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…