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.

Justice and Metaphysics.

Nick comments on the last thread: 

If I have a commitment to a certain conception of justice, is this practically any different from someone who has an elaborate metaphysical system that tries to justify this same principle?

I think this is a somewhat different conversation, I hope, at least that’s how I would see it, yet it is related to our whole conversation about realism because, if anyone remembers, it started with a simple of question of the nature of normativity – to simplify it significantly, I think I was asking a question not unlike this one: If a realist is someone who thinks that is a knowable world out there and all our philosophical efforts should be directed at getting to know it better, then this attitude seems to lack a dimension of “ought” and is found primarily in the dimension of “is” which is to say, it does not seem to be concerned with the way the world should be but only with a way the world is. Many objections were raised, the discussion veered off into Kantian ethics and so on, but still I thought that the only way “ought” would enter a realist world view is through a kind of fiat: there are ideas of justice and peaceful coexistence, we don’t know where they are coming from, but we have them now so there. Continue reading

Random Quote: Kant Against Idealism

I think the peculiarity of our discussion of Kant (or our inevitable reference to Kant regardless of the topic) is that Kant did not think of himself as an idealist – idealism for him is a position that declares that

…the existence of objects in space outside us to be either merely doubtful and indemonstrable, or else false and impossible; the former is the problematic idealism of Descartes, who declares only one empirical assertion (assertio), namely that I am, to be indubitable; the latter is the dogmatic idealism of Berkeley, who declares space, together with all the things to which it is attached as an inseparable condition, to be something that is impossible in itself, and who therefore also declares things in space to be merely imaginary. [B274]

Interestingly enough, Kant is not spending much time on dogmatic idealism of Berkeley, only stating that Continue reading

Experience: Now With New (Scientific) Sauce.

So things are pretty active in the last thread, but I am getting a bit lost in all the comments there, so I’m going to separate one thread and post on it separate. I used an example of looking at an object and trying to distinguish between p-qualities and s-qualities. I think Levi’s response was especially enlightening in terms of trying to flesh out our disagreement on the matter, but before we get to it, Nick noted, commenting on my remark that I am not sure how much our perception really changed with scientific revolution, something I am not really certain about, just a thought: Continue reading

Metaphysics and Its Ethical Consequences.

UPDATE: While I was writing the post below, Levi posted his own take, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so if some issues are already addressed, I apologize.

While clarifying what Kantian ethics is really about is a noble task, I would like to point out some things that might have been unclear from my initial post on realism’s possible ethical stance as i cited Kant’s third Critique (§76). I think that Levi’s questions concerning the connection between metaphysics and ethics are legitimate, but are directly addressed in Kant’s corpus – I would even say that Kant is extremely concerned with ethical outcome of any sort of metaphysical exercise and this concern is found throughout his writings. In §76 Kant is basically imagining a different kind of human cognition, the one that lacks the distinction between intuition and understanding/reason, a kind of cognition that would have an immediate knowledge of the actual (things-in-themselves), if I am reading it correctly. Kant’s argument is simple, I think, and consists of very simple steps: human cognition distinguishes between appearance and things-in-themselves as it has knowledge of the former and only posits the latter, if we imagine a cognition that distinguishes between the two yet knows both, the very distinction is then shown to be unnecessary, now we are talking about a thought experiment, only God’s cognition would fit a hypothetical scenario, yet if we take realism and its claim that there is a world out there and (important “and” I think) we have a direct access to it and can know it as it is in itself, then we know things-in-themselves via a sort of “intellectual intuition,” i.e. Kant’s point about heterogeneity of intuition and understanding can be disregarded. I then go on to ask a question: what would the world of things-in-themselves look like if indeed we have direct knowledge of it? Kant states, and again we may or may not agree with his argument, that in such a world things would simply be, simply exists – I thought of such a world as a sort of a nightmare precisely because without space/time (form of intuition, of course) and without potential/actual distinction (being a form of causality, causality being part of mind’s work, not something found in things themselves) life would be a nightmare.

Ok, let’s throw all that Kantian jargon and Kantian arguments out of the window – there’s a lot, I know, so I’m going to give you some time… Continue reading