This Summer I am reading Ladyman & Ross (et al) *Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized* (OUP, 2007) in a reading group with the eminent philosopher of physics, Fred Muller (and hopefully a few others who did not show up for our discussion of the long polemical first chapter) in Amsterdam. Ladyman & Ross are preaching to the choir with us; we enjoyed having a spade being called a spade (surely Kim and Lewis deserve some flack! But why make fun of Andreas Hutteman?). But although we enjoyed the unabashed admiration of Russell, Nagel, and Hume, to our surprise we found plenty of problems with the book. Anyway, perhaps some of my notes may stimulate discussion. I'll number them.
1. (p. 16): The role of mathematics has a funny status in the argument in three ways.
1A: I wonder how L&R view philosophy/metaphysics of mathematics. Is the question, 'what is a number' illegitimate metaphysics? I don't see how it contributes to unification of the sciences, so probably not.
1B: Mathematics is somehow listed with the sciences in contrast to a priori metaphysics. But a large chunk of a priori metaphysics is motivated by developments in (modal) logic. Do L&R tacitly distinguish between mathematics (good) and modal logic (bad)? Do they just deny modal realism? Now while I am suspicious of possible world semantics (etc), what if it turned out to be heuristically fruitful for further developments in modal logic to accept metaphysically robust theses? Should we rule it out?
1C: Many of their arguments against far-fetched metaphysics may also be directed at topics in mathematics (the vast majority?) that have no hope of ever being applied to our world. Why can't we be tolerant of a priori metaphysics in the same way we are tolerant of much of mathematics?
2 (p21): L&R are against abstract composition ("philosophical fetish") and mereology more generally; I applaud them. (I have never understood why folks abandon set theory for mereology.) Yet, given their goal for naturalistic metaphysics (increasing unification/explanation), it looks like they rule out a very promising naturalistic enterprise: creating a taxonomy or classification of "composition relations studied by the special sciences." This does not increase unification, but it might well expose fundamental structural similarities. It is funny that structural realists are blind to alternative ways of doing naturalistic metaphysics.
3 (p22): a nit-pick (or typo). They distinguish between laws of functional interdependence and statements of regularities. Aren't these the same? Perhaps they meant to distinguish between laws of functional interdependence and statements of causal regularities (this is suggested by context).
4 (p23): I am all for criticizing Australian arm-chair naturalistic (physicalist) metaphysics. But is Armstrong really silly for thinking that everything that exists is in space and time? Spacetime may well be emergent from some more fundamental structure, but this is still very much at the level of speculation. It looks like L&R sometimes use the appeal to 'science' or 'physics' to promote controversial and contested views. (A propos, 4B: the criticism of Armstrong is ironic, because L&R spend a lot of time bashing emergentist theories.)
5 (p26): one line of attack on analytic metaphysics is the claim that scientists have no reason to be interested in it (it is often implied that it is embarrassing, laughable, etc). But surely, scientists have no reason to be interested in structural realism either? (Not to mention debates over structural realism!)
Next time more, with special comment on the delicious irony that the enemies of naturalistic metaphysics are bashed for their A-Level chemistry/physics, while the edifice of Ladyman & Ross rests on...a (knowingly) naive sociology of science.