Dialogues with Crispin on the Prolegomena: Vol. 3

The third of my ongoing series of discussions with Crispin Sartwell on my Prolegomena for a Pluralist Metaphysics.

11 comments

  1. As always a joy to listen to.

    I have always felt that what Dan and Crispin share in common — the stuff that drives their philosophical positions– the independence of thought, the earnest curiosity, the love of and commitment to the profession….etc… was more fundamental than opposing categorizations those views might fall into.

    I have to say that I don’t think either Crispin’s body of work or Dan’s prolegomena are useful merely as philosophical abstractions. I think the kinds of mistakes Dan characterizes the ‘crazy’ philosophers as making are not entirely separate from what blocks us from having the civil discussions we need to have as a society.

    The covid situation is perfect example. We need to understand it as best as we can combining the SI and the MI. Any solutions have to take into account the physical reality of what this virus and how it will respond to our response. And we have to understand the conflicting values that will be put to great stress under varying scenarios. All the scenarios will involve some value, or multiple values being compromised.

    I think the prolegomena, the Dan/Crispin-Dan/Massimo, discussions philosophically provide a therapeutic ground for those discussions to take place. I can’t just run a marathon, I have to train first. After years of following Dans blog, Massimos blogs, Crispins books and essays, and the many works linked through them I think I am more capable of understanding my own values and communicating them then I would be otherwise. There is indirect value I think.

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  2. 1. Still having problems with these unfortunate concepts of identity that seems to create pseudo-problems eg Twin World. When I am reading Paul Park’s Starbridge Chronicles, where gasoline is frequently mentioned by characters as necessary to run cars and machinery, I do get slightly concerned when they later describe eating it, but I soon realise it shares only some properties with earthly gasoline. Similarly I know that Putnam’s aliens are either talking about H2O, or something else which can only have all the right physical and chemical properties but not be H20 if they are in a different universe.
    2. An absence of discussion of learning. If we extend the example I gave earlier, consider a man in solitary confinement. His thoughts still have reference and intentionality – with reference to his memory. We often say he has internalized the language and concepts he is wielding. We might claim he has learnt his “external world”, which includes a social environment, and other people, viz the recent liking for Theory Of Mind. None of those are currently causally acting. Maybe he writes books which can influence the outside world, but again, the world he is describing is thatt one he has constructed and is running a model of.
    3. Maybe one thing he learnt is that certain people will reliably pass out parking tickets if he parks in certain places. They might present him with their shared model of when this should be done.

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  3. I always think there is tremendous personal influence on the views of people a they age, with a certain consistency. A good example is Sartwell mentioning the scientific materialist views of his parents. Could it be simply that Sartwell is influenced by those beliefs, notwithstanding his personal journey in recovery and other beliefs he might or might not have? I wonder. I don’t think personal biography and family continuity overtime is everything, but it does count for something and it counts for far more than a purely textual account will admit and I think it might influence Sartwell’s desire for unity he expresses. Just a thought.

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  4. I do strongly agree with the verdict on the support of totalitarianism among otherwise brilliant and bright philosophers. Both Sartwell and Kaufman are completely right about that.

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  5. I don’t know if Bruno Latour’s pluralistic ontology might be of interest
    http://modesofexistence.org
    where “for every mode, there is a distinct theory of meaning, a particular semiotics.” For example, “the beings of fiction, like those of law, indeed possess full and complete reality in their genre, with their own type of veridiction, transcendence, and being…there is some exteriority among the beings of fiction: they impose themselves on us…no, they offer us an imagination that we would not have had without them.”

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  6. A Kantian take on the question about the unity of the world:

    Discovering that two apparently different phenomena are traces, parts, or manifestations of one and the same pattern — call this unification — counts among the most powerful kinds of knowledge, in the sense that it makes some of the most important, discernible differences in what Sellars would call the Manifest Image. It’s also a somewhat common, ordinary, and thus recognizable, local achievement.

    The combination of our familiarity with successful local unifications and our recognition of their import for us humans intensifies our interest in discovering a global ur-pattern of which “everything” is shown to be a trace, part, or manifestation. And discovering an absolutely comprehensive ur-pattern is an intelligible goal, we think, only if there’s an absolutely unified object — a world-whole — which is so patterned. 

    So we form an *idea* of a world-whole, an idea of some ultimate substratum, the knowledge of which is our goal and the knowledge of which counts as knowledge of “the ground” of things. That is, the idea of an ultimate substratum *derives from* the idea of an ultimate understanding of things. And Kant shows that if we’re honest with ourselves and clear-eyed about our capacities, we’ll see that the only way we can conceptualize the world-whole is *formally*, as that-the-knowledge-of-which-is-the-aim-of-theoretical-inquiry. 

    There’s nothing wrong with having an *interest* in an ultimate understanding of things, in discovering an ur-pattern. That interest is part of what constitutes our power of reason *as* reason. And besides, we are perfectly justified *pragmatically* in having this interest: justified by the very existence, character, and evolution of the sciences. Our interest in discovering patterns, and patterns of patterns, and so on, drives and structures inquiry, whose fruits show up in the differences they make for us in the Manifest Image. 

    Nor is there anything wrong in forming the idea of a world-whole, an idea that motivates us to pursue our natural interest. The problem comes when the realist philosopher tries to prove that *there is* an object corresponding to the idea and the anti-realist philosopher tries to prove that *there is not* such an object. Scholastic metaphysics takes flight, unmoored by the Manifest Image, that “fruitful bathos of experience.”

    Scholasticism, technical and doctrinaire as it tends to be, is a perversion of our philosophical vocation. Its opposite, cosmopolitanism, is the ideal: a philosophy (including a reformed metaphysics) of *the human being* that aims for the constructing of institutions that allow human beings to fully and freely develop their capacities.

    Both the realist and the anti-realist misinterpret the idea of a world-whole: they interpret it *materially*, thereby missing its *formal* status. Both assume they can imagine *what it would even be* for a human being to know such a thing. They analogize from local successes in discovering substrata *within* our horizon to a global success in discovering the substratum *of* our horizon, with the realist saying we would discover such a thing and the anti-realist saying we wouldn’t.

    Both miss the point that the idea’s proper significance is a *human* one. Its meaning *for human beings* is not as a scholastic metaphysical hypothesis whose truth-value depends on whether there is in fact an ultimate ground. It’s as a first-personal-plural self-interpretation, a synecdochical expression of our natural interest in discovering patterns, an idea that finds its ultimate justification in its contribution to human self-development. 

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    1. This is an attractive view. However, I think the realist usually has a “realistic” idea that she is a finite knower.

      Per supervenience on physics of all we hold dear, an hypothesis is that any piece you pick out of the world-whole will be amenable to formal methods as per the Strong Church-Turing Thesis.

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      1. “However, I think the realist usually has a “realistic” idea that she is a finite knower.”

        Which makes it all the more gobsmacking to see metaphysical realists claiming to know that there is an ultimate substratum.

        “Per supervenience on physics of all we hold dear, an hypothesis is that any piece you pick out of the world-whole will be amenable to formal methods as per the Strong Church-Turing Thesis.”

        We can fruitfully form and dispute hypotheses about the nature of things *within* what we think of as the world-whole. But to call an assumption about the nature of the world-whole itself — e.g. ‘any piece you pick out of the world-whole will be amenable to formal methods’ — a *hypothesis* threatens to cultivate confusion. The enthusiasm of logicians, mathematicians, physicists, and other scientists for the power and applicability of their techniques and concepts makes for good science, but it also makes for crude philosophizing when those techniques and concepts are pressed into service outside their proper domain. (I say this as a philosopher of mathematics and logic and former bio-organic chemist. I’m no intruder; I’m housekeeping.)

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        1. Hi A.S. I will let my hackles lower at the mention of housekeeping ;). While the “quantum-extended Physical Church-Turing Thesis” (which is what I am thinking of as equivalent to “formal methods”) is described as a principle, I think the idea that it might be applicable to a randomly selected “piece” comes across to me in the form of a hypothesis, that may be supported or falsified by some combination of measurement and calculation – though probably not any present science that I know of (perhaps Tononi IIT or Friston’s ideas, if they work). It doesn’t necessarily specify that much about the cosmos. The enthusiasm of “it-from-qubit” physicists may or may not be justified, but this is, as you point out, scientific in nature. Similarly, guys such as Scott Aaronson writing (in his textbook intro) of “the intellectual quest that’s defined my life – the quest to wrap together computation, physics, math, and philosophy into some sort of coherent picture of the world” are perhaps being guilty of being “crude”, but any metaphysical speculations do have the advantage of being quite tightly linked to underlying physics and mathematics, and so offer the chance for disconfirmation. I’ll just point again to the proportion of professional philosophers who describe themselves in the PhilPapers survey as “physicalist” and “scientific realist”. If one thinks that mind supervenes on physical brain processes, I think this entails a relationship between the “complexity” of those physical processes and the corresponding mental processes (say, me being only able to retain six items in my short term memory rather than an infinite amount), unless supervenience means nothing realistic at all. My favourite recent example is actually from the Brains blog, where the “familiar square description” neurological test was mentioned. Following a stroke, it is quite common to have a hemineglect along with hemianopia. When a person is asked to mentally visualize a town square as if facing north, they cannot report on the buildings etc on the affected side. Then when asked to mentally visualize as if facing south, they now can “see” those missing buildings, but lose access to the original hemifield. I’m still contemplating on what this says about phenomenology etc (the neurology seems pretty straightforward).

          One consequence of Meillassoux’s “Ancestrality” argument seems, to me, to be along the lines that the first bits and pieces of the Manifest Image are only, say, 50000 years old – if one is a scientific realist. Further to that, then one asks scientific realist type questions about what happened at that time, is there an appropriate model for change in the physical (Informational) processes that support this, and so on. I guess this may be completely equivalent to musing upon the rise of the World Spirit.

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