Friday, November 13, 2009

Metaphysics and the General Philosophy of Science

Let me articulate what I find problematic about mainstream contemporary metaphysics from the point of view of philosophy that wishes to be scientifically informed and open to learning from and be surprised by science. I will discuss one of the central player of that scene, Ted Sider, and point to its debt in David Lewis.

Sider writes this:
"The ontological realist draws the line in a certain place: part of the world’s distinguished structure is its quanticational [sic--it's a pre-print so maybe not in final version]structure. Those who regard ontological realism as “overly metaphysical” should remember that they too must draw a line.
And in fact, the ontological realist can give a pretty convincing argument
for his choice of where to draw the line. Quine’s (1948) criterion for ontological commitment is good as far as it goes: believe in those entities that your best theory says exists. But in trying to decide how much structure there is in the world, I can think of no better strategy than this extension of Quine’s criterion: believe in as much structure as your best theory of the world posits. The structure posited by a theory corresponds to its primitive notions—its “ideology” in Quine’s (1951) terminology—which includes its logical notions as well as its predicates.
This criterion is as vague..."
http://tedsider.org/papers/ontological_realism.pdf [It's in the Chalmers, Manley volume discussed on this blog recently]

So, the story go like this: in Quine (first order) logic is a) a tool in regimenting our scientific language so that we can generate a perspicuous scheme to articulate or read off our ontology. Moreover, given Quine's linguistic idealism [Jody Azzouni's characterization] (I mean, of course, his semantic holism), logic plays a second role of b) holding together the core of the whole scheme. It's this two-fold function that we may call its "ideology." In principle, Quine is open to whole-scale revolutions of the general web, including giving up standard logic, but these are extremely rare occurrences in principle. (No Carnapian principle of tolerance.)

Now, Sider comes along and says, why separate the underlying logic (quantificational structure) from the scientific theories? All scientific theories have an underlying logic (see the second role of logic in Quine), and we are committed to this. Moreover, this underlying logic captures what David Lewis calls 'natural properties.' So, once one gives up on Quine-ean holism and returns to realism, then there really is no reason to call the underlying logic/quantificational structure an ideology--it just is the way nature is carved up, etc. (Moreover, Seider also seems to argue that having an underlying logic is indispensable to science--I found this argument a bit hazy.)

Sider relies on David Lewis' argument in favor of natural properties, which is really a kind of transcendental argument--if reference is possible the world must have natural properties; there is reference, ergo, future/final scientific language must include natural properties (and, thus, have a classical logic).

If I get this right, then this would explain the general hostility among 'core' metaphysicians to non-classical logics (as I was surprised to discover this during my stay at Syracuse); if pluralism about logic gets a beach-head, then claims about natural properties and shared underlying logic (or a general quantificational structure) don't get off the ground.

So, what's wrong with Sider's view? I can think of six proposals:
i) it throws away Occam's razor unnecessarily. Even if there is an underlying logic, quantificational structure really isn't indispensable in science or in justifying science;
ii) it is dogmatic about logic (in this sense of, can't take alternative logics seriously)
iii) it is dogmatic about (future) science; it can't take conventionalism in science seriously, (and takes the mere possibility of quantification way too seriously);
iva) quantificational structure is too coarse-grained to have any connection with the content of the sciences.
IVb) the sciences don't and won't exhibit natural properties. (Here I am with Ladyman & Ross!).
[iva-b, alternatively claim that Sider's metaphysics is constructed in such a way as to make appeals from science unrewarding.]
ivc) There is a conflict between first-order and second-order axiomatizers, which is the preferred one? [It sometimes seems that Sider's quantificational structures are part of a future, unspeakable language.]
V) Why can't there be non trivial different axiomatizations (constructive, non constructive) of particular sciences? (Start making Cartwright/Dupre style noises.)
VI) Deny that the sciences refer in the way this is understood by Lewis/Sider--argue that science is operationalism all the way down.

No doubt not all of these proposals are equally promising or popular. No doubt Sider and his fans have responses...I want to thank Erik Curiel, Jody Azzouni, Matt Frank, Graham Priest, and Mark Barber for discussing some of these reflections in emails with me this week.

47 comments:

  1. Hi Eric (if I may),

    I've no idea if I count as a "Sider fan"---though I like his stuff a lot (despite disagreeing with it in various ways). Anyway, by way of commentary:

    “Sider relies on David Lewis' argument in favor of natural properties, which is really a kind of transcendental argument--if reference is possible the world must have natural properties; there is reference, ergo, future/final scientific language must include natural properties (and, thus, have a classical logic).”

    I’m surprised you focus exclusively on the case of reference. The case Lewis makes in “New Work” for natural properties is that it’s needed for: laws, duplication, counterfactuals, causation, mental content, linguistic content (maybe others---I forget). Indeed, one gets the impression that Lewis (who was initially hostile to this sort of distinction) was persuaded by the sheer range and diversity of the uses he could put it to.

    The "ergo" seems a non-sequitor (as perhaps you intended!)---but in any case, I can't see it's present in either Lewis or Sider. Surely there are lots of ways of understanding "natural properties" within a non-classical setting---I don't think they'd claim otherwise. Their reasons for setting things up classically lie elsewhere.

    “If I get this right, then this would explain the general hostility among 'core' metaphysicians to non-classical logics (as I was surprised to discover this during my stay at Syracuse); if pluralism about logic gets a beach-head, then claims about natural properties and shared underlying logic (or a general quantificational structure) don't get off the ground.”

    I’m not sure about what's being presupposed here about the relationship between non-classical logics and pluralism. Sider’s *general* position seems perfectly consistent with taking a non-classical logic to limn the structure of reality. So the classical preference, as opposed to anti-pluralist preference, needs some other explanation, no? (Maybe it's the "ergo" above that by your lights is doing the work).

    There is a bit of a classical bias around today, true. I'm not sure it's exclusive to people working on metaphysics, though. I think one big influence, at least upon my generation, has been the case that Williamson has made about the “unintended consequences” of endorsing non-classical logics. Effectively, this is built on a (pretty well defended, though obviously disputable) methodological conservativism. Speaking personally, I take that kind of thing seriously, even though I'm very much open to NC logics (indeed, I starting taking the conservatism issue much more seriously when I started thinking through tricky issues in reconstructing probabilities, decision theory, modals, and other things, in a non-classical setting.)

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  2. (sorry, continued...)

    Other than these quotes, I was curious what you meant by "dogmatic". That has methodological/epistemological overtones (that's why it sounds like a bad, unreasonable position to adopt). But I don't see anything in Sider's views, nor in the way he tends to work on these things, that's dogmatic on the particular issues you mention.

    To be specific, on logic, I think he'd take non-classical approaches seriously, think that their challenges need to be responded to in detail, see them as a serious rival to his own views (particularly in famously tricky cases---vagueness, semantic paradoxes etc). He ends up thinking that the best approach is classical, and builds that into his account of what the world is like. But we're allowed to end up with definite opinions on these matters, surely?

    Mutatis Mutandis for future science. Maybe particular views he advocates about what counts as structure will be overturned by future science. Why shouldn't he be open to that? Is there any evidence he wouldn't be? I can't see that there's anything even implicitly "dogmatic" in a methodological/epistemological sense here. But maybe I could be convinced...

    Even at the metametaphysical level, on the question of the overall *kind* of metaphysics of natural properties, I think one way to see Sider's project is as trying to articulate one option for tacit presuppositions shared by many---and then to compare them to alter general frameworks for doing these things (cf. the interaction with Hirsch, who's much more conventionalism-friendly). Again, there's nothing I would recognize as dogmatic about the methodology that's being adopted.

    But maybe I'm not tracking what you mean by "dogmatic". Just as an example of the methodological openness/theoretical committedness combination (and since you mention him)---I'm reminded of what Priest says in the intro to the new edition of one of his books, about the letter that Lewis wrote for him in an attempt to get the original published (in the days when it was being turned down right left and centre---now that's a damaging dogmatism for you!). IIRC, It was a stirring defence of the value of pluralism in the *options* we have on the table---and quite consistent with Lewis's conservativism on the substantive issue at stake between him and Priest.

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  3. Dear Robie (of I may back),
    Thank you for your spirited and constructive response.
    You raise a lot of issues, and I hope to do justice to all of them.
    First, I am using Sider (and Lewis) as proxies for describing the vices of a community (some of whose values I came to adore and love while being at Syracuse). In the paper I found dogmatism about logic supported by three kinds of arguments: 1) there was an appeal to Quine's Truth by Contention (1936); 2) there were arguments from the natural meaning of quantifyers (which I *charitably* reconstructed as that transcendental argument); 3) there is a claim that classical quantification is indispensable in science: "Our logical notions have been developed and refined for centuries, and are indispensable both in folk theories and scientic ones. That gives us reason to think that they carve at the joints." As a historical claim this third reason is absurd. (Modern science developed in deep animosity toward logic, and by the time logic was reformed by Frege et al it had no need for it.) It's true that "Quantification is as indispensable as it gets," (although I can think of sciences -- economics -- where more quantification has created the illusion of knowledge, while what knowledge that exists in the disicipline is largely qualitative.) But that claim is compatible with all kinds of claims about the way quantification is used.

    I read Sider as claiming that future science will support his project of characterizing a "fundamental language," even if current science provides no reason for hope that such a unified language will ever be reached. (To my amazement I once discovered that if you bring University of Chicago game-theorists from economics, political science, and biology together they can barely understand each other.) Moreover, the very idea that one can be a pluralist about the language of nature "gives one a feeling of vertigo"--this is Sider's whole argument against skepticism about fundamental language.

    On Lewis and the doctrine of natural properties. I note that Brian Weatherson in his fine entry on David Lewis http://www.illc.uva.nl/~seop/entries/david-lewis/ admits that "modern physics suggests that it ["the doctrine of natural properties"] is not true." (Brian cites Maudlin.) Yet, somehow it is okay for a whole philosophic community (that even characterizes its method as "quasi-scientific") to keep going on as if that is not the case?
    Now you (and also Sider in the artcile) point to other benefits of natural properties, including law-talk. But surely, the argument goes the other way--science casts aspersions on natural properties; science discovers laws; laws can do without natural properties.

    Finally, on 'dogmatism'--yeah, I used the word because I think it has useful historical connotations, and because I wanted to characterize a certain close-mindedness.
    While no Kantian in my "iii" I am using 'dogmatic' to refer to (firm) realist positions arrived at by reason alone. I thought it an appropriate label. For example, in the paper that I used as my target, Sider writes, [we] "share the robust realism, so ubiquitous among analytic philosophers, according
    to which the world is the way it is independent of human conceptualization."
    In my 'ii' I explained my use of 'dogmatic' it can't take alternative logics seriously.
    The opposite of 'dogmatic' can be 'tolerant' (pluralistic) or 'skeptical'. (One can also be a dogmatic anti-realist, of course.)
    I am not denying that analytic metaphysics is open to argument, although I think the kinds of positions that will get a fair hearing if the shared background is contested is rather small.
    Lewis has a nice paper where he defends a kind of toleration for minority-positions that is consistent with the letter you describe. But toleration and pluralism are quite different political beasts.

    I hope I answered most of your concerns.

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  4. Eric,

    I'm having a hard time following your overall argument. As far as I can see, in the first paragraph, you are more or less explicitly accusing "mainstream contemporary metaphysics" not to be "scientifically informed and open to learning from and be surprised by science". (Otherwise, why would it be problematic from the point of view of a philosophy that "whishes to be informed and open to learning from and be surprised by science"?)

    What I find curious is that the evidence you seem to adduce in support of your charge is Sider's (alleged) dogmatism about classical logic. And I can't see in what way a philosophy that is "scientifically informed and open to learning from and be surprised by science" would have any problems with classical logic. In fact, I can hardly think of any case in which empirical science has "surprised" us by showing that classical logic might be incorrect. The only case I can think of is quantum logic and even that would be a bit of a stretch as very few (and mostly philosophers) seem to think that the empirical success of QM is a reason to reject classical logic. The motivation behind most non-classical logics seems to be philosophical not empirical.

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  5. No, Gabriele, the main problems I am diagnosing in the Sider program do not have to do with the attitude toward logic; the main problems (from the point of view of the philosophy of science) are: a) a reliance on Lewis' metaphysics (which its commitments to natural properties, which are *known* to be scientifically not respectable) and b) the general idea that we can read metaphysics off an a priori language.

    The dogmatism about clasical logic (which I have always found puzzling) gets explained by this (but is not a problem from the point of view of philosophy of science).

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  6. I'll jump in here. Like some others, I was a bit distracted by the logic thing, but let's look at natural properties. One of the things Sider wants to do (it comes out a bit in the paper, and even more in stuff he's working on now) to (i) de-reify "natural properties" and (ii) extend the general idea --- that there is a distinguished *structure* to the world --- into a setting where it at least makes sense to talk about the world having a "distinguished" structure that isn't object-and-property-like. And I can't see what's at odds with current science about *this* project; granted, perhaps the eventual style of structure he tries to defend within the framework (one that would be best given by some first-order theory) might end up running into troubles with, say, quantum gravity. But it seems to me that, by extending the basic "natural properties" idea to a setting where they don't have to be, well, *properties* that are being natural, Sider is moving towards, rather than away, the sort of metaphysics you think ought to be done.

    The most natural way to implement this in a science-first framework would be to identify the "natural ideology" (since this is what Sider wants to replace natural *properties* with) as the ideology used to specify what are taken to be the physically real and fundamental parts of the theory --- the parts that you think aren't just convenient calculational or notational devices, but are telling you something about the world.

    This only makes sense, of course, if some sort of scientific realism is true; so if philosophy of science delivered operationalism or instrumentalism or some other anti-realist theory, then Sider and his ilk *would* be out in the cold. Most contemporary metaphysicians are, or at least lean heavily towards, scientific realism. But I take it scientific realism *hasn't* been ruled out; it's one position on a tricky issue, but it's a position held by a lot of smart philosophers of science, and so metaphysicians at least aren't sinning against that discipline (although they are taking sides on an issue in it) if they go realist, too.

    (A more pendantic point: It's not clear to me in what sense current science can't make sense of natural properties. Granted, quantum mechanics (for instance) can't make, or at least can't easily make, sense of (say) *spin* being a natural property. But I would have thought that, say, the various possible quantum states of the universe would count as natural properties (properties of the high-dimensional "configuration state", for instance) in, say, many versions of the Everettian theory.)

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  7. I hope you won't mind a question from an interloping non-specialist concering the debate about openness to future science.

    Is the point you're trying to make that a theory that builds the possibility of future discoveries into its present ontology is better than one that doesn't, even if the "dogmatic" kind of ontology is accompanied by an open-ness to falsifiability (it recognizes that it can be overthrown, but can't think of how to accomodate future discoveries without being overthrown)? I might give an analogy to the way constitutionalism has played out in the relatively stable common-law systems of Britain and the United States compared to constitutionalism in France situated within a more purely positive "code"understanding of the law. Because of the flexibility that common law provides, Britain and the U.S. have been able to undergo enormous constitutional changes that changed the fundamental basis of their structures while accepting the framework, while comporable changes in France have only been possible by throwing out the old constitution?

    Would it be fair to say that skepticism would then become a metaphysical rather than epistemological position?

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  8. Like Robbie, I'm struggling to see what the relationship is between logical pluralism and tolerance of non-classical logics is supposed to be. I think I'm tolerant in the sense that I'm open to the idea that some non-classical logic might ultimately be right one, and I take seriously the problems that can be associated with classical logic. And FWIW, I think Sider is tolerant in this sense. That doesn't make me or Sider logical pluralists, of course. But pluralism is a controversial position, and logical realism is a respectable position. (I don't meant to suggest that realism is uncontroversial, or that pluralism is unrespectable, of course.)

    Of course, if it turned out that Sider's position ran into trouble if he dropped logical realism, then logical realism is going to be a commitment of his account. Maybe it's a commitment you don't like, but the alternative isn't exactly problem free.

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  9. I'd like to disagree that mainstream metaphysics is hostile to non-classical logic. Perhaps a majority of mainstream metaphysicians adopt classical logic, but I would be surprised if metaphysicians were in general hostile to classical logic, especially compared to philosophers in general.

    One sort of evidence that there isn't a general hostility to classical logic is many of the leading metaphysicians adopt non-classical logics in one or another context. Kit Fine has experimented with non-classical logics throughout his career. Michael Dummett and Crispin Wright are famously sympathetic to intuitionistic logic. Peter van Inwagen adopts a three-valued logic to deal with vagueness. Kripke's famous paper on the Liar also uses a three valued logic. David Lewis suggested using a non-adjunctive logic when there is the risk that one's premises might be ambiguous in certain ways.

    Even among those metaphysicians who think, for better or worse, that classical logic approaches to the metaphysics of truth, or vagueness, or whatever are correct, most of them have not struck me as hostile to non-classical logic. In particular, I didn't see much hostility to non-classical logical approaches in general among the metaphysicians at Syracuse when I was there, and I would be surprised if there is much now. (I believe that at least a significant minority of the metaphysicians at Syracuse embrace non-classical logic, as it happens.)

    So, I'm curious. What is the evidence of this general hostility to non-classical logic on the part of 'core' metaphysicians? I don't even see the evidence for this in Sider's case.

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  10. Ideas Man, I like the analogy, but not what it "would" be "fair to say."

    Jason, thank you for contribution. On you pedantic point: in the paper that I have been targeting (p. 27 (especially note 38), while discussing the famous Malament review of Field), Sider appeals to Cian Dorr in claiming that one can be a configuration-space substantivalist. I wrote Sider (and eventually) Dorr about that, and Dorr ended up referring me to a paper by David Albert 'Elementary Quantum Metaphysics'. I have to admit that I am no philosopher of QM (I make my living talking about Newton), but it seems to me that Albert does funny things in that paper. Either way, I don't think it is uncontroversial to be a realist about high dimensional configuration states. (I promised Gabriele not to make joking comments about Oxford, so let me just say that the jury is still out on Everett interpretation.)

    I should say that I was a bit glib in my response to Robbie about one thing. Set theory plays a role in functional analysis which is non-trivial component of QM and was once a non-trivial component of the golden age of formal economics (1950s-70s) and the way probability theory was used in economics.

    On Jason's general point. I don't think that reflection on the practice of science can sustain the claim that "ideology" should do the heavy burden-lifting in helping us guide our way toward or identify the "structure" of the world. I think that move can only be sustained by taking graduate education text-books way too seriously (something Kuhn taught us to be a bit skeptical about) or by confusing claims about the language of science with its claims about the world. (This is not to deny that plenty of real science is driven by purely mathematical insights.)

    On "scientific realism." That is certainly a life option within philosophy of science, but it is striking that so much of contemporary general philosophy of sciecne is motivated by response to pessimistic meta-induction argument; this suggests that scientific realism isn't just the natural fall-back position in general philosophy of science, it needs to be argued for.

    Finally, I am no Sider exegete. But his appeals to a "fundamental language," don't strike me as a 'science-first' move, but rather a 'let's avoid pesky details of science and skip ahead to when all the details wash out my way' move.

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  11. Oops. Didn't realize there were more contributions. I'll respond later (if I can) to Daniel and Rich.

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  12. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the reply; lots of good stuff here. I'm getting the impression that what's bugging you about Sider's stuff is the focus on *languages* --- is that right? It's true that contemporary metaphysics --- now a bit, but much more so, say, 5--15 years ago --- was very language-focused. (We notice that we want to say certain sentences, they seemed to contradict each other, so we needed to posit a world of a certain shape with a certain semantics to "account" for those sentenecs.) I agree that this has been, and still is, a theme in metaphysics, and that it's not obvious how to reconcile this method with science. But I think the state of play is getting *better* --- metaphysicians are trying to pay more homage to current science, and it might just take a bit of patience from the larger community until they get the wrinkles of how to do it ironed out.

    My thought with the "Get Ideology from Science" move wasn't that we just read off the "ideology" from the textbook. It was, rather, that once we decide what "claims about the world" science in fact makes, then we equate the "fundamental language" with the ideology that we need to *make these clams about the world*. (Compare, e.g., Field's "Nominalistic Language" in his Science Without Numbers project.) Incidentally, from the bit I know of Sider exegesis, he wouldn't be hostile to this sort of use of "fundamental language". (And I think it's unfair to cast him as dodging science so the world comes out his way; rather, he's trying to set up a general framework where we can fully capture the *content* of various sorts of debates --- including debates about what logic is like, and debates about whether, say, substantivalism or relationalism is true, etc. --- and then staking his own claim as phrased inside that framework.)

    On the pendantic point: I agree that the jury is still out on Everett. But I think the point is general: on any of Everett, GRW, and Bohm, the wavefunction gets posited as a part of physical reality. A substantivalist about the higher-dimensional space can think of it as defined on that space; a constructivist thinks of the real facts being about a 3-space and the higher-dimensional wave space somehow "constructed" out of this. In the first case, it's natural to think of the wave as an object and its quantum states as natural properties; on the second, it's natural to think of the wave space constructed out of relations on spacetime points and the quantum state of the universe as a higher-order (and again natural) relation over these complex point-relations. (Which is not to say that natural properties are *forced* on us by these interpretations, but that friends of them can certainly find work for them to do in these interpretations.)

    On scientific realism: I'm not quite sure how the dialectic should go. First thought is that the pessimistic meta-induction cuts both ways: if we aren't trusing the science we've got so far, or don't think it's getting us "closer" to the truth, why should metaphysicians worry about it? Maybe the thought is something like: Scientists should (thanks to the pessimistic meta-induction) give up on the project of trying to figure out what reality is "really like" and just look for good instruments of prediction. But if the *scientists* aren't getting us ultimate reality, it's sheer hubris for metaphysicians to think they can do this. At this point, I'm inclined to tow the Maudlin's line: Just because there's no guarantee of success doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

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  13. I have to admit that I kind of regret bringing hostility to non-classical logic into the discussion because it clearly has detracted attention from my concern over prejudging the results of science.

    Having said that, the Sider piece I referred to ridicules both logical conventionalism, which he thinks was refuted by Quine in 1936 (before Carnap even got to develop the position fully), and riducules the position that the world will not conform to a fundamental language (an idea that gives him "vertigo"). Sider can take whatever position he wishes, of course, but, Rich, to see in this a "tolerant" attitude is really stretching the word.

    Now Sider knows of the obvious example that might motivate in even a scientific realist some hesitation about there being a unified quantification structure (Lagrangian versus Hamiltonian mechanics--it's in the passage just before the stuff I quoted in my initial blog on Sider), but he avoids discussing it; from the rest of the piece it's clear that he thinks that in the future there will be a fundamental language and any such differences will wash out. And it's that expectation that I find strange. It might well be that in the practice of science there is a confirmation holism (Azzoni) or a commitment to unification that supports the expection, but we should understand that as a regulative ideal not something science can deliver on (any time soon).

    The nice thing about doing blog sociology is that one does not have to offer a statistical analysis of one's claims and, moreover, one can learn that one's sociological views are not shared by the subject community. Daniel, I am happy to learn that hostility to non classical logics is less widespread than I thought. But I did specify that I thought this was the case in the Lewisian camp. If I am wrong about that, great!!!

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  14. Yes, Jason, you got my concern exactly right. And I am also glad you recognize why it would be hard to see how the from language to metaphysics move would be hard to reconcile with (philosophy of) science.

    Before I turn to your other comments, Jason, I should also say that I also think 'we' (in history and philosophy of science) have not done a good job engaging with contemporary analyticmetaphysics. (There are many exceptions, of course!!!) One reason I am blogging about this is to encourage my fellow philosophers of science to join in the fun and also to learn what the standard counter moves are to philosophy of sciency concerns among contemporary metaphysicians (thank you Robbie, Rich, Jason!) In the Sider paper he mentions "a silent majority watching from the sidelines." I do not claim to be speaking for it, but I know there are a lot of philosophers of science who find contemporary analytic metaphysics a bit crazy and I am trying to articulate some of the reasons that might motivate them for thinking that. (So, ignore the stuff about non classical logic which philosophers of science are probably no more welcome to than the philosophy population at large.)

    Jason, I also think you are right to say that contemporary metaphysics pays homage to contemporary science. (Sider's stuff is full of it; Cian Dorr, Anthony Eagle, and Cody Gillmore do, too.) In fact, one reason I started to get interested in recent metaphysics because I noticed that people were using all kinds of spacetime (and time travel) toy examples that often had no bearing to reality but generated lots of discussion among community of metaphysicians.

    On the pedantic (but very interesting) point: I am not going to deny that one can develop interpretations of science that allow natural properties in. (I suspect these interpretations come with real costs, but again I am no expert of QM.) But I am saying is that if we do metaphysics in an open to science way there really is no need for natural properties. So, when metaphysicians argue from positions with natural properties to reject alternative approaches they should at least come clean about how many non trivial commitments they have taken on board. (Often these commitments are dogmatic because they tie semantics and ontic structure together.)

    Now, Jason, I don't see how Sider is setting up his fundamental language in such a way as to be open to the possibility that future science does not deliver a unified quantificational structure. But I am willing to grant that my exegetical efforts have gone as far as I can.

    On scientific realism. I agree, we should keep trying. But from my vantage point analytic metaphysics is a closed shop if it can't take alternatives to scientific realism seriously.

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  15. Okay, Eric--I seem to have misunderstood the main point of your original post (I'm glad to see I was not the only one though.) The classical logic point was a red herring (btw, I agree with Daniel that metaphysicians are no less inclined towards them than non-metaphyisicans).

    Now I take it that what you find problematic "from the point of view of philosophy that wishes to be scientifically informed and open to learning from and be surprised by science" are:

    a) a reliance on Lewis' metaphysics (which its commitments to natural properties, which are *known* to be scientifically not respectable)

    and

    b) the general idea that we can read metaphysics off an a priori language.

    But I'm having even a harder time understanding your argument (this is why I took classical logic to be the focus of your original post).

    What I find peculiar about your complaining about (a) is that if those who assume that science will eventually discern the natural properties from the non-natural ones are not being "open to learning from and be surprised by science" on that issue, who is?

    Now you say (I think rather dogmatically) that natural properties are "*known* not scientifically respectable". But if I understand how 'natural properties' is used in metaphysics, I can't see how natural properties could be not only not scientifically respectable but known not to be scientifically respectable (???). Are you just saying that science is not in the business of identifying the natural properties of objects (properties that, e.g., make for genuine similarity between objects and are causally relevant) as opposed to the non-natural ones? Or are you claiming that having mass is as likely to be a genuine property as being born between September 23 and October 23? If so, do you take astrology to be onto something after all?

    (Btw, it seems to be you who are taking the mathematical representations of science too seriously in your first reply to Jason, which as far as I can see may raise doubts about the existence of classical properties but not about there being some properties).

    What I find peculiar about your complaining about (b) is that it seems to be at odds with your complaining about (a). If one defers to science when it comes to determining which predicates designate genuine properties and takes that language (whatever it will turn out to be) to be the one to do metaphysics with, I don't see how one is reading metaphysics off an a priori language (btw, what's an a priori language? I thought truths/beliefs/justification could be a priori, but language?).

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  16. Gabriele,
    You ask, "if those who assume that science will eventually discern the natural properties from the non-natural ones are not being "open to learning from and be surprised by science" on that issue, who is?" Well, first, the commitment to natural properties does not come from science but comes from certain metaphysical (so called Humean) and semantic commitments/virtues.
    Second, as I pointed out, in his charitable (and excellent) treatment of David Lewis Brian Weatherson acknowledges that that reflection on physics does not support natural properties talk. I should say that I don't think reflection on science can lead one to the conclusion that the only fundamental properties are at space-time points. (Your examples do not seem to me to deal with Lewis' natural properties.)
    I have to admit that I do not find a fruitful or particulary accurate description of the business of science to claim that it is "in the business of identifying the natural properties of objects (properties that, e.g., make for genuine similarity between objects and are causally relevant) as opposed to the non-natural ones?" (Many of the great moves in the history of physics involve ignoring known causally relevant factors of objects in order to produce great generalizations.)

    Furthermore, you write, "If one defers to science when it comes to determining which predicates designate genuine properties and takes that language (whatever it will turn out to be) to be the one to do metaphysics with," as if that is Sider et al's strategy. I am willing to acknowledge that there is less dogmatism in Sider than meets my eye (and Jason has helped me see how within metaphysics Sider may be taken to be a move in the right direction), that is not Sider's strategy (or any Lewisian metaphysician); the strategy is rather to take a privileged set of claims about reference, semantics, similarity, and logic, and claim that these will somehow fit the structure of the world as revealed by future science.


    Finally, the classical logic point wasn't a red herring in so far as Sider assumes that the quantificational structure of final science will obey "standard predicate logic." I honestly think that we have every reason to believe that future science will be willing to drop its (largely tacit) commitment to standard predicate logic if it can be successful empirically, predictively, etc.

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  17. Eric,

    You say: "(Your examples do not seem to me to deal with Lewis' natural properties.)", but I'm afraid that it's your understanding of what metaphysicians mean by 'natural properties that is idiosyncratic. In particular I think you are conflating the notion of 'natural property' with that of '"Humean" fact'.

    In "New Work for a Theory of Universals" Lewis characterizes natural properties as "an e1ite minority of special properties"(346), "the ones whose sharing makes for resemblance, and the ones relevant to causal powers." (347)

    Metaphysicians sometimes make tentative assumptions about what these properties might turn out to be but they usually defer to science and use the notion negatively to get rid of non-natural properties--all those alleged properties that we have very strong reasons to assume won't be among the genuine properties postulated by any of our best scientific theories (they are things such as my previous example, being born between September 23 and October 21, which I hope you agree we have good reasons to assume is not causally efficacious).

    Btw, I think that philosophers of science need natural properties as much as (if not more than) metaphysicians. For example, the assumption that some properties are natural seems still to be one of the best solutions to Goodman's new riddle of induction.

    In any case, contrary to what you seem to think, the commitment to natural properties does not "come from certain metaphysical (so called Humean) and semantic commitments/virtues" (Armstrong, for example, seems to share that commitment but is no "Humean"), nor does it saddles us with the view that "the only fundamental properties are at space-time points" as you seem to think.

    I have a couple of comments on metaphysics and scientific realism but I have to leave those for later.

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  18. First,I am happy to be enlightend in contemporary metaphysics. So, if contemporary metaphysics usually defer to (future) science there wouldn't be an issue (although I return to natural properties as you characterize them based on Lewis "New Work for a Theory of Universals" below).

    Second, if you look at the Introduction to volume 2 of David Lewis's Philosophical papers, he ties natural properties to spatiotemporal points (p. x) and at p.xi he declares he is unwilling "to take lessons in ontology from quantum mechanics as it now is."
    (It's that attitude that is my target. This is not to deny that philosophers have no role in criticizing scientists--some of my own work in philosophy of economics is critical-constructive.)

    Third, I can see that present & future science miught need properties "whose sharing makes for resemblance," but I am less persuaded that contemporary science is hospitable to properties "relevant to causal powers." I think (many/most? of) the physical sciences do just fine without causal powers.

    Finally, I think any philosopher of science that worries about the problem of induction is chasing mirages. Is there any philosopher of science who denies that science deals with fallabilistic knowledge? All sciences make obligatory noises that there results can be overtuned by new evidence (etc). In scientific practice, however, the problem of induction can be ignored. Of course, metaphysicians are free to solve the problem of induction any way they wish, but until I see the details I doubt it can be fruitfully connected to science as we know it.

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  19. Hi Eric,

    I wanted to pick up on your pointing out of Lewis's derogatory remarks in the intro to Phil Papers vol. 2. *That*, I think, is a great place to identify where metaphysics could stand to learn a lot more from science than it does. Lewis explicitly there exhibits a penchant for pointy-ism, but it doesn't take a long troll through the debates to see that a lot of them are characterized with a background and fairly corpuscular picture of reality. (You get claims such as, e.g., the mass of an object is the sum of the masses of its parts treated as *a priori* truths, whereas (I take it) this turns out to be scientifically discredited.) And a lot of the natural-property talk shows up in debates that have these corpuscular assumptions in them. But I think the natural-properties idea can, and should, be divorced from these further commitments (and, as far as I can recall, nothing Sider says about naturalness in the paper you pick out commits him to them).

    That attitude also displays an unwillingness to "learn from science", as it were. That attitude can be found among metaphysicians, but I don't think it's widespread or endemic. For my own part, I'm not very sympathetic to that attitude, while being bang alongside (something like) the idea of natural properties. Some (e.g. Jonathan Schaffer) rebel from the Lewis PPv2 intro attitude precisely by taking e.g. QM to tell us that natural properties *aren't* properties of points.

    Also, it's true that Lewis (and Sider following him) assume (believe? argue? I'm not sure what verb is right here) that one and the same *type* of property --- "natural" --- that will fill a single theoretical role involving e.g., laws, modal recombinations, semantics, similarity, and so on. But a lot of people in the debates who use natural property talk only want something weaker: the thing Gabrielle said, that there are some "metaphysically special" properties, properties that "limn reality at its joints", and will take it to be an open question whether these properties can do all the work that Lewis wants them to.

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  20. Dear Jason (and Gabriele),
    Okay, this is useful to me.
    In the paper that I targeted, Sider avoids identifying natural properties with spatiotemporal points (although he has a confusing discussion of Reichenbach that wrongfooted me originally). So, I may have imported more into his analysis than I should have. Sider does identify Lewis' position of natural properties with their causal roles (as Gabriele does), but seems ambivalent about committing to that. (In fact, Sider is far more explicit about insisting that standard predicate logic and natural properties are allied than about the physics of natural properties. [Hence my original post's concern with classical logic.])
    I am not so convinced that reflection on modern science gives one a lot of confidence that the one and the same *type* of property --- "natural" --- will fill a single theoretical role involving e.g., laws, modal recombinations, semantics, similarity, and so on, as you rightly say. But if Sider is distinctly minority position on that score, I should have construed my criticism more narrowly about him rather than the community.
    Okay, I think that from my end I have nothing more to add in this debate. Perhaps, other philosophers of science will be heartened by the fact that dialogue is possible and enter these discussions.

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  21. Two points (I have read the thread a bit quickly, apologies if what follows doesn't make much of a contribution):

    1) Lewis did indeed support both the view that a) Humean supervenience holds, and reality is a 'mosaic of local matters', and the view that b) some properties are natural, and 'carve nature at the joints'. Of course, though, one can subscribe to b) while not subscribing to a). Hence, talk of natural properties makes perfect sense even if one doesn't believe in a sort of 'pointillisme' of localised monadic properties. And in this sense, I don't see how contemporary science/physics has anything to say against natural properties (unless one *assumes* anti-realism/anti-foundationalism, of which below). This having been said, it is certainly too quick to label Lewis' claim that he's not willing to take metaphysical lessons from quantum mechanics as an endorsement of Scholastic metaphysics (this being intended as the 'bad metaphysics' which doesn't care about empirical evidence and science) tout court. First, if I remember correctly, there Lewis was only arguing that quantum mechanics (at the time!) didn't disprove Humean supervenience, *not* making a general methodological statement. Secondly, even w.r.t. to the specific issue, and with the quantum mechanics of today, it is far from obvious that Humean supervenience (the spirit, if not the letter) cannot be preserved in the light of contemporary physics, entanglement and holism notwithstanding. Some people (e.g., G.Darby, Dialectica, 63, 2, 195, which I take to represent a good example of non-biased naturalised metaphysics) argue that it can (N.B. I am NOT claiming here that QM is not in conflict with traditionally understood Humean supervenience).

    2) Scientific realism. Maybe I misunderstood Eric, but he seems to be complaining that metaphysics assumes scientific realism while history and philosohy of science give us at least some grounds for being anti-realists or at least Cartwright/Dupre-style anti-fundamentalists.
    But couldn't one take a weaker stance and say that (naturalised) metaphysics as the study of the 'fundamental structure of reality' must act AS IF our best current scientific theories described objective truths about the world? If so, the AS IF attitude of (naturalised) metaphysics doesn't seem to be different from that of philosophers of physics, say, proposing and discussing specific interpretations of QM. Clearly, if we didn't take theories seriously as descriptions of reality (at least at the pretence level), there would be no point in proposing interpretations of them moving beyond their formal apparatus. But if this is correct, again (a lot of) contemporary metaphysics is not guilty to the charge.

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  22. Okay, let me respond to Matteo.
    First, I wouldn't be surprised if one could claim that (suitably re-interpreted) natural properties are compatible with or can recovered from recent science(s). (I do note that often this involve taking non-trivial sides in hotly contested debates.) But note, second, that one of my arguments in this discussion has been that reflection on the sciences doesn't motivate talk of natural properties (as conceived as enabling similarity relations and sustaining causal power talk). And you have not responded to that argument. (Jason conceded that it is by no means obvious that reflection on the sciences will motivate talk of single natural properties in the way metaphysicians tend to talk about them.)
    In fact, philosophers of science know too well that the same formal apparatus can sustain more than one interpretation (some more 'natural' than others)--yet metaphysicians can pretend as if the world is going to reveal a fact of the matter about this. And that seems to me un-motivated by the science. Rather, even if the sciences would converge on a single formal apparatus [highly dubious prediction, but Sider and other want to believe this], there is no reason to expect it also to converge on a single authoritative "interpretation" (in the sense you are using the word).

    Third, I think philosophers of science should be interested in projects that try to generate an analysis of basic properties from the different sciences. But here we (philosophers of of science) have every reason to be a bit hesitant if metaphysicians understand that project as exclusively focused on the science that deals with smallest units rather than the sciences that deal with cosmological or other large-scale phenomena (not to mention the so-called special sciences--that is my beef with Ladyman).

    Fourth, it seems to me that metaphysicians try to avoid having to deal with the messy nature of science. (Many philosophers of science are also guilty as charged.) But the cost is that they tend to make oversimplified claims about final theory/fundamental language, etc.

    Fifth, let me grant that scientific realism is a live (maybe even cherished) option within philosophy of science. But why should we (philosophers of science) encourage the metaphysicians to engage in *grossly naive* scientific realism? I know how hard it is to keep up with different scholarly areas (not to mention that during last few days I have engaged with cutting edge metaphysics). But
    why shouldn't metaphysicians try a bit harder to show some sophistication about philosophy of science? (And when they do try harder, maybe they shouldn't just publish it in Oxford Studies of Metaphysics, but send it to PSA or BJPS and increase likelyhood that it will go to uncharitable referees?)

    Sixth, no doubt many philosophers of science think that theories are descriptive. But I think that too is hard fought--plenty of folk are a bit hesitant about interpretations that go beyond the formal apparatus and the measurements/operations. Yet, most of us can give examples where what may look like mere notational variants produce non-trivially diverging models.

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  23. Hi Eric,

    Lots of interesting discussion here. I do think that we should be careful to distinguish *consistency* with best science from direct *motivation* from best science.

    Some philosophers will want to take stances that look unmotivated on the basis of the science alone. But---*so long as they have decent reasons to offer* for the stance they take---I don't see the immediate problem. Maybe distinctively philosophical reasons *are* what's needed to decide e.g. between GRW and Everettianism.

    So when you say that "metaphysicians pretend the world is going to reveal a fact of the matter"---I'm thinking that's a pretty uncharitable way of describing what's going on. They think there are reasons to favour this over that---and who knows? maybe they do have good arguments. We'd have to look and see.

    *Consistency* with science is another matter---I take it that it's cases of *inconsistency* that Jason (for example) was pointing to. And other than simple inconsistency, there are related badnesses---e.g. when metaphysical arguments seem to force us to an interpretation of science that looks *bad* by scientific lights (presentists and special relativity spring to mind---whether or not there's outright inconsistency, it's not unreasonable to see tension there!).

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  24. One (rather obvious) thought. Of course, the issues about "taking contentious stances" etc cuts both ways---indeed, seems to just to reflect the fact that interesting issues rarely can be contained to one "AOS". And indeed, some work in the philosophy of science journals takes what I regard as highly contentious stands with respect to lots of issues (not just metaphysics, but epistemology, phil lang, etc).

    Now, sometimes I have the "this is grossly naive" reaction you report. (Or, more nuanced, "X highly contentious---why is it acceptable to presuppose it without giving more explanation?")

    But often I find it fascinating---you get a chance to see how a debate can be rerun, divorced from groupthink and maybe the distortions from influential figures. It's rare when you reach the *best* work in some area of philosophy, that you find people genuinely being grossly naive---often they've got a really interesting alternative way of putting things together.

    A final thing to end with. If I had my druthers, I'd ban the terms "metaphysician" and "philosopher of science"---i.e. projecting subdisciplinary distinctions onto people. It seems to unhelpfully tribalize things. It suggests there's some kind of common project all "Xians" share. It unsells the extent that people *do already* work in multiple areas, and use bits of the philosophical toolkit from all over the place in tackling the questions they're working on. And it makes it sound like one has to somehow apply for a Visa to be allowed to think about some issue!

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  25. Eric,

    I was about to write the comment about scientific realism I promised earlier (and I still hope to do so) but I just read your last comment and I cannot help but making some remarks.

    In particular, you say: "But why shouldn't metaphysicians try a bit harder to show some sophistication about philosophy of science? (And when they do try harder, maybe they shouldn't just publish it in Oxford Studies of Metaphysics, but send it to PSA or BJPS and increase likelyhood that it will go to uncharitable referees?)"

    I focus of this passage because I think it epitomizes the kind of bias and unfairness that has characterized your contributions to this thread.

    First, you ask "why shouldn't metaphysicians try a bit harder to show some sophistication about philosophy of science?". As far as I can see this is a typical case of the pot calling the kettle black. I think that any metaphysician who is not half as nice as Jason and Robbie are would probably retort: "And why shouldn't philosophers of science try a bit harder to show some sophistication about metaphysics (especially when writing about it)?" Most of your attacks against what you take to be analytic metaphysics were really attacks on a strawman or, at least, a strange Frankenstein monster constructed out of one paper by Sider and a passage from the intro Lewis' PPv2, a monster that somehow you take to be representative of all analytic metaphysicians. (btw, your quote PPv2 was not only taken out of textual context (as Matteo rightly points out) but also out of historical context--the QM Lewis does not want to take ontological lessons from is the Copenhagen interpretation of QM and I take it that most philosophers of physics today would side with him on that)

    Second, I asked you once not to make ad hominem points and so I hope you will assure everyone that the "Oxford Studies in Metaphysics" comment was not ad hominem (both Robbie and Jason have forthcoming papers in OSM and Jason was the winner of the OSM Young Metaphysician Prize last year). I'm sure you'll say again you were not aware of this but since Robbie and Jason have been so kind and patient to come to comment on your post in a very constructive manner, it would be nice of you to dispel that impression.

    This leads me to the third point. Your comment suggests that metaphysicians mostly publish in OSM or other specialist metaphysics journals to decrease the likelihood of getting uncharitable referees. Now, I really cannot find any rationale for such an unfair suggestion other than ignorance or a deep prejudice against analytic metaphysics. Just two quick points: (a) OSM is possibly the only specialist journal in metaphysics. Philosophy of science has many more specialist journals and I hope you don't want to imply that philosophers of science publish in those journals to decrease the likelihood of getting uncharitable referees. (b) The issues of most top non-specialist philosophy journals are typically filled with metaphysics papers and, in fact, I would say these journals (and not OSM, which is published only once a year) are the main venues for papers in metaphysics. (If you don't trust me, just do a bit more Sider-ology or check out Robbie's and Jason's publications).

    (to be continued)

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  26. (continuing from previous comment)

    Fourth, the suggestion that analytic metaphysicians should submit their papers to specialist philosophy of science journals "to increase likelihood that it will go to uncharitable referees" is simply ludicrous. Of course, nobody would do that (there are enough uncharitable reviewers in anyone's field). And in any case what would be the point of doing so? To increase their chances to get someone as biased against analytic metaphysics as they are ignorant of the topic of the paper? ('Mmmmh, I have this really good paper on mereological universalism, which could get easily published in Phil Review, but I think I'm going to submit it to International Studies in the Philosophy of Science instead so someone that doesn't know any of the relevant literature, postitions, and arguments can thrash it on the basis of their deep understanding of some branch of science or other'.)

    Earlier you said: "Perhaps, other philosophers of science will be heartened by the fact that dialogue is possible and enter these discussions".
    I'm afraid that it's more likely that other metaphysicians will be disheartened by the impression that, if such "dialogue" would resemble this thread, is going to be neither informed nor constructive. As far as I can see, insofar as there was constructive dialogue, it was made possible mainly by the fact that two of the very best young people working in metaphysics these days, Robbie and Jason, plus a few other pious souls have been so kind and patient to try to understand the points you were trying to make and engage with them. I think that, if this thread is representative of the kind of "dialogue" philosophers of science are interested in having with metaphysicians ('Here is what I think it's wrong with metaphysics...'), I wouldn't be surprised if you won't find many on the other side who are going to be willing to engage in it as Robbie and Jason were.
    I think it's people like Matteo (who work at the intersection of philosophy of science and metaphysics and have an understanding of both fields) who are a good example of how to make a genuine dialogue between the two fields possible, not people that in their spare time try to make metaphysicians see what they think is the error in their ways.

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  27. Gabriele, thanks for the nice words :)
    Eric, I am not sure which of my two points you intended to respond to, but let me make some rejoinders following your list.
    First. You claim that science doesn’t motivate belief in properties that can ground similarity relations and talk of causal powers. I really don’t see this, and in fact I take ANY scientific theory to be grounded in the belief that things in this or that specific domain share properties and, in virtue of the properties they possess, have the power to affect the world around them (notice that this holds independently of whether, say, one believes in bare dispositions, or is an anti-Humean on causation). Your claim that science tells us that we’d better give up on the idea of ‘single natural properties’ concerns a different point, and seems motivated by the *possibility* that the Cartwright/Duprè picture is true. However, this is as open to debate in the philosophy of science as the issue of scientific realism, and your being sympathetic to it cannot ground a general critique of the sort you put forward.
    Your second, connected claim that it is unlikely that the sciences will converge on one formal apparatus and one interpretation is again open to debate; at any rate, it doesn’t represent what I take most metaphysicians to believe. It is simply not the case that metaphysicians need to pretend that we have/will have a theory of everything to do their work. For example, if I am interested in the metaphysical issues surrounding the identity and individuality of material objects, quantum mechanics (in ONE of its many variants) seems to provide relevant evidence, and I can study those without even taking a stance on the fundamentalism/pluralism debate. Of course, I need to assume that quantum mechanics represents an objective reality, but if one thought otherwise, why should one request, as you do, that metaphysics be grounded on our best current science? This was the point of my ‘as if’ remark above.
    Your third point is again ungrounded, and again motivated by vague pluralist intuitions. It seems to amount to the complain that metaphysicians only take microphysics seriously, but this is not the case: for example, many of the papers presented at the Metaphysics of Science final conference last September in Nottingham were concerned with sciences other than physics. Your fourth point about the ‘messy nature of science’ is essentially a repetition of claims you have already formulated.
    Fifth: I completely agree that metaphysicians shouldn’t engage in ‘*grossly naive* scientific realism’, but as I said I don’t see who exactly in the metaphysics community endorses such a form of realism. I, for one, have published both on scientific realism and in metaphysics, and don’t think I qualify as a grossly naïve realist when I do metaphysics.

    Your sixth point appears a more explicit concession to antirealism, which I have nothing against. However, let me point out that even antirealists can and did engage with metaphysical issues. For instance, Van Fraassen (who certainly knows his science)studied individuality in quantum mechanics and laws. Again, it seems misleading to ask metaphysicians to look at science when doing their work and then complain that they are grossly naïve realists when they do. Perhaps there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what metaphysics tries to achieve, and what attitude it MUST have towards the world and our knowledge of it in order to even start making sense? [Disclaimer: of course one could be an instrumentalist about science and be suspicious even of my AS IF attitude toward science when doing metaphysics; but surely an instrumentalist would avoid metaphysics altogether rather than ask for it to be grounded on science; Disclaimer 2: of course Van Fraassen is a very peculiar antirealist, for my argument above I just need his stance re. the unobservable).

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  28. I have a long response that I need to cut up.
    But one short point: in this thread I am not targeting the metaphysics of science movement; I am targeting the Lewisian program in analytic metaphysics. There is some overlap between the two, of course, but they are also distinct approaches.

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  29. I started with "Let me articulate what I find problematic about mainstream contemporary metaphysics from the point of view of philosophy that wishes to be scientifically informed and open to learning from and be surprised by science." The reputational risk is largely on my side because I am generalizing about a field that I have never even pretended to be my AOS. The most I expected from it is some gratitude from the list-owner for generating traffic!

    I have expressed my gratitude, especially, to Robbie, Rich, and Jason during the exchange. Given Robbie's follow up to my latest remarks, I will do so again: thank you for your constructive response, including the places where you point out I am ignorant of recent developments or misunderstand a term or argument or where I could have mounted a stronger case ("presentists and special relativity"). I agree with Robbie that much interesting work is done in places where traditional AOSes become meaningless.

    I am in a philosophic environment (Low Countries) where there is practically no pure analytic metaphysics (some work on free will, religion). This is a real loss. I miss the environment at Syracuse daily.

    But...I think that contemporary metaphysics is in the grip of considerable group-think or (put more nicely) parochialism. This does not mean there are no substantial differences within in (and up close even more). Nevertheless, there is a Lewisian metaphysical program (that is, with shared sometimes uncontested background claims), and several of the most prominent and brightest people are doing fantastic stuff in that program. It is a sociological fact that OSM plays an important role in that program. And where else than in a bar or a blog can one discuss this? Now Jason and Robbie have pointed out that the group think is less than I think. Moreover, I agree with Robbie that it can still be fascinating. I know the analytic metaphysicians are super smart people (many of whom with breathtaking projects), and I agree with Robbie that there are considerable benefits for letting the arguments unfold.

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  30. During this week I have also learned there are reasons and arguments for what I take to be parochial commitments. In private correspondence Mark Barber points out that Hawthorne and Cortens have a 1995 paper (philosophical studies) that motives treating ontology and ideology similarly. The first two paragraphs give a sense of what is at stake: "In this paper, we wish to motivate a radical cluster of metaphysical pictures that [...] share one important theme - they refuse to accord countable entities any place in the fundamental scheme of things. [..] they all suggest that the concept of an object has no place in a perspicuous characterization of reality. [...] They seem to gesture at a noumenal reality that human language is unable to describe. [...] Our aim is to [...] vindicate this sort of radical picture as one that deserves to be taken seriously. [...] In section two, we consider how the most radical of these metaphysical pictures - what we call 'ontological nihilism' - might be fleshed out into a rich, articulate, theory. In section three, we consider what the proponent of such a picture should say concerning the truth or falsity of ordinary discourse. In section four, we consider what the motivations for this apparently perverse metaphysic might be." So, when outsiders are confronted with the edifices built in metaphysics their hostile reactions should not come unexpectedly.

    Sider's piece self-confidently dismisses challenges to the grossly naive scientific realist. It has a brief discussion of Reichenbach's conventionalism; Sider writes, "To ask after the real, objective, intrinsic structure of spacetime, we must reject Reichenbach’s coordinative denitions and the interpretations of the model theorist, and consult only those interpretations of geometric predicates that assign them relations that carve spacetime at the joints." Where is the argument in that? This is table-pounding for haive realism. People who have attended to and tried to respond to the arguments by Poincare, Duhem, Carnap, Kuhn and (yes) Michael Friedman have every reason to be aghast about such shortcuts.

    Maudlin (2007, 51-63) has some very nice discussion of the Lewis text that I cited that does a much better job responding to Gabrielé's charge than I will ever do. He alo makes the nice footnote that the tendency toward what we may call "configuration space substantivalism" cannot be motivated on empirical grounds.

    Finally, work is still being done on Copenhagen; it has advantages by resisting the tendency to theorize without regard to measurement and empirical consequences that has also infiltrated physics.

    Let me think about Matteo's latest entry. I need to do some referee-ing (etc) first.

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  31. Dear Matteo,
    I think most of our differences amount to the fact that you think I am rejecting metaphysics whereas I am critically discussing the approach built around the work of David Lewis. I am criticizing an approach that posits a future fundamental language or fundamental ontology and makes claims about it. (And the little I know of your work suggests you agree with my suspicion about that move.) Often those claims must presuppose a grossly naive scientific realism. (It certainly has no sympathy for your *as if* approach.)

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  32. Eric,

    If you look back, my first post in this thread tried to make a specific contribution to your specific points about Lewis/Sider's natural properties. Since in subsequent posts you seemed to make much more general claims largely independent of that specific topic, I changed the nature of my remarks accordingly. As for your doubts about the 'approach built around the work of David Lewis' I still think it is wrong to generalise on the basis of (subjective interpretations of) parts of Lewis' work. As I said, for instance, that Humean supervenience fails in view of quantum mechanics is only true if it is taken in a literal sense that no metaphysician I know would want to insist on. On the other hand, whether such supervenience thesis can be defended and, if so, how it should be amended, is an open issue which I believe should be of interests for metaphysicians and philosophers of science alike, independently of their realist/antirealist attitudes. Ditto for the idea of natural properties.
    As for your other claim against the positing of a fundamental language or fundamental ontology in the future, I certainly agree that it is naive, but I am still unsure what role such a presupposition plays in contemporary 'Lewisian' metaphysics. But of course it could just be me who doesn't know Sider's work and the Syracuse school well enough...
    Anyway, on a conciliatory note, I for one do greatly appreciate the amount of effort you put in contributing to Gabriele's blog, and I do think these discussions are essential for a better integration between disciplines that certainly have problems in communicating.

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  33. I'm a bit unclear about the "naive scientific realism" charge, probably in part 'cause I'm never quite sure what "scientific realism" is supposed to be. Here are three theses:

    (1) There's an objective fact of the matter as to how the world is.

    (2) There is at least some good reason to think that science does, or will eventually, deliver the truth about the objective facts as to how the world is.

    (3) Science is in the business of trying to discover the objective facts as to how the world is.

    I take it that all the Lewis project (as taken over by Sider, perhaps) needs to be coherent is (1). Talk of a "future fundamental language" need not entail that we think science will discover it --- or even that *we* will discover it, but rather that there is in principle such a language to be discovered, regardless of whether our epistemic resources are up to the task.

    Of course, if (1) is true in the absence of (2) and (3), then there's a question as to what the method is; but there's a number of stories we could tell here. Maybe the best we can do is narrow things down to a handful of candidates; that's still progress, for instance. Maybe a priori methods can help in ways empirical ones can't. Maybe... the list goes on. But I don't see how any of the "maybe"s go against (2) or (3).

    And I also can't see that the standard arguments against "scientific realism" --- at least, the ones that trouble the philosophers of science I know --- cut any ice against (1). They tend to be largely about the epistemic troubles (2) and (3) run into. Granted, some might try to infer not-(1) from not-(2) or not-(3), but I can't see that metaphysicians are in any way required to accept those inferences.

    All of this tends to give me the nagging feeling that the appeals to "scientific realism" set up a catch-22 to anyone who does metaphysics --- that is, anyone who is interested in investigating the objective facts of the matter as to how the world is. Either they ignore the deliverances of science, in which case they're derided as being "not scientifically informed". Or they appeal to those deliverances (at least in the sense of allowing themselves to be constrained by those deliverances), in which case they get accused of being naive scientific realists.

    I know of no (plausible) argument for (1). But I also know of no (plausible) argument directly against it. And since (1) looks like a precondition for something like the metaphysical project itself, if the complaints against metaphysicians is that they "assume" (1), then it looks like the complaint boils down to "they're being metaphysicians" --- which, as you might think, they're not liable to be very impressed with.

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  34. Sorry, that last post was me -- I didn't realize I was logged in on my wife's account.

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  35. [blogging is more fun than refereeing.]

    I realize that my tone has rubbed some people the wrong way. So, thanks for staying engaged. But blogging requires bold generalizations, and I have tried to articulate some of the concerns of what Sider calls the "silent majority". Precisely because many of that group have substanstive commitments (pragmatism, instrumentalism, skepticism, pluralism, not to mention feminism, phenomenology, etc) that may prevent them from engaging with metaphysics in good faith (not to mention lack of interest) the serious debates within metaphysics about methodology seem one-sided from the outside.

    Jason, again, you make useful distinctions. I am not denying that "Talk of a "future fundamental language" (and 'fundamental ontology') is coherent. I am also not denying that in principle such a language is to be discovered. I am all for encouraging projects that try to develop the nature and commitments of these languages. (I am a genuine pluralist--hency my stridency against the Ladyman & Ross project which want to close off projects.)
    All I am articulating is a sense that from the vantage point of a century of debates within the philosophy of science (not to mention the actual state of affairs within science) those projects seem far-fetched and rely on dogmatic presuppositions.

    For example, one can be engaged in metaphysical projects without assuming your (1). For examples of that we may have to go to Kantian, Idealist, and (gasp) Continental projects. So, it's precisely because the very possibility of metaphysics gets alligned with your (1) that I call it "dogmatic."


    Finally, Matteo, "fundamental" language/ontology is the focal point of contemporary Lewisian metaphysics (Jason/Robbie did not deny my claims about that, I think). I want to encourage projects that try to generate natural properties through an engagement with the sciences not foreclose debate about them. (But following Maudlin I think some of these approaches seem unmotivated empirically.) I have more to say about what reflection on contemporary (fundamental) science shows, but first I need to get permission from Erik Curiel before I piggy-back on his ideas.

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  36. [You're right, this is more fun.]

    I'm not sure how Kantian and Idealist projects go against (1). My (admittedly *very* sketchy) understanding of Kant has it that he endorses something like (1), but insists that we can know nothing about it. (And then goes on to make some claims about it anyway, as witnessed eg his thoughts of free will.) And I had also understood Idealism as making a claim about (1) as well: that the objective facts about how the world is are all facts about minds and ideas (or mind-less bundles of ideas, as we get further in time from Berkeley...) -- I was careful not to build "mind-independence" into (1). (Since I'm not competent to speak to Continental metaphysics, I won't --- although I'll note that Kris McDaniel has made good headway on interpreting Heiddeger in Siderian terms, and has some powerful arguments that his interpretation makes better sense of the primary texts than the extant ones do).

    I'll happily grant that perhaps my characterization of "metaphysics" in terms of (1) is dogmatic. I like it precisely because I can see how to understand centuries of what's been done under that heading --- Kantianism and Idealism included --- and I can't think of any *other* characterization of "metaphysics" that lets me interpret a whole range of thinkers as engaged in basically the same project. If there's a more liberal characterization of what metaphysics amounts to, I'm happy to hear it.

    I also think there's a bit of a challenge here: some of the tone of what you say above --- and much of the tone said by many others who also say they don't like metaphysics --- often comes across to us as "Stop it, guys!" But that's not very helpful unless we know what it is we should do instead. If there's a better project --- one that meets our interests --- in the neighborhood of what we've been doing, then we've got good reason to switch over. But if not, then it's not clear why someone's dissatisfaction with what we're doing is any concern. There are plenty of projects going on in philosophy that I'm not particularly taken with, but I don't feel the need to tell their practitioners to stop.

    A final comment on the "dogmatic" acceptance of (1): I don't think that it's anything like a requirement on rationality to believe (1), or that (1) can be demonstrated a priori. But I find myself unable to believe its negation (just as some find themselves unable to believe in Lewis's pluriverse), so I have little interests in projects that deny it. Perhaps that is a form of dogmatism, but it's a form I doubt any of us are particularly free of. And if someone could give me a really good positive reason to reject (1), it's not like I would simply fail to engage. But if the "challenge" is simply "Hey, maybe this is wrong," I don't see how I'm being intellectually dishonest if I report my inability to believe its negation and precede as before. After all, we've all got to start our projects somewhere.

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  37. First, I am (really) not telling anybody to stop their projects. I am trying to articulate a series of interconnected concerns that folks looking at post-Lewisian metaphysics may have from the vantage point of philosophy of science (which has taken the challenges of various brands of conventionalism, pragmatism [Fine's NOA], empiricism, etc very seriously). In doing so, I also hope to make clear why the internal debate over methodology in the metaphysics community does not capture the range of concerns one might have; it is no surprise that I blogged about the Sider piece a few days after noting the positive review of the Chalmers/Manley/Wasserman volyme. (I am not trying to articulate all philosophical concerns.) A hidden motive is to discover where Lewisian metaphysics may be put in fruitful engagement with philosophy of science.

    On another point: I am a huge fan of Kris' work because I understand it as being offered in a tolerant spirit: let's try out where the ideas may end up. (There is a principle of tolerance that I discern in his work.) I also like Kris' attitude toward history (neither deferential nor dismissive), but worth seriously engaging with so as to mutually illuminate historical figures and our own projects. I wish a lot more analytic metaphysics had that spirit. (Let's not forget that some 'core' metaphysicians make plenty of dismissive
    remarks about historical projects.)

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  38. Eric,

    Sorry but your comments force me to make another rather blunt "meta"-comment. You say: "The most I expected from it is some gratitude from the list-owner for generating traffic!"

    If the purpose of this blog was to "generate traffic", it would feature porn not posts about philosophy of science. The purpose of this blog is to generate discussion that are as much as possible: (a) informed, (b) constructive, and (c) relevant to general philosophy of science. I know that some readers of this blog have wondered whether some of your previous posts satisfied (c), but, as I said in my previous comment (which, btw, I don't think you really addressed), I don't think this posts and your subsequent comments satisfy either (a) or (b). So, sorry to say but no gratitude from this "list-owner" for what seems to be a rather hackeneyed, confused and misinfirmed rethorical exercise against a whole philosophical subdiscipline.

    Well, I gotta go, so my comment on scientific realism may never appear.

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  39. Well, list-owner, I do think that Eric's contributions meet your conditions (a) and (b). All criticism has a destructive element, so to require only 'constructive criticism' (which is ...?), is to require the impossible, and no one can be required to do the impossible. Remember that a Blog contribution is not the same as a journal paper.

    Concerning (a), you should be considering it a good thing that someone who is a not a philosopher of science *pur sang* wants to contribute to this Blog, bringing in expertise
    from other fields in philosophy and history of science.

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  40. Fred,

    I do think that Eric's contributions meet your conditions (a) and (b). All criticism has a destructive element, so to require only 'constructive criticism' (which is ...?), is to require the impossible, and no one can be required to do the impossible.

    Needless to say, you are entitled to your opinions. I still think Eric's post and comments did not satisfy (a) or (b). Of course, all criticism has a destructive element (it's criticism after all) but from that it does not follow that no criticism can be constructive. For example, one can criticize a view only to offer a better version of it (one that can deal with those criticisms). Or one can criticize some aspects of the methodology of a discipline in order to improve on them. Not only (contrary to what you seem to assume) constructive criticism is possible but one can find examples of it all the times in philosophy papers, books, and blogs.

    Eric, on the other hand, was trying to criticize a whole sub-field of philosophy by making sweeping generalizations based on one paper by one person working in that field (something even Eric seem to have acknowledged at times) with arguments that seemed to be at best mutually inconsistent (my favorite pair was 'analytic metaphysicians don't take science seriously enough' 'analytic metaphysicians take science too seriously (they are "naive scientific realists")'). To me, this does not classify as constructive criticism under any sense of 'constructive'.

    Concerning (a) [I assume you meant (c)?], you should be considering it a good thing that someone who is a not a philosopher of science *pur sang* wants to contribute to this Blog, bringing in expertise from other fields in philosophy and history of science.


    Well, since I was the one who invited him to contribute to this blog, I guess it's reasonable to assume that I know that much but that does not have any bearing on this issue (I was merely reporting other people's opinions there).

    Btw, I found your 'Discerning Elementary Particles' very interesting. And, I think, it is an excellent example of how a philosopher of science can engage constructively with analytic metaphysics.

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  41. While the way Eric formulated his worries about current work on metaphysics may not have been entirely clear and felicitous, I do think he is raising an important methodological question, one which I think metaphysicians should seriously think about: what exactly is the connection between metaphysics and current work in physics? Of course, quite a few very able people have been thinking about this issue (Katherine Hawley, people at Rutgers working on the interface between metaphysics and philosophy of science, to name just a few), but perhaps what Eric was attempting to say is that many more people should be giving it some thought. In fact, it is the whole field of philosophy which is currently confronted with the question of the relations of its sub-fields to the empirical sciences (phil lang and linguistics, epistemology and phil mind and psychology, metaphysics and physics etc.), and such methodological reflections are arguably among the most interesting developments in recent years.


    So I would like to suggest, in order to make this debate more constructive and productive, that we could focus on the issue at hand itself: what exactly is the significance of physical theories for metaphysics? Is it a matter of consistency alone, or should there be more to the relation between physics and metaphysics? (This latter question has already been raised here by Robbie btw.) Perhaps somebody should start a new blog post on this, and start the discussion anew? Just a suggestion...

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  42. Dear Gabriele,

    Of course it is nice if you have constructive
    repair jobs after destructive criticism. Most
    referees of journal submissions require that.
    But a blog post is not a journal submission.
    Destructive criticism (with arguments, of course), without constructive counterparts, should be permitted in a blog post.

    Then about Eric's wild generalisations and contradictions. The principle of charity goes some way to soften this, but not all the way,
    I agree. When generalisations are running wild,
    we can read through them, right? Contradictions?
    Contextualise! They don't go away? Blog post about it!

    Some people, when confused, or taken by a problem, or puzzled by a thought, start thinking about it and enter the public realm when they can present something interesting. Others throw it on a blog. See what happens. That is not what Blogs are for, according to you? Somehow I thought that Blogs belong to a public context of discovery.

    Not anything goes: stream of consciousness, even when about philosophy (of science), is too much, even for a blog post. Eric will take that to heart, I presume ...

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