Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More on Science and Metaphysics

Two things on the relationship between science and metaphysics, apropos of the recent discussions on this blog (which I've followed with interest and wish I had more to contribute to):
  1. Although I doubt there are many who read this blog who don't already read Leiter's, the recent entry on Jack Ritchie's Understanding Naturalism (and the NDPR review) seems very relevant, and their is a discussion going on in the comments of Leiter's blog.
  2. Craig Callender has a draft of a paper on his website called Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science, and I'm sure it would add something to the discussion (and Craig would likely appreciate feedback on it).
Wish I could take the time to say more about these difficult and interesting issues, but it will have to wait, as grading beckons.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Specialist Views in General Philosophy of Science

The results of David Chalmers' philosophical survey are now out.

In an interesting comment on these results, Chalmers compares the view taken on various topics in the profession as a whole with that held by specialists in the relevant topic-area. In particular, Chalmers reports that in "general philosophy of science" (GPoS), specialists are less likely to favor scientific realism -- only 12% of philosophers as a whole lean toward or accept anti-realism, while 16% of the specialists in GPoS do -- and Humeanism about laws -- 41% of GPoS specialists are Humeans as against 25% of philosophers as a whole.

I find this striking. I wonder why the specialists should be more attracted than philosophers as a whole to a position that runs counter to pre-reflective common-sense. Chalmers suggests the following as reasons for such divergences in general (not particularly in this case): "(i) specialists making better-grounded judgments, (ii) selection effects in entering the speciality, (iii) specialists' judgments corrupted by an insider literature".

Maybe it works like this: published literature in a topic area will be more slanted towards "sexy" positions than to "common-sense" ones. Consequently, the readership within the sub-area will be somewhat biased against "common-sense". That's a bit like Chalmers' (iii).

What do other people think?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Are Subjunctive Facts Dispositional Facts?

Our St. Louis reading group on Lange's book (Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of Nature, OUP, 2009) is over. As I mentioned, Lange argues that the truthmakers for laws of nature are "subjunctive facts".

I still don't understand what a subjunctive fact is supposed to be; Lange doesn't shed much light on this. A subjunctive statement is a statement about what else would be the case, were something the case. Generally, the supposition of a subjunctive statement (i.e., what follows the "if" in "if something were the case") is contrary to fact. So a subjunctive fact is (usually) a fact linking two counterfactual facts, or a fact about contrary-to-fact facts. ???

Lange talks about regular categorical facts, and he seems to make sense of them, like many other people, as instantiations of categorical properties at a time. (I'm reading between the lines here, as Lange doesn't discuss this explicitly; but he does mention categorical properties occasionally.) Lange also occasionally mentions dispositions, but as far as I can see he doesn't draw any connection between dispositions and "subjunctive facts".

The best I can do is to suggest that subjunctive facts are dispositional facts -- facts dependent on the instantiation of a disposition (i.e., a power) at a time. Since dispositions have different manifestations under different conditions, the instantiation of a disposition can ground many different "subjunctive facts".

I would find Lange's view clearer and more persuasive if he said that the truthmakers for laws are dispositions/powers. Of course, other people have said this before, so his view would sound less radical if framed in terms of dispositions/powers. I believe that Lange would reject my gloss on subjunctive facts because he insists that "subjunctive facts" are ontologically primitive. But why should they be ontologically primitive, when (i) regular categorical facts do not seem to be ontologically primitive even by Lange's own lights and (ii) there is a straightforward account available in terms of dispositions/powers? And how are we supposed to make sense of them if not in terms of dispositions/powers? If I'm going to take something as primitive, I'd rather take powers than "subjunctive facts".

Any thoughts on this?

PS: While I'm here, I'll answer a question by anonymous posted to the earlier thread on this topic.

"Does Lange really say that laws are ontologically grounded in counterfactuals? This would be strange, since counterfactuals are linguistic entities (sentences or propositions) and laws are non-linguistic general facts."

No, Lange says laws are ontologically grounded not by counterfactuals tout court but by counterfactual facts, or "subjunctive facts."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Journal: Philosophy and Theory in Biology

Fans of quality open-access journals will be happy to know that, after the Philospher's Imprint, those guys at Michigan have done it again! (Fans of catchy journal titles will not be as happy, I'm afraid, but don't they know it's bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth?)

The Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library is pleased to announce the release of a new peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Philosophy and Theory in Biology (P&TB) ( This interdisciplinary publication brings together philosophers of science and theoretically inclined biologists, fostering a broad conception of what it means to do "theory" in science and to analyze the sciences philosophically. P&TB is published solely online, taking advantage of new technologies to reduce publication and environmental costs. The journal is committed to maintaining the highest standards of scholarship while making its content freely available to the academic community, independent scholars, and the public at large. The University of Michigan Library, through its Scholarly Publishing Office (, provides academic publishing services that are responsive to the needs of both producers and users, that foster a sustainable economic model for academic publishing, and that support institutional control of intellectual assets.