Scientism+Naturalism = View So True

30Aug12

Recently, the philosophy book, “Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized” by Ladyman et al has been released.  From the product description: “Every Thing Must Go argues that the only kind of metaphysics that can contribute to objective knowledge is one based specifically on contemporary science as it really is, and not on philosophers’ a priori intuitions, common sense, or simplifications of science. In addition to showing how recent metaphysics has drifted away from connection with all other serious scholarly inquiry as a result of not heeding this restriction, they demonstrate how to build a metaphysics compatible with current fundamental physics (“ontic structural realism”), which, when combined with their metaphysics of the special sciences (“rainforest realism”), can be used to unify physics with the other sciences without reducing these sciences to physics in itself. Taking science metaphysically seriously, Ladyman and Ross argue, means that metaphysicians must abandon the picture of the world as composed of self-subsistent individual objects, and the paradigm of causation as the collision of such objects.”

In the Customer Review section for the book at Amazon, Dr. Massimo Pigliucci posted his own. The first chapter of the book is titled “In defense of scientism” and Pigliucci says that scientism that has an over reliance on science “pisses” him off.  This kind of scientism Pigliucci says stands for a form of reductionism that he dislikes and he notes that this bad scientism is espoused by among others Alex Rosenberg and Harris et al.  However Pigliucci make the point that in spite of the chapter’s name the book makes makes a good argument against this kind of scientism.  Also in the review, Pigliucci argues that “fundamental determinism” does not exist because there is no “fundamental causality”. He says that “cause” is only a conceptual tool used in the special sciences and has no basis in “fundamental physics”.  Following are my thoughts on Pigliucci’s review, which I also posted as comments to the  review on Amazon.

I’m with Dr. Pigliucci all the way in disagreeing with Alex Rosenberg’s and others ethical nihilism and their brand of mechanical reductionism.  To think as Rosenberg does that because humans arise from Darwinian adaptation driven by random mutation that therefore morality and ethics have no valid basis is a serious error.  It should be clear that the same biological forces that drive human social cooperation are what underlie and necessitate morality and ethics. Rosenberg promotes Daniel Dennett’s concept that the theory of evolution is in Dennett’s term the “universal solvent”.  In doing so Rosenberg focuses on the animal, dissolving and destructive side of evolution and ignores, or denigrates the emergent, higher level, and humanly moral and creative outcome of evolution.

While agreeing with him about bad scientism, I disgaree with Pigliucci’s claim that causality is purely conceptual and therefore not an objectively real phenomena. I note that the theory of relativity which describes the fundamental physics of the macro world undeniably rests upon objectively real causality in the thinking of most physicists. And from what I understand, Einstein thought likewise.  Quantum mechanics (QM) while certainly stochastic also has deterministic aspects. QM’s stochastic features reside inside a determinism and vice versa.  For example a photon may just appear and take possible stochastic paths, but it’s also possible that no photon takes flight from a certain location.  The determinism and causality in this instance is that fact that a path can only be taken if a photon appears and takes flight. And finally QM does have determinist “laws”.  A number of deterministic yet stochastic laws of QM have been discovered and elaborated.  This was done by such notable physicists as Max Planck, Erwin Schrodinger, Louis de Broglie, David Bohm, John Bell and Alain Aspect.

Science is mainly about methodology and the core of the methodology is to require contextual verification of knowledge in the act of practice in reality (knowledge verified materially).  Scientism concurs with this and posits science as the primary path to knowledge.  Accepting science as the primary path to knowledge is also naturalism.  Naturalism also sees philosophy as a science.  The arts – visual, graphical, dance, music, etc – appeal first to the aesthetic, or to emotions and can confer knowledge of outer and inner reality.  However for that knowledge to be accepted as truth it must in some way be verified materially and that means verified via the methods of science.  Many of the truths of mathematics are based upon systems of self-enclosed axioms.  Still, where mathematics meets life outside of mathematics, the truth of its statements must be contextually verified in practice. I.e. via the scientific method.  The same applies to logic, which often begins its study with observations about the way things relate to one another outside of logic.

~Tanner Phillips, @philosophyofsci

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