Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pleas for pluralism

A few times during the exchange over the last few days I murmered that reflection on science casts doubt on a certain kind of single best language with monotonic (is that a word?) "interpretation" that appears to be taken for granted in doing metaphysics by many post-Lewisians. In part this doubt is due to a draft paper by Erik Curiel (against rigidity) I have been reading. For example, I first learned from Erik Curiel (now at LSE--he should not be implicated in my views) that according to the Standard Model, "the phenomena it treats can always be described in any of a competing number of ways, as there is a many-to-one relation between groups of particular particles and their fundamental interactions on the one hand and irreducible representations of symmetry groups on the other."

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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lange on Laws and Lawmakers

Here in St. Louis, we are having a reading group on Marc Lange’s interesting Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of Nature (OUP, 2009).

The book is motivated by the observation that there seems to be a tight connection between laws and counterfactuals. As everyone knows, laws support counterfactuals in a way that accidental truths do not. Lange offers a novel and interesting way to account for this link: he argues that laws are a “stable set of truths” in a way that sets of accidental truths are not. What this means is that unlike sets of accidental truths, all laws are still true under any counterfactual supposition that is consistent with their all being true.

Lange begins with this connection between laws and counterfactual and, in the course of the book, turns it into an ontological dependence between laws and counterfactual truths. He posits the existence of ontologically primitive “subjunctive facts” and argues that those are the truthmakers for law statements. I have only read the first two (out of four) chapters, so don’t ask me how to make sense of the notion of a “subjunctive fact” yet. But I do have a comment on the early part of the book.

Lange discusses some apparent counterexamples to his thesis of the “stability” of laws. Such counterexamples include David Lewis’s view that at least when dealing with deterministic situations, any ordinary counterfactual supposition requires a violation of the laws (a “miracle”).

(Lange discusses these counterfactuals only in a 9 pp. long footnote (Chap 1, fn. 29). That seems odd. It seems that given the relevance of these counterexamples to Lange’s view, he should have discussed them in the main text.)

I’m not entirely convinced by Lange’s response to the counterexamples (and also by some of the arguments in the main text that are similar in structure). Obviously I cannot do justice to the issue here, but very briefly, Lange seems to argue along the following lines: true, there are counterfactual suppositions that are consistent with the laws but under which the laws are violated, at least in some “worlds”; however, intuitively, under the same counterfactual suppositions, the “worlds” in which the laws are violated are more dissimilar from our world than the “worlds” in which the laws are not violated, and this still supports the stability of laws. Even granting the relevant intuitions, I suspect that the intuitions about similarity between “worlds” that ground the relevant judgments are generated, in turn, by knowledge of which truths are and are not laws. In other words, the counterfactual judgments that are supposed to support the claim that laws form a stable set (in a way that accidents do not) seem to depend on knowing which truths are lawful and which are not. So I am not convinced that Lange has found a noncircular way to connect laws and counterfactuals, contrary to what he suggests in his book. (Circularity is not a problem, unless you want to ontologically ground the laws in the counterfactuals, as Lange does.) Am I missing something? If anyone has insights on this matter, I’d be interested to hear them.

(Another odd choice: John Roberts is in the same department as Lange at UNC Chapel Hill and has published extensively on laws [including his own book on laws: The Law-Governed Universe, OUP 2009]. Even though Roberts is acknowledged at least four times in the book for having contributed this or that point, none of Roberts’ publications are cited by Lange. It’s hard not to wonder how that came about.)

All this being said, Lange’s book is thought-provoking and worth reading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MS4: Models and Simulations, 7-9 May 2010, University of Toronto

Abstract submission deadline: 20 November 2009
Scientific models and computer simulations play numerous roles in the
sciences, but as a class of tools for use in the articulation of theory,
experiment, technological design and application, and prognostication for
purposes of public policy, they have only relatively recently come under
systematic scrutiny by the community of scholars in history and philosophy
of science. The conference aims to raise and investigate important questions
about the methodology of practices of modelling and computer simulation,
providing a forum for ongoing debates and new angles of approach, on such
topics as: how models and simulations are constructed; how they are
confirmed; how they may be understood to represent and explain worldly
phenomena; how they function in cutting-edge research; and how they
influence decision making in the arena of public policy. A number of
bursaries for graduate students presenting papers will be available to help
defray the cost of travel and accommodation.

Submissions of proposals for individual papers and symposia are welcome in
the form of an extended abstract. For information on submissions,
registration, etc., please visit the conference website:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A philosopher defends metaphysics

In a NDPR review of Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology Oxford UP, 2009 David Chalmers, David Manley, Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Elizabeth Barnes writes:

That the questions asked by metaphysicians should simply be left to physicists is not a criticism that those not generally skeptical of philosophical inquiry should take seriously. As philosophers, we tend to value the methodology of our own discipline and (whether justified or not) think that this methodology can make uniquely valuable contributions. Philosophy of language should not be abandoned for linguistics, aesthetics should not be abandoned for art criticism and art history, philosophy of mind should not be abandoned for psychology and cognitive science, and so on. There are often more empirical disciplines concerned with the same subject matter, but that doesn't mean the philosophy is in bad standing. Or so say the philosophers, anyway.

Barnes fails to address a missing alternative: that metaphysics should be informed and constrained by relatively up to date physics (and other sciences).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science

volumes 1-14 of Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science are now available online and for free here; this is very cool.

Even more on chapter 1 of Every Thing Must Go (1.4-1.6)

This past Summer I started a reading group with the eminent philosopher of physics, Fred Muller, and Dutch wunderkind, Victor Gijsbers, on Ladyman & Ross (et all) *Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalists*. Recall my earlier postings:

Now that I have read about a third of the book, I can make one general positive comment: Ladyman & Ross are very generous toward young scholars; they often cite unpublished papers. They also make a genuine effort to connect their views to figures (historical and present) that share aspects of their views.

Okay, so much for making nice, I will continue with Chapter one by page-number and numbered points (where I left off).
11. (p37) They introduce two important principles (summarized by Fred as follows): i) Principle of Naturalistic Closure (PNC). If with the aid of a metaphysical claim (H) two currently accepted scientific propositions (of which at least one is taken from current physics) explain more than they do separately and without H, then H should be taken seriously. (p. 37) ii) The Principle of the Primacy of Physics (PPC). If a hypothesis from some special science conflicts with currently accepted fundamental physics, then reject it (see also p. 44). Both end up doing non-trivial work in the argument (in what follows it allows them to rule out Davidson's token identity theory, emergentism [which has solid Carnapian credentials!], non-Nagelian reductionisms, supervenience, mereological atomism.

11A: PPC has interesting consequences: a) it makes (fundamental, etc) physics immune from other sciences. Should we want/promote this, and does this make for good metaphysics? At Michael Weisberg's EPSA talk it occurred to me that the practice of Chemistry is massively pressupposing and successfully tacitly testing a theory that has some resemblance to quantum mechanics, but that might be interestingly different, too. (Here's the analogy: 19th century planetary astronomy was creating extremely subtle evidence for lots of differences that make a differences two 'theories' Newton's and Einstein's'.) Why shouldn't we permit future chemistry help us reform physics? b) it rules out a priori competing sciences as fundamental, e.g., Darwinism, information theory, or what we may label, 'Santa Fe' science.

11B: PNC seems to suggest that metaphysics without fundamental physics is not worthy of the name metaphysics. It seems to suggest that asking, what is a "Person?" or "what are rights?" are bogus questions.

12. (p.42): PPC gets argued for based on the history of success in extending and unifying physics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. But institutionally (recall it's preferred epistemic proxy), science has really only exploded since the Cold War. So, who knows what science is morphing into now? (Lots of simulations, raw data crunching, and applying physics-alien formal methods to fancy new areas.)

13. (p. 48-52): Nagelian reductions (the deductive explanation of a theory by another theory) are the heroes of L&R's account. This is used to attack functionalism and multiple realization theories in the philosophy of mind. (L&R bite bullets along the way: no natural kinds, p. 51.) This is fun stuff to read; it won't convince anybody working in philosophy of mind (who is not already predisposed to disliking functionalism). I am surprised, for example, that they don't take on the Turingian source for the idea that minds and computers are basically same thing.

14. (p. 51 &53): they make a tantalizing remark about ontology being scale-relative, preventing barriers to identifying referents of different theories. It looks like that their unification project also has some disunity consequences; no special science tokens will have fundamental-physical descriptions (but they promise to address this in chapter 4).

15. (section 1.6): I really liked this section. It argues against all kinds of micro/macro (and mereological) distinctions and the thought that the world comes in 'levels'. (Bill Wimsatt's work springs to mind here.)

Next time, 1.7 and their admission "to being materialist Hegelians" (the synethsis between empiricist and materialist stances).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Galileo and Spinoza in Paris 12-19 December, 2009

Responsables scientifiques : Chantal Jaquet et Filip Buyse
Colloque organisé par le CHSPM
December 12&19, 2009, Sorbonne, Paris
Salle Cavaillès, Escalier C, 1er étage
17 rue de la Sorbonne, 75005 Paris
Entrance : Free
Contact : filip.buyse1@telenet.be

Saturday December 12
8:45 – 9:15 : Introduction (Chantal Jaquet & Filip Buyse, Université Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne)
9:15 – 10:30 : Mechanics versus mechanism: Galileo, Spinoza, and Newton.
(Stephen Gaukroger, University of Sydney and University of Aberdeen)
10:30 – 11:30 : Boyle, Spinoza and Galileo: Is Spinoza a strict Mechanical Philosopher? (Filip Buyse, Université Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne)
11:30 – 12:30 : Science, Demonstration and the Art of Hermeneutics in Spinoza and Galileo. (Tamar Rudavsky, Ohio State University)
14: 30 - 15:30 : Spinoza's Library: its Mathematical and Scientific Books.
(Henri Krop, University of Rotterdam)
15:30 – 16:30 : Spinoza critique de Galilée. (Pietro Redondi, Università di Milano-Bicocca)
16:30 – 17:30: Natura naturans and Natura naturata in Spinoza.
(Herman De Dijn, Harvard University + Prof. Em. of the KU Leuven)
17:30 – 18:00: Questions and discussion. (Theo Verbeek, The Utrecht University)

Saturday December 19
9:30 - 10:00 : Introduction (Chantal Jaquet & Filip Buyse, Université Paris 1 Panthéon - Sorbonne)
10:00 - 11:00 : Galileo and Spinoza : Historical and Theoretical Perspectives .
(Franco Biasutti, Università di Padova)
11:00 – 12:00 : Joseph Solomon Delmedigo: Student of Galileo and Teacher of Spinoza.
(Jacob Adler, University of Arkansas)
13:30 – 14:30: L'infini chez Spinoza et Galilée. (Epaminondas Vampoulis, University of Patras)
14:30 – 15:30: Spinoza, l'unité individuelle et le principe du mouvement relatif.
(Fabien Chareix, Université Paris IV- Sorbonne)
15:30 – 16:30: From Italy to The Hague: Optics and Optical Instruments.
(Rienk Vermij, University of Oklahoma).
16:30 – 17:00: Discussion and questions. (Filip Buyse, Université Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne)

cfp: European Society for the History of Science Barcelona, November 18-20, 2010

4th International Conference of the European Society for the History of Science (ESHS). The Circulation of Science and Technology.
Barcelona, November 18-20, 2010
Hosted by Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC)
Conference Secretariat
Carme 47, Barcelona E-08001
Fax: +34 932 701 180
e-mail: 4eshs@iec.cat
Official website:
website: http://taller.iec.cat/4iceshs/entrada.asp?epigraf_contingut=1

CFP: HOPOS 2010 Conference - June 24-27, 2010 Budapest

HOPOS 2010 Conference - June 24-27, 2010
Central European University - Budapest, Hungary

Call for Submissions
Deadline for Submissions: December 15, 2009.
Notification Date: February 28, 2010.

The conference is open to scholarly work on the history of philosophy of science from any disciplinary perspective. Submissions of abstracts of papers of approximately 25-30 minutes' reading length, and of symposia of three to four thematically related papers will be considered for the program. The members of the Program Committee are listed below. Submissions should be sent as an email attachment directly to the appropriate Program Sub-Committee chair, either as a Word document or PDF file. The conference language is English.

Proposals for papers should include:
• title and abstract of the paper (maximum 500 words)
• address of the participant, including e-mail, phone, and institution

Proposals for symposia should include:
• title of symposium
• symposium summary statement (maximum 500 words)
• titles and abstracts of papers (maximum 500 words for each paper)
• address of each participant, including e-mail, phone, and institution
• identification of symposium organizer, who will serve as contact person

Program Committee
James Lennox (Pittsburgh), Chair ‘Kant and Before’ Sub-Committee
István Bodnar ( ELTE, Budapest)
George Gale (UMKC)
Helen Hattab (Houston)
Don Morrison (Rice, Houston)
Erik Watkins (UCSD)

Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Chair ‘Post-Kant’ Sub-Committee
Jean Gayon (Paris)
Don Howard (Notre Dame)
David Hyder (Ottawa)
Jutta Schickore (Indiana)
Friedrich Stadler (Vienna)