive side.”

        The point is that all inquiry is pursued by *people* as they are conceived in the Manifest Image: inquiry *as an activity* is an expression of the interests and values of persons — and is thereby a function of intentionality — which is why, at the end of the day, the results of science are not just *interpreted* in terms of the Manifest Image, but must be *intelligible* by its lights. *This* is what is meant by common sense serving as the conditions of adequacy for science, and it is this idea that Massimo and I were trying to give a sense of, when we described a “non-personed” science as consisting of nothing but statistics, cataloging events and their relative frequencies. All the rest, ultimately, serves a narrational purpose (though of course, that is not all it does).

        3. My thought is that this idea articulated by Rosen dovetails with (and is bolstered by) Sellars’ observation that the Scientific Image is methodologically dependent upon — and thus, posterior to — the Manifest Image.

        4. The ultimate point of my pluralistic metaphysics is several-fold: (a) to make sense of the idea that *the* world consists of the collective ontological commitments of the Scientific and Manifest Images; (b) that saying this *does not* require us to invoke the sorts of strange or spooky entities that create epistemological and interactionist problems; (c) that consequently, we need *not* pursue *crazy* and *desperate* mitigation strategies, such as reductionism, eliminativism, illusionism, panpsychism, etc; and, thus, (e) many if not most of the most enduring, mind-breaking philosophical conundrums will turn out to involve simple, basic mistakes.

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        • I’m not qualified to participate in this discussion, but there’s something that worries me a bit.

          I agree that science has its roots in the manifest image. But you write “… at the end of the day, the results of science are not just *interpreted* in terms of the Manifest Image, but must be *intelligible* by its lights.”

          That’s something I can’t agree with. There are too many fundamentally important results in physics that simply cannot translated properly, without loss of meaning, in the language of the manifest image. If you’re studying physics there’s always *that* moment, the moment you realize that you’ll get nowhere if you try to understand the mathematics in terms of the manifest image (I’m talking about quantum mechanics, of course).

          Why is it essential for you that scientific results are intelligible within the manifest image? Am I misunderstanding the meaning of the word “intelligible” in this quote?

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          • Hmm, I thought this was one of the least controversial claims in the installment. It was the thing the point regarding non-personed science being entirely statistical was supposed to address.

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          • Perhaps you should clarify a bit what you mean with “intelligible”.
            Do you mean intelligible in the sense that we need the manifest image to understand how and why scientific results are relevant?

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          • By “intelligible” I mean “rendered narratively comprehensible.” For example, we pursue, say, cosmological scientific investigation, the results of which are then interpreted within the context of the narrative concerned with “how our universe began.”

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          • That could work, but it’s delicate.

            Personally, I think the reason why we’re interested in the beginning of our universe cannot adequately be explained outside of the manifest image. But I also think that we cannot answer the question “how did it begin?” without leaving the domain of the manifest image.

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          • I was also thinking about quantum mechanics and whether something like the so-called Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics could fit the goal of interpreting scientific results and making them intelligible in terms of the Manifest Image.

            There we have one mathematical mechanism (the Shrodinger equation) which works incredibly well in describing our empirical observations but could also be, without an appropriate interpretation of what it describes, a good example of “non-personed science being entirely statistical” (in QM jargon, “shut up and calculate”). So for the last 100 years there have been multiple attempts to make that equation “intelligible in terms of the Manifest Image”. The problem is that we now have not one but at least 15 different interpretations, and they are all dramatically incompatible among themselves (just think, for example, of the many-worlds interpretation vs the objective collapse theory). And even worse, it is unlikely that further experimentation will make us converge towards a single interpretation(because, for instance, of practical limitations in achieving the required energies).

            Should this case be seen as a failure of the goal of interpreting the SI in terms of the MI?

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  9. Happy to see you’ve picked up on Sellars’s real Kantian roots — that is, Kant’s pragmatism — whether you intended it or not.

    I’m speaking of course about the Kant of the under-read and poorly understood Transcendental Doctrine of Method, the second, shorter part of the first Critique that lends the first part its proper context and significance. It’s this second part that finds its own expression in Charles Sanders Peirce, thus playing an important role in American pragmatism’s development.

    In the Method, Kant diagnoses the problem with the varieties of rationalist and empiricist metaphysics of his day: they’re purely speculative, by which he means — he explains — they theorize in abstraction from the deeply human interests and concerns that arise out of our everyday, embodied, first-personal-point-of-view-ish agency. Name your contemporary metaphysic, and it’s bound to be speculative in this sense — merely scholastic, as Kant sometimes has it.

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  10. Dan

    I would say that the problems you are having articulating your views here arise not just because (as you put it) “they are so fundamental [and] because there are so many ways one can misinterpret the idea of “conditions of adequacy”” but also because of fundamental problems with those views.

    You are appealing to Rosen as an authority. I have not read Rosen so am at a disadvantage. His main concern seems to be with philosophy (he talks about a “meta-philosophical battle”, not a meta-scientific one) — though he does say that not just philosophy but “inquiry as a whole” is possible only “within the context of human nature and experience.” This is the nub of the problem. In a sense the claim is true but (as I see it, and have discussed above) trivially so.

    “The point is that all inquiry is pursued by *people* as they are conceived in the Manifest Image: inquiry *as an activity* is an expression of the interests and values of persons — and is thereby a function of intentionality — which is why, at the end of the day, the results of science are not just *interpreted* in terms of the Manifest Image, but must be *intelligible* by its lights.”

    This is incorrect, as I see it. See my comments above on natural language and thought. There are many modes of thinking (including mathematical). I see that couvent2104 has come in on this also.

    I like the idea of not invoking “the sorts of strange or spooky entities that create epistemological and interactionist problems.” And I certainly agree that “most of the most enduring, mind-breaking philosophical conundrums will turn out to involve simple, basic mistakes.” But I continue to see some serious problems with what you are saying.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A nice quote from Popper:

    There is at least one philosophical problem in which all thinking men are interested: the problem of understanding the world in which we live; and thus ourselves (who are part of that world) and our knowledge of it…[The Presocratics]
    theory of knowledge…was not one…that began with the question, ‘How do I know that this is an orange?’ or, ‘How do I know that the object I am now perceiving is an orange?’ Their theory of knowledge started from problems such as,
    ‘How do we know that the world is made of water?’ or, ‘How do we know that the world is full of gods?’ or, ‘How can we know anything about the gods?’

    If mathematical language is essential to scientific understanding, then there is one human language is up to the challenges of communicating concepts that correspond to reality. Popper comments we just need a simple theory of knowledge to do science. His idea of verisimilitude comes, I think, straight from the iterative refinement of our models in the sciences. If the luminiferous ether has been overturned, similar fluids are back for modelling dark matter and dark energy, for instance.

    And I come from areas where we use mathematical models for the human world all the time. “Quality” is just one more dimension for a space. Like Hintakka says, “the conceptual incompatibility of color terms can be turned into a logical truth simply by conceptualizing the concept of color as a function mapping points in a visual space into color space… Wittgenstein despaired too soon.” I have a lot of time for Bayesian models of belief, game theory etc etc.

    Does any of this give you answers about what you should do with your life? Only indirectly. If you think understanding the nonhuman cosmos is a good, then certain types of ethics tend to be suggested eg an egalitarianism along the Parfittian type lines about equal relevance of your own life in the distant future with that of other peoples, or your own life now and those who will follow after you; epistemic ethics.

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