Research Director's Philosophy Moments No. 1: Scientific Metaphysics Apologetics for Beginners

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

Tweeting is, in fact, a lot of fun. However, I am rather over having to correct and retweet all of my typos and tweetos. So from now on those Twitter philosophy moments will be IIMx philosophy moments, and I will Tweet those. (That's going to make for some content, philosophers!)

There has been much (unnecessarily overmuch, probably) soul-searching about the name of the 'institute'. Many have expressed emotion and opinion, ranging from nudging to dismay, to dismayed nudging, about the use of the term 'metaphysics'. Some respectable philosophers have gone so far as to refuse to be associated with an 'institute' with such an academically and intellectually (and ontologically, and philosophically, and...) risky term in its title. (A couple of less respectable 'philosophers' didn't like postitive scientism.)

Carnap, a few expressivists, and not a few grounding theorists and gunkists, have a lot to answer for! (Actually, apart from overzealousness and failing to make either regimentation or semantic information work satisfactorily, Carnap is pretty respectable. I mean - there are his logical probabilities.)

I have decided that we won't let the expressivists and neo-Carnapians worry us so much. Scientific metaphysics has got what you need, say I. As you can see, there are others. At least one. (Thanks to Professor Klink.)

Scientific metaphysics isn't traditional metaphysics by definition. In most forms it rejects or dramatically minimises a-priori conceptual analysis. However, it avoids the radical anti-realism of some expressivist philosophies of science.  The revival of metaphysics may, or may  not, have been instigated in 19C by Quine, but that some expressivists think that it was demonstrates something about Quine's discipline: it's philosophy.  Few philosophers would discount that natural philosophy has long since been supplanted by modern science. However, the question is whether scientists still do metaphysics, and when they do, if they are realist to some degree about the referents of defeasible scientific theories.  Scientific metaphysicians are not in the business of telling scientists that they cannot be realist - to an extent limited by information theory and information dynamics. We know what Hume said about causality, but Hume was a marvelously mischievous chap, and science 'causations' stuff all over the place (thanks again, Bart). Expressivists are not so reticent to tell scientists what to think.  I find it to be highly (statistically) unlikely that well-tested scientific models don't capture, at minimum, and with fidelity, some of the structural information in natural phenomena (I strongly suspect that they capture a lot more). Evolution may have been mostly about the business of preventing us from getting eaten by sabre-tooth tigers and wandering into the campfire, but I suggest that our cognition and its neural correlates have evolved to be more effective at modelling unobservables than we commonly think. When public scientific method is afoot, anyway. For all of the rhetoric around the mystery and weirdness of quantum systems, QM is just so very (astonishingly) robust.

Potential serious problem for primates

Edmund Gettier and W.V.O Quine both turned stubborn assumptions and longstanding views on their head. Philosophy is all about arguing. If an expressivist, or perhaps instrumentalist, philosopher is denying scholarly ratification of scientific metaphysics as a discipline, one has to wonder if they are a real philosopher. I certainly do not think that they are deferring to scientific authority about scientific modelling, saving the phenomena, and theory defeasibility, even if they do tout the primacy of physics constraint (which I, too, tout.)

Not really any problem. Threat rating: 0

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