Innocent Realism: Susan Haack

This is from an interview with Susan Haack (Haack.interview–warning pdf).  Aside from her Philosophy of Logics textbook, I’m completely ignorant of her work, for the most part.

CB: Could you tell us more about Innocent Realism?

SH: It is, I hope, a metaphysical position that can accommodate the most robust realist intuitions to the most sophisticated anti-realist objections. The main ideas are something like this. The world — the one, real world — is independent of how we believe it to be. In saying this, obviously, the Innocent Realist repudiates both the irrealist thesis that there is no real world, and the pluralist thesis that there are many. However, she of course allows that human beings intervene in the world, and that we, and our physical and mental activities, are part of the world. The one, real world, in other words, is heterogeneous: there are, besides natural things and events, human artifacts of every kind, social institutions, and the theories, depictions, and imaginative constructions of scientists, artists, poets, novelists. etc..Adapting an idea from Peirce (who was in turn adapting an idea from Duns Scotus), the Innocent Realist construes “real” as meaning “independent of how you, or I, or anyone believes it to be”; and as contrasting with “fictional, a figment, imaginary.” Scientific theories are real; and so are works of fiction. But the explanations scientists imagine, when they are successful, are true, and the laws they imagine real; while fictional characters and events are precisely not real, but imaginary.  Though very fallibly and imperfectly, we humans are able to know something of how the world is. This is possible only because we have sense organs able to detect information about particular things around us, and the intellectual capacity to make generalizations about them; and because the things around us are of kinds and subject to laws.

We describe the world, sometimes truly, sometimes falsely. Whether a synthetic description is true or is false depends on what it says (which is a matter of human convention) and on how the things in the world it describes are. There are many different true descriptions of the world, in different vocabularies. All these many different truths must somehow fit together: there can’t be rival, incompatible truths or “knowledges.” But this doesn’t mean that all the truths about the world must fit together by being reducible to a privileged class of truths in a privileged vocabulary; I see the truths of the social sciences as “fitting together” with the truths of the natural sciences more in the way a road map can be superimposed on a contour map of the same territory.

Here’s a pdf of an interesting article by Haack, “Six signs of scientism.”


Review of Braver’s A Thing of this World (NDPR)

This impressive book is characterized by three special virtues: first, it presents difficult philosophical ideas and developments clearly; second, it manifests an unusual and admirable facility with both analytic and continental positions and methodologies; and third, it boasts an extraordinary level of scholarship. My strongest endorsement of Braver’s book is that I dearly wish I’d had it two decades ago.

A Thing of This World is carefully structured, both in terms of Braver’sdiscussion of developments and in his handling of operant ideas and positions. While the substantial structure is clear enough from the Contents page and the Introduction, the basics of the working structure need to be appreciated to insure productive reading. Braver provides a section he labels “Guide to Matrices” at the beginning of the book, in which he articulates twelve fundamental realist and anti-realist theses as well as five other propositions basic to discussion of the philosophers he considers. For example, “R1” is Putnam’s thesis that “the world consists of some fixed totality of mind-independent objects,” and “A1” is Hegel’s thesis that “consciousness will arrive at a point at which it gets rid of its semblance of being burdened with something alien” (xix-xx). Again, a basic proposition is the “Heideggerianparadigm” or “Historical Phenomenological Ontology,” namely, the view that “There is Being only in this or that historical character” (xx). Braver then proceeds in a manner reminiscent of Spinoza, referring back to individual matrix theses and propositions almost entirely as “R3” or “A5” and with initials like “HPO.”

Read the full review here

Interesting Critique of the Critique of Correlationism

I read through Markus Gabriel’s essay, “The Mythological Being of Reflection” and was reminded of something I quickly posted a few months ago, “Should Philosophers just wear Labcoats?” I was avoiding grading a stack of papers and found myself quickly purusing Rorty’s Objectivity, Relativism and Truth:

…any academic discipline which wants a place at the trough, but is unable to offer the predictions and the technology provided by the natural sciences, must either pretend to imitate science or find some way of obtaining “cognitive” status without the necessity of discovering facts (35). Continue reading

Assertions, Clearing One’s Throat

Completely by accident, while looking for something else, I came across this passage on the very first page of Crispin Wright’s Truth and Objectivity:

…if there ever was a consensus of understanding about ‘realism’, as a philosophical term of art, it has undoubtedly been fragmented by the pressures exerted by the various debates—so much so that a philosopher who asserts that she is a realist about theoretical science, for example, or ethics, has probably, for most philosophical audiences, accomplished little more than to clear her throat.

One could most likely switch out “realism” for a number of other terms, but I think this might be true.  I had a much longer post about this passage a few minutes ago, but somehow it dissapeared.  I suppose it’s been a nice lesson in nihilism.

Majority Report

Interesting results of asking philosophers about stuff.

So a large majority are realists? Where is the supposed hegemony of anti-realists? And now since speculative realism” is dead or is just a label that was rudely imposed on a few thinkers who never, I say, never would have used the term themselves, it seems that it’s sort of strange that two books about it are just coming out – so sad, the movement is over before its two fundamental texts are out. Someone has to quickly change the names of the books to Away From Speculative Realism and The Speculative Dead End. You are welcome, humanity.

A Thing Of This World Reading Group (Summer 2009).

UPDATE (June 2010): A review of Lee Braver’s book in NDPR can be found here.


6/7 (Sunday) – we are a week away from the launch of this reading group and I am told there are some copies of the book available at if you are interested in joining in. If you are looking for a deal on the book, check over here to see if you can get the book a bit cheaper.

6/15 – Introduction (by Mikhail Emelianov) and Chapter 1 (by Jon Cogburn) and A Rejoinder (by Mikhail Emelianov) and A Response (by Lee Braver)

6/16 – We get a nod from Leiter Reports.

6/22 – Chapter 2: Kant’s Revolution + a short digression (by Mikhail Emelianov) and A Rejoinder (by Jon Cogburn) and A Response (by Lee Braver)

6/29 – Chapter 3: Hegel: The Truth of the Whole (by Jon Cogburn) and A Rejoinder (by Mikhail Emelianov) and A Response (by Lee Braver)

7/6 – Chapter 4: Nietzsche’s Will to Truth (by Mikhail Emelianov)

7/13 – Chapter 5: Early Heidegger: Fundamental Ontology (by Jon Cogburn) and A Rejoinder (by Mikhail Emelianov) and A Related Post (by Gary Williams)

7/20 – Chapter 6: Later Heidegger: “The Great Turning Around” (by Mikhail Emelianov) with A Rejoinder (by Gary Williams)

7/27 – Chapter 7: Foucault’s History of Truth (by Jon Cogburn) with A Rejoinder I (by John Protevi) and

8/3 – Chapter 8: Derrida.

Continue reading

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…

While I Was Napping: More Realism Wars™

Unfortunately for me, I’ve missed a post on Speculative Heresy from some days ago on realism – with some remarks there and on his own blog, Alexei responds to the post as well. I would like to address only a couple of things in the post, things that I believe would be a misunderstanding of my own position on all things realism, if the post in fact addressed them to me, which it does not, so this is just a hypothetical situation. Nick writes: Continue reading

Real Realism.

Having done engaging fake realists who muddle the waters with their incomprehensible formulations and dubious responses to the very simple question, but also having realized that it’s nothing new in philosophical discussions (take this example of the recent discussion of “explanatory gap” on PhilPapers), I have picked up, on the indirect advice (via reference) of Jon Cogburn, Lee Braver’s book A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism and the first thing I see is the most concise and sensible description of realism (from Hilary Putnam) that I’ve seen in months, a definition, in fact, that I have been pushing for without really knowing it (if only to disprove it) or having it formulated in this way:

The world  consists of some fixed totality of mind-independent objects. There is exactly one true and complete description of “the way the world is.” Truth involves some sort of correspondence relation between words or thought-signs and external things and sets of things. I shall call this perspective the externalist perspective, because its favorite point of view is a God’s Eye point of view. (Reason, Truth and History, 49)

I have to confess an almost complete ignorance of Putnam, but I think I might find his direct no-nonsence style refreshing. I mean at least in the above citation’s case I can see the position of realism clearly and distinctly.