Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Analytic Metaphysics and Methodology

The Leiter Reports is running a poll many of you will have seen on who is the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. I find it both incredible and appalling that David Lewis makes the shortlist but not Carnap (mind you the list is silly on other grounds too). I always thought I was interested in all areas of philosophy but increasingly I find the questions and methodology of contemporary analytic metaphysics largely uninteresting and ridiculous, and maybe wrongly I blame Lewis' influence for a lot of that. I am interested to know whether my disdain for the way analytic metaphysics is going is shared by many philosophers of science. Or perhaps someone can explain to me why I should care, for example, how many regions of spacetime there are, and why I should think it is the job of philosophers to speculate about such matters.

57 comments:

  1. I had the opportunity to meet Lewis once, many years ago, and was dismayed to find that he plays philosophy like a silly little game.

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  2. Total agreement. But just what exactly is the extension of 'analytic metaphysics'? I wonder if answers to that question may cause much controversy between those who might reply as Carnap would have and those with a different standpoint. How much can metaphysical speculation really tell us, for example, about whether 'experience' derives from a panpsychist substrate or we should look to radical emergence? And this is just one of the many areas where metaphysical speculation seeks to ape the methods of legitimate empirical science. Look out for papers with copious references to 'ultimates' and you'll know the kind of thing I'm referring to.

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  3. I take it the regions of spacetime example is meant to refer to the discussion going on over here. Some of the recent comments there are designed to address worries concerning the interest of the question (for example, Robbie Williams suggested that Field-style nominalisation might be helped out by some answers and not others). So maybe that part of the conversation is best had there.

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  4. Completely agree.

    I am also dismayed by the idea that philosophy of science should get closer to contemporary metaphysics, an idea endorsed by a few people who are contributors to this blog.

    I was surprised that Reichenbach did not even make it to Leiter's first list.

    EM

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  5. Unfortunately, I do not think the problem is just with analytic metaphysics. As someone who is interested in the philosophy of mind in the way that, say, Andy Clark, Paul Churchland, and Daniel Dennett are interested in the philosophy of mind, I am appalled that large swaths of the philosophy of mind have been more or less ceded to the philosophy of language. According to this program, if you want to know about the structure of cognition, you should focus on the semantics and syntax of belief and knowledge ascriptions. As an example, think about what has happened in the last ten years surrounding Ryle's distinction between knowledge how and knowledge that. While there has been a lot of interesting work done in cognitive psychology that bears Ryle out, if you look at the landscape in professional philosophy, you would get the impression that Ryle was completely wrong. Why? Not because philosophers have gotten their hands dirty with the science. No, no. All one needs is a little armchair reflection, informed by linguistics. Et voila, the cogwheels of the human mind are revealed.

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  6. James,

    I'm not entirely clear as to what you find "ridiculous" about "the methodology of analytic metaphysics". On the face of it, analytic metaphysicians such as Lewis claim to be just trying to come up with the simplest and most explanatory powerful theory for certain classes of phenomena or facts (e.g. the fact that the glass sitting on my desk is identical to the one that was sitting on my desk 5 minutes ago, the fact that it is full of water but could have been full of juice, the fact that it would break, if I'd hit it with a sledge hammer, the fact, that it has the same shape as one of the glasses in the kitchen, etc).

    Now, of course, you may think that the phenomena in question do not exist (for example, you could think there are no glasses, there are only fundamental particles or fields), but this seems to be already taking a stance with respect to a host of metaphysical questions. Or maybe you think that these phenomena/facts are not in need of any (metaphysical?) explanation, but neither of these seem to be objections to *the methodology* of analytic metaphysics. In fact, trying to come up with simple and explanatory powerful theories of a certain set of phenomena appears to be not that different methodologically from what (theoretical) scientists do.

    Maybe what you find ridiculous is the assumption that the only evidence for metaphysical theories is a priori evidence gained through armchair speculation and without any regard for what our best scientific theories tell us, but most metaphysicians today do not share this assumption and seem to take science quite seriously (this is clear from many of the comments to the post you allude to) or at least pay lip service to it.

    My impression is that philosophers of science are still pretty much under the grips of the old neo-positivist prejudice against metaphysics. At the time, though, philosophy of science was one of the core areas of what we would call today analytic philosophy. Today, however, metaphysics seems to be one of the most lively areas in analytic philosophy, while philosophy of science is marginalized and fragmented and, as I have already argued in a previous post, I think that, by failing to engage in some of the relevant debates in M&E, which are two of the most lively core areas of analytic philosophy today, we are only going to make philosophy of science a more marginal and isolated field.

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  7. A couple of naive questions:

    1) Is there a uniform methodology for analytic metaphysics?

    2) Where exactly is analytic metaphysics going?

    Since I'm not that well read on cutting edge metaphysics, I'm not too sure how to contribute more than just trying to clarify what it is we're talking about.

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  8. I want to echo a part of Gabriele's comments. David Lewis program builds (despite the narrative of his 'naturalism' and being a student of Quine, not to mention their shared starting points in Ohio) on Carnapian foundations in formal semantics, modal logic, decision theory, etc.

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  9. What a surprise to find you stirring the pot, James!

    I do think we have to be careful to distinguish between 'analytic metaphysics' and other notions (e.g. metaphysics as the science of the possible). There are some interesting papers on this by E. J. Lowe and James, to which van Fraassen responds, in a special issue of Synthese that I'm editing with Otávio Bueno -- so keep an eye out for that. (Lowe's paper is interesting because he agrees with van Fraassen in dismissing 'analytic ontology'.)

    But more generally, I'd have to say that I'm very relaxed about people inquiring into areas that I consider uninteresting (or even 'playing at inquiry' from a God's eye view, albeit with false consciousness). Imagine that we could all agree that Lewis was doing little more than the intellectual equivalent of solving a (very difficult) crossword puzzle. Why would I condemn that?

    I'd also add that areas or avenues of inquiry that appear 'useless' may come up trumps. I can imagine someone taking a very dim view of theorising concerning complex numbers or non-Euclidean geometry, in times past. But we have subsequently discovered that these findings are extremely useful. The same can be true in metaphysics, on my view -- but there are, of course, no guarantees.

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  10. We may label Darrell's attitude as a principle of tolerance about pseudo-questions. grin!
    Of course, in Dynamics of Reason, Michael Friedman argues that contemporary science should at least constrain (in some sense) the search space.

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  11. Hi there,

    Hope you don't mind me dropping in!

    Some of things that make people rate Lewis so highly is quite independent of the famous grand metaphysical claims (concrete possible worlds, or whatever). Its rather the things he says on much more specific topics. Just to give a few examples: (i) foundations of linguistics (from general semantics; to the "score keeping" account of context change); (ii) the logic and semantics for counterfactuals (the discussion in the 1973 book is pretty independent of a realist/reductionist project that he later developed in "time's arrow"); (iii) the relationships between objective chance and credence; (iv) probability of conditionals and conditional probability (and the list can go on).

    In addition to these "first-order" investigations that aren't obviously metaphysical in the first place, there's also metaphysics with a small m: not the grand abstract theory, but the crystal clear (though obviously disputable) accounts of the relationship between causation and counterfactuals; between the content of belief and the content of language; getting chance out of Humean laws.

    All this stuff just seems obviously interesting to me, for people working in all sorts of areas (maybe I'm wrong?)

    There was a turn in Lewis in the mid-1980's to more abstract metaphysical questions (metaphysics with a big M): the two biggies being the metaphysics of modality (his views were mentioned in previous work, but never really fully set out and defended IIRC) and the idea of "perfectly natural" properties. Those are way more speculative than any of the areas I just mentioned; but they don't drop out of the blue. Rather, there's fifteen years of hard work and independently motivated accounts that have been developed previously, and Lewis then argued pretty plausibly (in "New Work for a theory of Universals" and "Plurality") that in order to get these independently motivated theories to play together nicely, he needed each time to appeal to certain very general resources. (The role of "perfectly natural" properties---which up to that point Lewis was sceptical of---is one leading source of papers featuring the word "ultimate"!)

    My own interest in the very abstract questions (big-M metaphysics) is mostly motivated by the idea that we *need* something to play the perfectly-natural-property role; and then there's a question about how best to think about this. This is where you get the debate between e.g. appeals to primitive resemblance; appeal to Universals; appeal to Tropes, just taking the distinction itself to be primitive. Now *that* discussion I can understand people being queasy about. I think Lewis was queasy about it too (he just mentions a bunch of options and---other than objecting to theories he thinks have internal problems---he just stays agnostic about which way to go).

    Just to say something on a personal level. I don't particularly like the way in philosophy that we often obsess over labels and categorizations. I don't want to be restricted to a certain set of methodologies and topics. For me, the way it should work is that you pick a topic that interests you, and seems intrinsically interesting---say, the notion of counterfactual dependence. And then you look at it from all sides. You draw what you can from the best work of epistemologists, logicians, philosophers of language, decision theorists, phil scientists (and scientists), X-phi stuff, metaphysicians. And then you might make some headway in figuring out what to think about your topic. Now, you can't possibly take it all in, and there will be biases in what you access, but you do what you can. And sometimes some of the subdebates might have gone up blind alleys, or be reinventing the wheel. But that's life. When engaged in these kinds of projects, my experience is that Lewis's stuff is just consistently fantastic, I guess because that question-focused, rather than discipline-centric, methodology is very Lewisian.

    What I've read in the phil physics literature in particular, I find absolutely fascinating. I do have sympathy for the view that people engaged in all sorts of debates should know more about it (including and especially me!). There's an obvious reason why lots of people don't engage with it more: you gotta learn physics to fully engage with it; and that's a reasonably hard ask for people with a full time job.

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  12. But, who does Carnap think he is, without an appropriate beard?

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  13. I completely agree with Gabriele's comments. It seems to me that philosophers of science, at least in certain areas, regularly employ metaphysical concepts and categories. To give just one example James is certainly familiar with - although perhaps closer to philosophy of physics than to general philosophy of science -, the question of what sort of objects quantum particles are - individuals or not, if so, thanks to the identity of the indiscernibles or not, etc. It seems especially true to me that when it comes to providing interpretations of our best theories, these cannot be found withing the theories themselves, and necessarily need an independent and autonomously defined range of possibilities. This is, at least partly, what analytic ontology provides - although there certainly are metaphysical questions that are less interesting to the extent that they are farther removed from empirical inquiry.

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  14. Lewis' contributions over a huge range of areas, and the fact that this kind of poll probably reflects more on what people are currently thinking about than their considered reflection on 'greatness' of very recent philosophers, suffices to explain Lewis' appearance and not Carnap's without any need to wheel in any conspiracy theories about 'analytic metaphysics'. That said, I'm pretty much in agreement with Robbie; I don't see any reason why provincialism and balkanisation of philosophy will help answer any of the questions we're interested in.

    On James' final remark:

    "Or perhaps someone can explain to me why I should care, for example, how many regions of spacetime there are, and why I should think it is the job of philosophers to speculate about such matters."

    I guess I don't see that all topics of philosophical interest should be of interest to all philosophers, so the first remark seems neither here nor there. As to the second part: I myself don't find first-order ethics particularly interesting philosophically (though as a person I find them vital), but I'm not so convinced by an error theory that I reckon it might not be part of philosophy to think about the issues. There are lots of facts to find out; it's certainly not clear now which of them will turn out useful; in the absence of compelling practical reasons against investigating these issues, I reckon philosophers should at least be permitted to think about whatever they like.

    Finally, I'm also in agreement with those who've pointed out that a lot of metaphysical theorising gets done covertly by philosophers in other areas, and philosophy done covertly just tends to be less good
    that philosophy done overtly—less gets smuggled in without argument. So I think the fact that metaphysics is out and proud is all to the good. And if it really is as 'ridiculous' as James claims: well, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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  15. I am a little surprised that so many people voted for Lewis: I can't help but think that the results would be different in ten years or so.

    That said: James, I would never have thought that you would make such a sharp distinction between analytic metaphysics and general philosophy of science. After all, isn't anti-realism everyday fare in GPOS? How is this more airy-fairy than arguing a distinction between existence and actuality?

    Are you really saying that van Fraassen discoursing on empiricism or Cartwright on the falsity of scientific theories are being less metaphysical than Lewis on possible worlds. And in any case why hit on analytic metaphysics as a whole, when Lewis on possible worlds is one of the more extreme proponents of speculativeness -- though no more speculative on this point than the many worlds interpretation of QM, right?

    I'll also say that Lewis contributed a lot to the discussion of causation, convention, and counterfactuals; he was a pioneer of realism, functionalism, and various materialist approaches in the philosophy of mind; he contributed to the logic of conditionals, the theory of universals, and a number of other such topics.

    Speaking for myself -- and I am very empirically grounded in my philosophical interests -- I think that when I grow tired of the above topics, I will count myself tired of philosophy itself.

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  16. James,

    I think I agree with you, if I understand what you're saying. I don't know about "analytic" metaphysics (I tend to think that the particular term is now a vague term of abuse or approbation, depending on who is uttering it), but I think most of what passes as metaphysics in mainstream departments, notably the Lewis program and responses to it, is about as philosophically barren as it could get. On the other hand, I agree with all the comments that suggest that philosophers of science depend on and often do quite a lot of metaphysics (the "neo-positivist prejudice" against metaphysics is clearly wrong). But I thought you were criticizing the content and method of most mainstream metaphysicians, not the project of metaphysics as such (as many of the comments suggest).

    I don't have an alternative suggestion as yet, but I definitely share your dissatisfaction with the way things are going.

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  17. My own two cents worth on an interesting thread:

    1. I agree with Edouard that Reichenbach should have been on the original list (and would have got my vote).

    2. I agree with Robbie Williams that what makes Lewis stand out is not his grand metaphysical project (which he claims to have stumbled into by accident), but his smaller but nonetheless game-changing interventions on so many areas of analytic philosophy. I would add, e.g. to Williams' list that, for his PhD thesis, Lewis invented the game-theoretic approach to language and meaning. You can't do serious work on: causation, free will, foundations of probability, logic of conditionals, skepticism, pragmatics, or the theory of punishment, just to name a few, without grappling with Lewis's ideas.

    3. Like many of the commenters, I have a dim view of much contemporary analytic metaphysics. I recall a clever line of van Fraassen -- perhaps someone can remind me where -- who said (roughly) that he was not opposed to all metaphysics, only to pre-Kantian metaphysics, and that only if practiced after Kant. This is basically my view. There are, I think, a number of perfectly legitimate projects. One is to tease out the metaphysical implications of our best science (think of James Ladyman, Tim Maudlin, Sheldon Smith). Another is to regiment language so as to avoid paradox and confusion. But I think a number of metaphysicians see themselves and explicitly describe themselves as engaged in a Neo-rationalist project of trying to understand the structure of the world using purely a priori methods. And that just strikes me as wrong-headed.

    4. I don't know how much Lewis contributed to the current prominence of bad metaphysics. He certainly subscribed to a program of old-fashioned conceptual analysis -- trying to erect philosophical theories on the foundation of our intuitions -- that I think had a harmful effect on philosophy. But I don't think that is quite the same thing. (I think the problem is just as severe, in e.g. epistemology.)

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  18. The van Fraassen quote is from Laws and Symmetry, p. viii: "I too lack sympathy for metaphysics, though not in general: only for pre-Kantian metaphysics— and then only if practised after Kant."

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  19. What is the point in voting for the best philosopher of the 20th century, anyway? Shall we also do it for earlier centuries? I would propose a vote for the worst philosopher—it should be interesting how people would vote.
    I guess the problem is not with metaphysics—either of the pre-Kantian or the post-Kantian sort, but with the illusion that there is an analytic way to do it—as opposed to what? Heidegger’s way? Hegel was a perfectly serious metaphysician (see his critique of mechanism, among other things) and Carnap too (despite all appearances to the contrary) was telling us how best to do metaphysics. And Lewis himself reinvigorated the philosophical thinking about standard metaphysical issues (see his work on nominalism). If analytic metaphysics is an exercise in choosing an old and deep topic (most likely discussed thoroughly in the middle ages)—e.g., essentialism—and turning it into a dry array of possible positions and bunches of arguments in favour of them and counterexamples to them, I take it to be a waste of the philosophical time of otherwise fine minds. The problem is not, typically, with the original thinkers (like Lewis) who introduce a new style of philosophising, but with their followers who, in many cases, excel on the style but forget about the philosophising!

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  20. Stathis Psillos says:

    "If analytic metaphysics is an exercise in choosing an old and deep topic [...] and turning it into a dry array of possible positions and bunches of arguments in favour of them and counterexamples to them, I take it to be a waste of the philosophical time of otherwise fine minds."

    I find this deeply puzzling. Apart from the rhetorical use of 'dry', I can't see why any philosopher would find the giving of arguments and counterexamples concerning some topic of perennial significance would be objectionable, let alone a 'waste'. What do philosophers do if not give arguments, and why should these topics be neglected—because they are old and deep? I genuinely do not understand why anyone would find this something to be concerned about.

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  21. I agree with Antony.

    I thought I'd add something else, on a more general note on this issue, too.

    I think it's helpful to consider matters at the community level. So for me, the right question is not "Should we study metaphysics?" but rather "How much effort should be devoted to metaphysics?" (And there are related questions, of course, about relative funding.)

    I also think that we all run the risk of tackling pseudoproblems, _qua_ philosophers. But who is so bold as to suggest that they can infallibly identify these? In short, that's why I urge tolerance (given that there aren't really that many people doing metaphysics, e.g. in comparison to science).

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  22. Thanks to everyone for the big response to my post.

    Of course I should not in general take my being uninterested in a question as a reason for believing that asking the question is not worthwhile. The autobiography in my post was completely ingenuous however. I did always think of myself as someone who was interested in all areas of philosophy, especially metaphysics but I can't get interested in whether, for example, arbitrary sums of simples are to be counted as genuine objects or not, just because I can't see how that question is integrated into the general project that scientists are also engaged in of finding out about the world.

    Gabrielle offers a popular defense of the methodology of metaphysics: The empirical evidence underdetermines the right metaphysical theory, but then the empirical evidence also underdetermines the right scientific theory too. In the latter case we must break the underdetermination by choosing the most explanatory theory, and that is just what we should do in metaphysics. I am writing a paper about what it wrong with this argument. Here is a first stab at that. We do not in the end prefer special relativity to the empirically equivalent Lorentz-Fitzgerald hypothesis because the former is more explanatory, but because the former was part of a progressive research programme that led to new empirical predictions and to general relativity and the methodology of using symmetry principles that is central to the standard model. Explanatory power is a criterion of theory choice with which we must make do when there is nothing else to rely upon, but it is always to be supplemented by the search for new empirical predictions. Let's take another example, namely Darwinism. While it is true to say that its explanatory power rather than its predictive success is why it was originally adopted, it is also true that it has been an enormously fruitful theoretical framework for the production of new empirically adequate science. Now in the case of metaphysics I think we ought to expect the same thing of our theories. Metaphysical theorizing ought to be fruitful for the rest of our thought and I think sometimes it is as with atomism and materialism in the scientific revolution.

    Okay I don't want to go on too long but let me thank Robbie in particular for his thoughtful post. I agree that Lewis was a great philosopher and that he did profound work on interesting questions. The point I wanted to make was that the inclusion of him in the list of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century above the likes of Russell and Carnap seems to me to reflect a problematic trend in our subject.

    For the purposes of debate I realize of course that I am oversimplifying and distorting matters with labels like 'analytic metaphysics'. There is no sharp distinction between metaphysics and philosophy of science and to be clear I don't want there not to be metaphysics - I would just like it to be more naturalistic. Many of the people I know who work in the area (including some of those who have posted above - you know who you are) are super smart multi-purpose philosophers who can argue the pants off me and whose intellects I find hugely impressive - but that just increases my bewilderment at some of what they are doing.

    Thanks again to all.

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  23. Not much to add to the able defences of Lewis that have been given above. But the notion of 'greatness' seems like it might be the source of some of the disagreement here. Does a great philosopher say lots of true things, or few false things, or things which stimulate lots of other philosophers, or things which stimulate lots of other philosophers in useful directions (whatever those are), or things which fit together into a coherent system? Presumably all of those criteria matter to some extent - but I'd guess that the last of them (systematicity) is why so many people think of Lewis as great. No other philosopher in the twentieth century has covered so much varied ground in their work and tied it into a coherent system, with the possible exception of Russell. 'Great' philosophers of the past usually had this systematic character to their thought - and it's pretty rare nowadays.

    On 'analytic metaphysics' - there's some really bad stuff out there, driven by a really bad intuition-based methodology, but that seems to be true in other areas of philosophy too. We should judge current metaphysics by its best practitioners - Sider, Williamson, Fine, Hawthorne, etc - and not just by the quantity of bad stuff done. Good metaphysics is hard to do, and it needs an appropriate methodology, but that's not an objection to the whole project.

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  24. PS I completely agree that Carnap should have been on the shortlist.

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  25. James,

    I'm not sure I see any good reason to think that there may not be progressive and regressive research programs in metaphysics as there are in science. Some metaphysical research programs seem to be regressive and their supporters seem to continue to add epicycle over epicycle (and, in my humble opinion, Lewis himself was no stranger to that) while others are found to be capable of explaining phenomena they were not originally designed to account for. Isn't that supposed to be the hallmark of a novel (as opposed to new) prediction?

    Of course, I'm not saying that there is no difference between scientific and metaphysical research programs. What I am saying is that there seems to be no profound divide between the most speculative end of science and the most empirically informed end of analytic metaphysics especially from a methodological point of view.

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  26. These two ideas (from Gabriele's comment) are telling:

    1) Analytic metaphysicians [are] just trying to come up with the simplest and most explanatory powerful theory for certain classes of facts, e.g., the fact that the glass sitting on Gabriele's desk is identical to the one that was sitting on his desk 5 minutes ago.

    2) [Coming] up with simple and explanatory powerful theories of a certain set of [facts] appears to be not that different methodologically from what (theoretical) scientists do.

    The question is whether the glass's identity with itself five-minutes ago is a fact and therefore merely a "class of fact" in need of an "explanation".

    And that's not a metaphysical question (i.e., I'm not taking a position within analytic metaphysics or suggesting we take one). Or rather, it is a very different question as a metaphysical question than as a scienctific question.

    After all, the question cannot be answered by proving that no one snuck in and replaced Gabriele's glass with a merely "similar" one behind his back. But a scientific theory would, in effect, provide only those kinds of guarantees.

    Since metaphysicians are trying to account for (and analytic metaphysicians are trying to "explain") things that could not be otherwise, they are doing something (methodologically) very different from scientists.

    I happen to also think that sort of speculations is a waste of time. But this is separate from the question of whether what they are doing is anything "like" what scientists do.

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  27. Thomas,

    You say: "After all, the question cannot be answered by proving that no one snuck in and replaced Gabriele's glass with a merely "similar" one behind his back. But a scientific theory would, in effect, provide only those kinds of guarantees."

    I don't even know how to start thinking about the empirical question of whether someone has surreptitiously replaced my glass with a different but seemingly identical glass within the last five minutes unless I am already assuming some criteria for the identity of each glass through time.

    My point is that people who think are doing without any metaphysical assumptions are just making do with a host of unexamined metaphysical assumptions and philosophers know well how problematic or plain wrong our unexamined assumptions can be.

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  28. Yes. What I'm saying, however, is that examining one's metaphysical assumptions is nothing like coming up with explanations for classes of facts.

    It is not the empirical question about the glass that's interesting, I agree. It's the theoretical one. Scientific theorizing would be coming up with conditions under which the assumption that the glass is not some other glass is justified. I'm thinking about this on the model of re-identifying one point of light in the sky as the same star or planet that we saw last night. Or assuming that motion of a celestial object follows a smooth trajectory. That what I meant by "in effect".

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  29. Thomas,

    I'm not sure I follow you. Are you claiming that there are no facts of the matter about identity, so that if you take the glass on my desk now and the one that was on my desk five minutes ago there is no fact of the matter as to whether they are identical or not?

    If you do, that is already a metaphysical view. If you don't, do you think that such facts about identities do not need to be explained?

    If you do, you are already committed to some specific metaphysical view. If you don't, I don't see why you think that such an explanation is are substantially different from the scientific one. Could you please explain what you take the substantial difference to be? Aren't we minimally trying to keep the web of our beliefs (whether metaphysical or empirical) consistent with the phenomena? Or, more robustly, trying to choose the web that is overall the best explanation of those phenomena?

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  30. It is a fact (in one sense) that the morning star is identical with the evening star.

    It is a fact (in the same sense) that the glass on your table is identical with the one that there five minutes ago if no one came an replaced it with another glass without you noticing.

    It is not a fact (in that same sense) that the glass is identical with its past self.

    And that's why the methodology of metaphysics is not the like the methodology of science qua the pursuit of "explanations of classes of facts".

    I don't mind having metaphysical views. (I actually sometimes like having them.) I just don't think they are like my scientific ones.

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  31. Sorry about terseness and typos. I was juggling a few other things.

    I guess my take on facts is that they could be otherwise. An explanation of a fact is an account of why things happen to be as they are although they could have been otherwise.

    (So my metaphysical views on facts are probably not much more sophisticated than the Tractatus.)

    I can't make sense of an "explanation" of the identity of the glass (in the sense you propose) because I can't make sense of this "fact" being otherwise. How might the glass not be identical with its past self, except in the ordinary empirical sense of our being mistaken about there being only one glass?

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  32. I think it's worth noting that people who practice analytic Metaphysics have been lately concerned with methodological issues. There is even a word for that kind of discussion, "meta-metaphysics". For example, some people have proposed that the debate about whether arbitrary sums of simple are genuine objects, one Ladyman’s last post cites, is misconceived; it's only a verbal dispute.

    In a sense, this still tells in favor of the initial worries. If the question whether there are genuine issues seems so pressing, it must be because the issues themselves invite that question. There is however a risk of representing people engaged in analytic Metaphysics unfairly, as if they were proceeding under the unquestioned assumption of being debating substantial questions with the appropriate methods. On the contrary, these concerns have been taken seriously and have prompted quite a lot of published discussion. It proves very hard, for example, to say exactly what it means for a question to be merely verbal. It often turns out however that to take a stand of this meta-questions, requires taking a stand on the object level question, as some previous posts, I think, show.

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  33. James,

    In this post, you say you have "disdain" for contemporary analytic metaphysics, and find its questions and methodology largely "ridiculous" but then I find you over here seemingly arguing for the superiority of primitive identity over haecceities (!?!). Is it just a case of homonymy or am I missing something? I must admit I'm quite puzzled! ;-)

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  34. Gabriele

    Hannes Leitgeb and I argue for primitive contextual identity and individuality for mathematical objects on the basis of reflections about mathematical practice, and John Stachel, Simon Saunders and I argue for contextual identity for quantum particles and spacetime points on the basis of the way the relevant theories describe the world. So no conflict between my posts because I have always said that I am interested in metaphysical issues that connect with the science and in attempting to answer them in the light of our best science rather than on the basis of intuitions or their distinctively metaphysical explanatory power. So I advocate doing naturalized metaphysics and while some contemporary metaphysicians do look to science, I think that on the whole the subject is not sufficiently naturalistic hence my complaint.


    spacetime points and quantum particles because

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  35. James,

    "Hannes Leitgeb and I argue for primitive contextual identity and individuality for mathematical objects on the basis of reflections about mathematical practice"

    I'm not sure I see why "mathematical practice" should provide evidence for one view of identity over the others. Is it because you take the a priori intuitions of mathematicsians to be more reliable than those of metaphysicians or because you take mathematics to be an empirical science?

    Moreover, if our scientific theories are underdetermined by our evidence, our metaphysical theories seem to be even more so (I took that to be your original concern). So, I assume you are not claiming that, say, primitive identity is the only view that is compatible with the empirical evidence. But if you don't, it would seem that you would either have to suspend your judgment over any underdetermined alternative (either scientific or metaphysical) or you would have to concede that a priori considerations carry some epistemic weight in both domains. In any case, most of what you said seems to support my earlier claim that metaphysics and science are not as methodologically different as you were suggesting in your post and previous comments, because, as far as I can see, what you are in fact doing is not in any way methodologically different from what most analytic metaphysicians do except that you try to make it sound more respectable by giving it a more scientific gloss.

    In particular, in your earlier comments you were suggesting that the methodology of the analytic metaphysics differs from the methodology of science in that metaphysical theories do not lead to the prediction of novel phenomena. I already say why I disagree with you on that, but even if you were not convinced by my earlier arguments, I cannot see how the naturalized metaphysics you practice is better than analytic metaphysics on that score. If you disagree with my argument above, could you explain me which novel phenomena are predicted by someone who believes in primitive identities over haecceities?

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  36. James,

    I think the analogy you draw between identity in mathematics and in physics is not sufficiently worked out. What *scientific practice* tells you that quantum indiscernibles should be attributed contextual primitive identity but not intrinsic primitive identity? Doesn't the whole move rest on the *metaphysical* presupposition that intrinsic primitive identities entail the violation of permutation invariance because they entail some unpleasant form of haecceitism?

    Gabriele,

    I don't think James is committed to the claim that unlike analytic metaphysics naturalized metaphysics predicts novel phenomena. He just thinks that answers to certain questions transcending science are meaningful only if based on the empirical facts studied by science.

    I think the key point is whether metaphysics can be directly 'extracted' by scientific theories and practice or just needs to be 'fleshed out' by looking at science after having done most of the conceptual work. James seems to opt for the former option, I would favour the latter on the basis that the tools, concepts and categories needed for interpretation cannot be found within the theory to be interpreted.

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  37. Matteo,

    In his comment on March 5 at 6:01am, James seems to consider that the crucial difference between "metaphysical" and "scientific" underdetermination. My point is exactly that I do not see any way to "extract" the metaphysics directly from our best theories and that when James thinks he is doing that he is in fact doing what analytic metaphysicians do.

    Btw I hope many of you attended Larry Sklar's exceptionally interesting presidential address at the PSA08, as Sklar was making exactly the same point although much more clearly and forcefully than I would ever be able to do!

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  38. Thomas,

    I see--you take only contingent facts to be explainable. What if instead of "explain", I used "account for". Don't you agree that what some metaphysicians are trying to do is to account for the seeming persistence of some object through time? And don't you think that some of these accounts are better than others?

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  39. For me one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century was Karl Popper, but I like other philosophers not considered as the "greatest" (like C.J.Ducasse).

    A most interesting question would be: "what do you think is the greatest of the current or contemporary philosophers"? It will give us elements for a more interesting discussion.

    Jime
    (A non-professional philosopher, but someone who loves philosophy!)

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  40. I think Chris Hitchcock is spot on with his diagnosis. Let me elaborate on this via a personal anecdote…

    When I lived in London the journal Mind, ever desperate for help, put me on its editorial committee. That meant trudging up to UCL every other Monday to discuss papers. All in all, it was a great experience; certainly I learned a lot. People would report on papers and we would discuss them. Sometimes particular papers would monopolize a meeting. One that left a lasting impression was a meeting devoted to this question: *do Siamese twins constitute a counter-example to Locke's principle that no two things can occupy the same place and same time?* For what seemed like hours we went back-and-forth on this question of deep concern to a sub-area of philosophy.

    "What did you do today?" my wife asked when I returned home. My stomach turned. I then looked at my newborn son. His father had just spent the better part of a workday trying to discern the fundamental structure of the world by reflecting on the existence of Siamese twins. So had ten to twenty other philosophers. A combined 50-100 years of training had taken place so that a bunch of grown men (alas, yes, mostly men) could debate the metaphysics of Siamese twins. And this being the UK, they were paid by the State. How could I look myself in the mirror after this? Or tell my family what I did? My son, when grown up a bit, would have to lie to teachers and classmates when explaining what I did.

    Perhaps there are ways of construing this question in a manner that isn't methodologically abhorrent. Maybe – to pick up on Chris' comments – it's really about regimenting language use. Then the question's only sin is being a bit esoteric and possibly boring. Or maybe it's a question inspired by legal and ethical matters, e.g., should Siamese twins be required to get two drivers licenses or merely one? Not obvious; but clearly this is a genuine question -- if only for six (or twelve?) drivers in the world.

    Advertised as metaphysics, however, it's hard not to construe the participants of this debate as engaged in a pursuit that can only be interpreted as implying that they believe they have the spooky pre-Kantian rationalist powers mentioned by Chris. Locke's principle that no two things can occupy the same time/place is held up as a claim about the objective causal structure of the world, on par with –nay, in one sense stronger than—Lorentz symmetry, the Pauli Exclusion Principle, and so on. Then instead of testing it empirically – e.g., in the Lorenztian case, say, by shooting rotating interferometers up in space or such-- we "test" it by thinking about the notions of "thing", "same" and "Siamese twin". Special parts of our brain (innate or learned, I don't know) are activated and connect the structure of the world to our concepts. When all is clearly and distinctly perceived, we have a result! Maybe we should test Lorentz symmetry just by thinking about it too (or general covariance too – whoops, bad example! Don't get me going on GC here). Anyway, a bunch of questions like the one mentioned seem to be enthusiastically pursued of late, and for many of them it's very hard to reconstruct a methodological rationale that is plausible.

    That criticism leaves all sorts of metaphysics standing tall. Regimenting language (e.g., via logical analysis) can be enormously fruitful. I regularly teach Sobel's dissection of the fatalist argument. Seeing fatalism being demolished this way and that is really impressive and a tremendous service to undergrads looking for a priori excuses for laziness. And of course, science is loaded with metaphysics from top to bottom, e.g., is spacetime discrete or continuous, relational or substantival, and so on. It's famously difficult (impossible?) to draw any neat line between the metaphysical and non-metaphysical. That shouldn't stop us from our metaphysical pursuits, but neither should it provide cover for the pre-Kantian rationalists among us. The reason James' post has struck a nerve, I submit, is that many sense this specter has arisen from the ash heap of history.

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  41. Yes, Gabriele, I like that way of putting it. And I still don't think scientists, as it were, "merely" account for things. They explain things in precisely the sense of treating them as contingent facts.

    I was reacting to the idea that "trying to come up with simple and explanatory powerful theories of a certain set of phenomena [is methodologically like] what (theoretical) scientists do."

    Since metaphysical "facts" are (presumably) necessary, and since science explains contingent facts, metaphysics and science are very different intellectual activties. Science accounts for the contingency of a fact (like the glass being the same one that was there five minutes ago); metaphysics accounts for its necessity.

    Again, I should admit that I sometimes find myself engaging in metaphysical speculation, but normally the question of accounting the persistence (as such) of a fact that is in fact persisting (rather than perishing through some physical process) leaves me a bit cold.

    Sometimes someone does raise an interesting puzzle of that kind in a particular context. It's usually quickly resolved, however, with a bit of "language therapy".

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  42. Craig,

    As a father of two, I cannot but sympathize with some of the feelings you express in your comment and some of the questions you raise. What I find surprising though is that you seem to assume that, to your son, the philosophical questions you actually work on will appear much more legitimate and worthwhile than the one on which you feel you have wasted your afternoon in London. As far as I can see, given the level of specialization of contemporary analytic philosophy, the kinds of questions most philosophers work on would seem quite abstruse, uninteresting, and ultimately unimportant (especially in a world in which billions of people live under the poverty line and/or are affected by HIV/AIDS and/or do not have access to clean drinking water). (I don't think this is a problem only for philosophers though. I guess few people can look their children in the eyes after a day of work and be confident that the time they have spent away from them was spent doing something that is more worthwhile or relevant to humanity than spending time with them and this is probably why most people see their work as having instrumental and not intrinsic value--i.e. they work to earn a living, become rich, or become successful, or ...). Moreover, if anything, I suspect, if pressed, most non-philosophers would consider questions about personal identity (which I take it is what the question of the twins was ultimately about) more relevant to their philosophical concerns than, say, questions about, say, the time reversal invariance of classical mechanics (and believe me this is not meant to be an ad hominem point--I find the latter question quite interesting myself).

    The other assumption that I find puzzling is that, despite your acknowledging that the line between metaphysics and science, if there is one, is a fine one, you still seem to assume, much like James in his original post, that there is a methodological difference between "good" and "bad" metaphysics. This is a theme that has reemerged throughout this thread and I cannot but repeat what Antony expressed so well in his comment above--i.e. methodologically, philosophers seem to be all on the same boat. They can map the logical space of possible thesis one can hold with respect to a certain topic and offer arguments for and against some of them. Some of the premises of these arguments might be supported by empirical evidence but I cannot see how to do philosophy without any appeal to a priori considerations and in particular to our intuitions (e.g. the seeming assumption that, ceteris paribus, simpler theories are more likely to be true than complex ones).

    Now, some philosophers of science (usually those very philosophers of science who practice the kind of philosophy of physics whose questions sound so dangerously similar to those addressed by the metaphysics they find so abhorrent) seem to think of themselves as being involved in a more methodologically-sound enterprise then other fellow philosophers. This, I suspect, is due to the fact that they see themselves as working with the following general pattern of argument in the background:

    (1) If theory T is true, then metaphysical thesis P is true.
    (2) (Empirical evidence suggests that) theory T is true.
    (C) (Empirical evidence suggests that) metaphysical thesis P is true.

    and that they take (2) to be established empirically and (1) to be only innocuously a priori (it is a question of conceptual analysis of theory T).

    But, of course, this is not the case. First, (2) is not established by empirical evidence. Many scientific anti-realists deny (2) without denying any of the empirical evidence that supports the theory. So, our philosopher of physics would seem to need at least an argument for scientific realism and as far as I can see most arguments for scientific realism require some appeal to our a priori intuitions (e.g. about the low likelyhood of a completely false theory being highly empirically successful).

    Second, the seemingly innocuous a priori conceptual analysis of the theory is in fact an interpretation of the empirically successful theory, which fills in the metaphysical details, which most working scientists have neither the patience nor the inclination to fill in and that is no more supported by the evidence than any other possible interpretation of it and, in some cases, it is an interpretation of only one of various alternative, empirically equivalent theories that have completely different metaphysical implications (e.g. Bohmian mecahnics and GRW in the case of QM).

    So can the empirical success of QM tell us what the world is like from a metaphysical point of view? As far as I can see, the answer is 'No'. At most the empirical success of QM puts a number of constraints on what combination of beliefs whether metaphysical or not one can coherently hold in the face of it. Part of what philosophers of physics do, then, seems to be just mapping the logical space of the possible combinations of beliefs (just like the metaphysicians they so despise do). And most philosophers of physics don't seem to stop at that--some seem to think that some of these combinations of of beliefs are preferable to others and not only on the grounds that some are better supported by all of our other best scientific theories but also because of the unattractiveness of certain assumptions. I don't know how to interpret many of those arguments for or against some of these combinations of beliefs if not as appeals to our intuitions about their a priori plausibility.

    In light of all this, I can only see a difference in degree not in kind between the two activities and some of the feelings expressed in this thread seem to be disproportionate to the real difference between them.

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  43. James: "Or perhaps someone can explain to me why I should care, for example, how many regions of spacetime there are, and why I should think it is the job of philosophers to speculate about such matters."

    If there are not enough regions, then "nominalizing" mathematicized physical theories may be harder (unless one goes modal). If every mathematical entity assumed by a physical theory T can be coded as a physical entity (e.g., a region), then one can reduce T to a "nominalistic" theory N such that T is conservative over N (for "nominalistic" statements). Burgess and Rosen 1997, A Subject with No Object have a good discussion of such matters.

    (I say "nominalistic" in quotes because even a theory is an abstract entity. After all, nominalism is itself an abstract entity - a proposition, which asserts its own non-existence, and is therefore untrue.)

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  44. I agree with James that the omission of Carnap from the list is a big mistake, but mistakes of that sort are inevitable in silly VH1-type top 100s.

    As for Lewis, I'm surprised to see philosophers of science criticizing his legacy, which left us one of the best accounts of laws of nature, as well as a fantastic discussion of the definition of theoretical terms. Not everything the guy wrote was pure gold, but a lot of it was.

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  45. Dear Gabriele,

    Thanks for the thoughts on the post. I think that in one sense you're right and another wrong. I pointed out that "testing" a physical or metaphysical proposition – no two things can occupy the same place and time – against our concepts of "thing" "Siamese twin" and so forth seemed to imply one thinks one has a pre-Kantian rationalist faculty. You point out that this kind of reasoning goes on all the time in science, too. For consider two theories T1 and T2 that make distinct clams about the world yet are empirically distinguishable. Then if I was a scientific realist I might prefer T2 to T1 on the basis of "a priori" theoretical virtues. Isn't this the same, you ask, differing only in degree?

    Now the realist might have some responses, e.g., inductive support for the theoretical virtues, but let’s grant the point.

    I think it's a good point, and it's an important one to make. But I want to warn that differences that exist only in degree are still differences. Red and blue differ only in degree, but they're different colors. Same here. Your point, pushed to its logical limits, makes virtually everything methodologically the same. Suppose one thinks that the observable-unobservable distinction is fuzzy, that Churchland's response to van Frassen in the 80's was basically right (I think it is). Then the strictly speaking observable goes to the vanishingly small. Forget about the underdetermination of theory by data in quantum mechanics. It's all underdetermined virtually all the way down. Not only don't we know whether Everett or Bohm is right, but whether there is a coffee cup in front of me is underdetermined too! The "observables" are compatible with me being a brain in a vat. Given this, is it all just a brute pushing back and forth of intuitions?

    In one sense I guess, yes. Science is ridden with interpretation through and through. But still we have these categories, 'evidence', 'test', 'empirical support', 'confirmation', and so on. Using these and our build-up stock of interpretations, it seems to me that the difference is huge between testing a fundamental empirical claim by conformity with our concept of a macro-level type of twin and testing it via (say) the Cavendish experiment. A difference in degree, okay, but a huge difference nonetheless.

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  46. Craig has just beaten me to the punch somewhat, so I’ll merely second his points that true enough the differences here are only differences in degree – and yet therefore are still differences. As it were, there is a spectrum from the purer armchair end of metaphysics to the more applied areas of science. I think we all share sufficiently the same set of background beliefs, in particular a respect for modern science, to construct roughly the same ordering along this spectrum for strength (or directness) of empirical constraint.

    Then, as Craig implied, one can imagine going to the ‘other end’ of that spectrum from science, past current metaphysics, to something like apocryphal investigations of angels on pinheads. It seems to me that such angelic investigations would also be different from science and mainstream metaphysics only as a matter of degree.

    I do NOT mean thereby to imply that current metaphysics is no more respectable than angels on pinheads. Rather, only that we all must have, implicitly or explicitly, some sort of ‘respectability function’ concerning where to draw the line, i.e. how far along the spectrum we think that inquiry remains worthwhile and spouses and children can be faced without shame. The nearer the science end of the spectrum I am, the safer I feel.

    But where exactly to place the line (or fade-out region)? As with many ethical issues, I have my own opinions about that but I’m not sure to what extent reason alone will persuade those who differ. (I imagine a few scientists might want to draw it in such a place as to rule out almost all of philosophy altogether.)

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  47. I'd ask "Why draw such a line?" That's to say, why assume that there's one specific line that's appropriate for each and every inquirer?

    Don't we just want an appropriate distribution of workers along the spectrum, e.g. more at the empirical end and less at the other?

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  48. I agree with what Craig said above, but I would put most of Lewis's well-known work toward the happy/sciency end of the methodological spectrum.

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  49. I don't know if anyone is still following this thread, but I just wanted to clarify my March 8 comment in light of Craig's reply.

    Craig wrote:
    You point out that this kind of reasoning goes on all the time in science, too. [...] I think it's a good point, and it's an important one to make. But I want to warn that differences that exist only in degree are still differences. Red and blue differ only in degree, but they're different colors. Same here. Your point, pushed to its logical limits, makes virtually everything methodologically the same."

    Craig, of course, I'm not claiming that differences of degree are not differences. What strikes me as incongruous in James' post and in some of the subsequent comments is not the fact that they seem to ignore that the difference is a difference of degree between analytic metaphysics and, say, some philosophy of physics but rather the fact that the disdain expressed for analytic metaphysics does not seem to be proportioned to the degree to which it differs from philosophy of physics. In other words, given the degree to which the two activities differ, I cannot see how one can engage in one and "despise" the other.

    As much as some philosophers of science may not like it, what they are doing is not science--it is philosophy--and this is why most of them are on the payrolls of philosophy departments. Part of the reason why philosophy of science is so isolated and fragmented these days, I suspect, is that many philosophers of science don't seem to be able to come to terms with the fact that they are philosophers of science.

    Beside the metaphilosophical worries, this has very serious practical consequences. The less philosophy of science is seen as a lively area of philosophy, for example, the less there will be jobs for philosophers of science because a philosophy department will rather hire someone who considers herself a philosophers rather than someone that think of herselves as, say, having much more in common with the theoretical physicist on the other side of campus than with philosophers in their department. And the fewer the jobs for philosophers of science, the fewer the PhD students that will be ready to go into philosophy of science. So, I think it would be advisable for philosophers of science should at least try not to engage in public displays of contempt for philosophy and its methodology, if only for purely instrumental reasons.

    (Incidentally, your claim that my point makes "virtually everything methodologically the same" strikes me as an hyperbole. As far as I can see, nothing in what I say makes, say, palmistry, soothsaying or wishful thinking methodologically have the same methodology as science or philosophy.)

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  50. Gabriele I at least am still reading this and want to reply to a couple of your points.

    I really don't think philosophers of science should refrain from criticizing what they sincerely believe to be a deleterious trend in philosophy because that might make it harder for other philosophers of science to get jobs, because (a) it won't and (b) because we are supposed to follow the argument where it leads and not to avoid drawing conclusions that are uncomfortable. Frankly I find your claim that the likes of me should not criticize parts of philosophy we object to for instrumental reasons to be antithetical to nature of philosophy and academic discourse generally. Various of your posts suggest that your view is that philosophers of science need to engage with analytic metaphysics because the practitioners of the latter are important and powerful in the subject and we don't want to upset them. My view is that since they are so important and powerful in the subject it is particularly important that we question whether their influence good for the subject (and by all means engage with them too).

    You imply that naturalistically inclined philosophers such as myself are in denial about the fact that we are philosophers employed in philosophy departments not scientists. You offer no evidence for this insight. I attend my department's seminars on ethics and political philosophy and retain a strong interest in all areas of the subject and its history as I said in my original post. I have contributed to the teaching of many area of the subject including giving lectures on Descartes. Your allegation is way off. It is because I self identify as a philosopher that I care so much about how the subject develops.

    Please let's stick to the issues and not speculate about each others psychology.

    Finally, where on earth do you get the idea that philosophy of science is isolated and fragmented? It seems to me that the subject is in rude health with lots of great work being done and strong links with both particular sciences and the rest of philosophy.

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  51. James,

    "I really don't think philosophers of science should refrain from criticizing what they sincerely believe to be a deleterious trend in philosophy because that might make it harder for other philosophers of science to get jobs"

    I agree, but that can hardly be considered my main argument.

    "Various of your posts suggest that your view is that philosophers of science need to engage with analytic metaphysics because the practitioners of the latter are important and powerful in the subject and we don't want to upset them."

    I don't know where you got this impression from. What I have said is that at the moment analytic metaphysics is thriving and the same cannot be said of general philosophy of science. So, I think if we think that the views and arguments of analytic metaphysicians are not supported by or are even inconsistent with our best scientific theories, we should argue for that, not dismiss analytic metaphysics on the basis of some alleged difference in aims and/or method.

    "You imply that naturalistically inclined philosophers such as myself are in denial about the fact that we are philosophers employed in philosophy departments not scientists. You offer no evidence for this insight. I attend my department's seminars on ethics and political philosophy and retain a strong interest in all areas of the subject and its history as I said in my original post. I have contributed to the teaching of many area of the subject including giving lectures on Descartes. Your allegation is way off. It is because I self identify as a philosopher that I care so much about how the subject develops. Please let's stick to the issues and not speculate about each others psychology."

    First, if you took my comments as being speculations about the psychology of (some) philosophers of science as you suggest, I'm afraid you have completely misunderstood them. All I was saying is that some philosophers of science seem to think of themselves as engaged in an activity whose aims and methods are closer to those of science than those of philosophy. This is a point about their metaphilosophical assumptions not their psychology. Evidence for this "insight" is, for example, given by your post and subsequent comments in which you seem to suggest that analytical metaphysics is somehow different in its aims and methods from what you or people who work in those philosophical disciplines that you respect do. But, since you are clearly interested in some of the same questions as analytic metaphysicians, I take it that the difference you perceive between what they do and what you do is a difference of method. But how is analytic metaphysics different methodologically from other areas of philosophy you do not seem to "disdain"? I gather from your comment that one of the disciplnes you seem to take to be methodologically "respectable" is ethics (maybe I'm wrong, if I am could you give me another example?), but, as far as I can see, ethicists rarely provide empirical evidence for their claims. Most of ethics like most of philosophy seems to be based on arguments, whose premises are either supported by other arguments or by our a priori intuitions. If the methodology of ethics differs from that of analytic metaphysics, what is the difference? If they don't, why do you consider one a more methodologically sound activity then the other?

    Now, you may say "But metaphysics is supposedly telling us what the world is like ethics is not". This may be true if you assume that methaetical antirealism is right. But, if this is the case, what are your arguments for it going to rely on?

    Finally, you say you are a naturalist. But what does that mean? Does it mean that you think that philosophers should take the findings of science seriously? If so, you are hardly going to find many philosophers even among analytic metaphysicians who disagree with you. Do you think that philosophy should not go beyond mapping the theories that are underdetermined by empirical evidence? If so, you seem to disagree substantially with most of your fellow philosophers whether they do ethics or analytical metaphysics. Do you think that we are epistemically justified in preferring some theories to others when they are empirically underdetermined by the evidence? Since I take you to be a scientific realist, I would expect you to answer "yes", but then on what basis do you think we can do so? And, if you say "no", what exactly makes you a scientific realist?

    "Finally, where on earth do you get the idea that philosophy of science is isolated and fragmented? It seems to me that the subject is in rude health with lots of great work being done and strong links with both particular sciences and the rest of philosophy."

    Well, I guess that we disagree on the state of the discipline. If you don't see how PhiSci today is more internally fragmented and plays a more marginal role within philosophy than at the time when the likes of Carnap, Neurath, Popper, Hempel, and Quine were around, then I don't know how to persuade you. You may be one of those who think that we do better PhiSci today (and I agree that a whole lot of good PhiSci is being done these days), but certainly philosophy of science is not nearly as unified and central a discipline as it used to be in those days and I think that philosophers of science are the worse off for this. I hope that one day, when the post-Kuhnian rebound we are still experiencing will be finally over, philosophers of science will relearn how to engage with other close areas of analytic philosophy such as metaphysics and epistemology in a critical but constructive manner rather than dismissing them on the basis of some alleged methodological difference. It is only then, I believe, that PhiSci will regain its status as one of the core areas of analytic philosophy.

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  52. Gabriele it is ironic that in your last comment you bemoan the fact that philosophers of science have less impact that the likes of Carnap, Neurath, Popper, Hempel, and Quine. You will recall that my original post was indeed complaining that Lewis appeared in a list of the greatest philosophers of C20 but Carnap did not. I agree therefore that philosophy of science is not as central to the discipline as it was and that is what I am complaining about. I am asking why so many philosophers are trying to answer epistemological and metaphysical questions more or less a priori, and not paying attention to the relevant science. You say that philosophy of science needs to engage more with metaphysics and epistemology, and I say that metaphysicians and epistemologists need to engage more with science and philosophy of science. There is a very good reason why it should be the latter way round. Science has nothing to gain from the debate about unrestricted composition because there is no knowledge of the world in this domain, whereas science does embody knowledge about cognition and the nature of matter.

    You think that we should engage with metaphysics and epistemology in a 'critical but constructive manner' but you neglect the fact that someone who believes that a particular set of theoretical and methodological assumptions are wrong and bad for a discipline has no choice but to try and undermine them. I have no interest in engaging 'constructively' with many debates in metaphysics because I think that the debates are largely sterile and pointless. Would you tell Carnap he should have engaged more constructively with Heidegger?

    In general, you seem quite worried about my disdain and dismissive attitude but I am just one person with a strong view. Plenty of other people are much more moderate and restrained in what they say (publicly anyway).

    I am not going to respond to the point about ethics in detail. I am not an expert in ethics and have thought little about their methodology but I don't think it is a good idea for moral and political philosophers to ignore moral psychology or history and that would be the equivalent of the excesses of a priorism in metaphysics. In general I think philosophers should look outwards not inwards. The great philosophers were on the whole not professional philosophers with scant knowledge of anything else.

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  53. James,

    "it is ironic that in your last comment you bemoan the fact that philosophers of science have less impact that the likes of Carnap, Neurath, Popper, Hempel, and Quine. You will recall that my original post was indeed complaining that Lewis appeared in a list of the greatest philosophers of C20 but Carnap did not."

    I don't see what's ironic about that. I wasn't saying that those philosophers are better or worse philosophers than Lewis. It is you who were implying that Lewis is worse than them. I find the whole Top 100 Philosophers of the 20th Centruy exercise pointless and a bit silly. I take philosophy to be about theses and arguments in their support not about the people that put them forward.

    "Science has nothing to gain from the debate about unrestricted composition because there is no knowledge of the world in this domain, whereas science does embody knowledge about cognition and the nature of matter."

    Science may have nothing to gain but philosophy seem to have a lot to gain and, since you self-identify as a philosopher, I find it peculiar that you seem only concerned with what science has to gain from it and not at all about what philosophy has to gain from it. (If you were a biologist, wouldn't it sound weird if you criticized an area of biology by saying that physics has notthing to gain from it?)

    "I don't think it is a good idea for moral and political philosophers to ignore moral psychology or history and that would be the equivalent of the excesses of a priorism in metaphysics."

    That's beside the point--I think you agree that no amount of empirical evidence about our moral psychology or history can settle normative questions in ethics and political philosophy.

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  54. PS I don't see how what I am saying is analogous to saying that Carnap should have engaged more with Heidegger. The two did not agree on either the aims of philosophy or its methods. My argument is that you clearly agree on the aim of philosophy with metaphysicians (you are on record discussing the some clearly metaphysical questions) and you still haven't explained clearly where your profound methodological differences with them lie--you only said that they should take our best scientific theories seriously, which most metaphysicians would agree. So, I don't see the analogy.

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  55. Gabriele,

    My original post was about the fact that Carnap was not in the list and Lewis was. I take that to say something about the state of contemporary philosophy. I was not endorsing the idea of arguments about exactly who are the ten best philosophers but making an observation about the list that had been produced. I then found it ironic that you should point out to me that philosophy of science is not as central to philosophy as it was in the days of Carnap because that was exactly my point. I say that this is not because Carnap has become less important but because philosophy has taken an a priori and inward-looking turn. Certainly, anyone who thinks that Carnap was one of the very greatest and most important philosophers of the twentieth century will be inclined to seek some explanation of the fact that he did not figure in the top ten.

    To clarify I don't think philosophy or science has anything to gain from the debate about unrestricted composition.

    I may be on record discussing metaphysical questions but that hardly shows that I do not disagree with many metaphysicians about aims and methods. It cannot because I do so disagree.

    The analogy with Carnap and Heidegger is that if someone rejects the worth of a certain kind of philosophy then telling them to engage with it constructively is to miss their point. Why would I want to engage constructively in debates I think are pointless?

    There is a difference between paying lip-service to the idea of taking science seriously and actually doing so. And some metaphysicians do say that it is irrelevant what science says because certain questions can be answered a priori.

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