Random Quote: Penelope Maddy


Picked up Penelope Maddy’s most recent book – Second Philosophy – and am liking it already:

These days, as more and more philosophers count themselves as naturalists, the term has come to mark little more than a vague science-friendliness. To qualify as unnaturalistic, a contemporary thinker has to insist, for example, that epistemology is an a priori discipline with nothing to learn from empirical psychology or that metaphysical intuitions show quantum mechanics to be false. There are those who take such positions, of course, but to lump everybody else under one rubric is clearly too crude a diagnostic. My goal in this book is to delineate and to practice a particularly austere form of naturalism.

[…]

A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what ‘science’ must be, no determinate criterion of the form ‘x is science iff … ’. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines ‘trust only the methods of science’. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn’t a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. [1]

I like that the Introduction lacks this victimology one has grown accustomed to in the discussions of realism – “we are so persecuted and ridiculed, we must fight against anti-realist hegemony” – it promises a straightforward engagement with ideas. Plus, Maddy, of course, is someone who could be trusted with her knowledge and understanding of a number of sciences. The book introduces a character of the Second Philosopher:

This Second Philosopher is equally at home in anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, linguistics, neuroscience, physics, physiology, psychology, sociology, … and even mathematics, once she realizes how central it is to her ongoing effort to understand the world. Her interest in other subjects, at least as far as we see her here, is limited to her pursuit of their anthropology, psychology, sociology, and so on. She uses what we typically describe with our rough and ready term ‘scientific methods’, but again without any definitive way of characterizing exactly what that term entails. She simply begins from commonsense perception and proceeds from there to systematic observation, active experimentation, theory formation and testing, working all the while to assess, correct, and improve her methods as she goes. [2]

Interestingly enough, the Introduction mentions Kant in a favorable way and even promises to incorporate some of his views into the final project, and the span of the work is astonishing in itself (at least in the promise of it) – from Descartes to Quine/Putnam – we’ll see how it goes…

7 thoughts on “Random Quote: Penelope Maddy

  1. She’s a real mensch too (she spoke at OSU while I was there and has been extraordinarily helpful to a friend of mine who e-mailed her out of the blue about some of the stuff she writes about).

    I guess one of the big questions for second philosophy is the extent to which it sheds light on normativity and necessity. Obviously all the myriad senses in which “ought implies can” (and as therefore “it is not the case that one can do X” implies “one does not have the obligation to do X”) entails that the study of the human sciences is essential (Allison Denham motivates her research into psychopathy in this very way). But does an account of “ought” require something like a transcendental move? Is this “first philosophy” in the prohibited sense?

    I realize I’m just raising the same questions you’ve raised in previous posts, but I’d be interested to see the extent to which they have purchase with respect to Maddy’s book.

  2. Jon,
    I think I will certainly give this book a read, it seems like a very quick read as she basically presents her whole argument in the Introduction, or at least a very concise version of what it is to come. I am mainly impressed by the scope and the sort of interesting take on science/non-science distinction that she, for example, says Descartes did not have (despite dualism) and Kant did have (due to transcendentalism, but I wouldn’t say dualism) – in any case, I haven’t gotten far in enough, but I think that I will enjoy it and maybe post on things I find pertaining to our quest for normativity.

    I think the issue of normativity is something that goes beyond the “ought” for me, or goes before the “ought” maybe (I would say that normativity is that which ultimately conditions the “ought” so I’m interested in that which allows us to prescribe as opposed to a simple description, I know it’s a rather banal distinction but I like it) – I think earlier exchanges on the normativity of realism (any realism, I suppose) were very productive and made me think of a number of issues. I’m sure once I recover from a rather nasty turn of events right at the end there, I’ll have more thoughts while I am reading your posts as well.

  3. Post-Quinean methodological natrualism? What happened to you man? Heh heh.

    This is interesting:

    She uses what we typically describe with our rough and ready term ‘scientific methods’, but again without any definitive way of characterizing exactly what that term entails. She simply begins from commonsense perception and proceeds from there to systematic observation, active experimentation, theory formation and testing, working all the while to assess, correct, and improve her methods as she goes.

    Is this the best way to go? Perhaps it would be better to take a more robust tack that parses the differences between the anti-naturalist/naturalist vis a vis the attributes/constitution of a “subject of cognition” (whether trans unity of apperception, brains, mind, etc) instead of the variant methodologies that each may accept, whether say, transcendental or scientific. Maybe I’m missing the point of the “second philosopher”….

    Regardless, you may be interested in this book as well: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/DECNAT.html?show=reviews

  4. Pingback: spoonerized alliterations » Science Is Useful

  5. Shahar, thanks for the tip – I really don’t know anything at this point, I’ve decided to approach the book with a kind of blank slate and just take it in, she writes well and I think I get most of it and it’s straightforward, but I think as a failed Kantian and exposed fraud in all things philosophical, I am trying to pick up the little pieces of what used to be my mighty Kantian system (crying incessantly, of course) so I’m going to mainly listen to what she has to say and maybe post a bit more while trying to finish that big project, you know, that I’ve been working on for a while…

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