Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review of TLS -- realism, really?

This is the third in what looks to be a decently long series of posts looking at the argument Dr. Edward Feser presents in the The Last Superstition. You can find parts one and two at those links.

As was noted in part two, Dr. Feser claims to prove quite a few things in his first chapter, and he begins chapter two with a brief history of Greek philosophy from Thales of Miletus, with stops to mention Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, the Sophists, and Socrates, before delving somewhat more deeply into Plato. I certainly don't know enough of historical Greek philosophy to comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of his summations, nor is that my purpose in this series. As a reminder, my purpose is to comment on what I find convincing in Dr. Feser's book, what I find unconvincing, and whether he has lived up to any or all of his claims by the end of it, either to the extent of convincing me that he is correct, or his fallback position of convincing me his position is rational. To that end, his historical accuracy is barely a footnote. The first step on that path will be below the fold.

After a discussion of Plato, the first bit of meat for my meal appears: a discussion of realism, nominalism, and conceptualism. As Dr. Feser himself acknowledges, the position of realism is indeed central to his arguments later in the book:
Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that virtually every major religious, moral, and political controversy of the last several decades -- of the last several centuries, in fact -- in some way rests on a disagreement, even if implicit or unnoticed, over the "problem of the universals" (as it is known).
, with realism being the position that these universals, numbers, and propositions are real in one fashion or another. He notes there are many flavors of realism.

Before we get into Dr. Feser's nine justifications for this position, I wanted to note what these things are. Universals are adjectives being treated as nouns. His three examples: triangularity, humanness, and redness. Mind you, he never pulls out the word 'adjective' and carefully avoids using the adjectival forms of triangular, human, or red. Nevertheless, he is saying that the common features of the descriptions of various objects are themselves real. By numbers, he means the ordinary sorts of numbers on a real line, making quite a bit of the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 is a necessary truth (even though this is not always true, for example, 2 liters + 2 liters will often be less than 4 liters). Propositions refer to the meaning behind sentences that make a claim about the world. For example, he says that "John is a bachelor" and "John is an unmarried man" are the same proposition.

His first justification applies primarily to universals, and is the notion of "one over many". That is, you can describe many different objects with the same adjective, and that the description could apply to something even when it doesn't actually apply to anything, and even when no mind is thinking about it, therefore it is real. So, even though unicorns and griffons are not real, the concept of being a unicorn or being a griffon is a real concept. Oddly, he does not use fictional examples like unicorns and griffons to illustrate this point. No doubt this is an oversight.

The second and third justifications apply to mathematical objects like circles, numbers, etc. (they are divided into two for some reason). Again, Dr. Feser relies on the notion that these statements are always true, as opposed to models that true given the right circumstances. I am firmly opposed to the notion that mathematical truths are real, because I understand there are too many situations where they are not true.

The fourth is an argument from the nature of propositions, and is basically the idea that a true proposition will often be true even when there is no one around to state it, and that it has no material component. He makes an excellent argument for these propositions being true. However, he makes no argument for them being real.

The last of the arguments directly supporting realism, as opposed to attacking the alternatives, is the argument from science, which amounts to saying that science uses universals and mathematics, and both are real based on arguments 1-3, so anyone who accepts the results of science accepts 1-3. I found this argument did not add any force to his position, as it rests entirely on arguments 1-3.

The remaining four justifications discussed are arguments against the plausibility of nominalism and conceptualism. Nominalism is presented as basically denying the reality of universals (and presumably numbers and propositions, although this is not specifically discussed). Instead, we apply the same descriptions to items because they resemble each other in some fashion, but that resemblance is not some instantiation of a universal. Conceptualism is presented as saying that any existence to universals occurs only in the mind, not in the exterior reality. While acknowledging there are many varieties of nominalism and conceptualism, Dr. Feser prefers to focus on the most extreme variations for his criticisms.

The first of the two arguments directed against nominalism specifically is the vicious regress problem. When the nominalist speaks of resemblances, is the property of resembling something itself a universal? If not, and we identify them all as resemblances because they are similar to us in some ways, is that similarity a universal? Personally, I don't see where there is a good answer to those questions either way. I can certainly understand why someone would reject nominalism on this basis.

The other argument against nominalism, which is also the second argument presented against conceptualism, is that words themselves must be universals. Otherwise, every time we used a word, it might mean something different, and communication would not be possible. Of course, this objection works only if this situation is different with realism, and it seems to me that realism suffers this same communication defect, in a different fashion. Because there are so many universals, we can never be sure which universal the other person is invoking. After all, in addition to redness, there are universals for scarlet, rose, burgundy, crimson, etc., and all of these are particular types of redness. There is nothing in realism that prevents Person A from invoking the universal of red that is close to rose, while person B hears the universal of red that is close to crimson. I recall reading there have been studies that the white universal of people is the USA is more bluish that the white of the South Americans (which looks pinkish to USAers). This theme of an overwhelming number of universals, and the arbitrariness that people use to select from among them, will appear again in future parts of this review.

Finally, the first argument against conceptualism is the objectivity of concepts and knowledge. Dr. Feser claims that when we entertain concepts of the same thing, such as a dog, the concepts are the same inside our brain, that when we think about the Pythagorean Theorem, we are discussing the same proposition. Similarly to what I wrote above, I do not agree. We often are thinking about difference concepts when we think about dogs (since we have two beagles, my dog concept is very beagleish) and while I don't know how beagleish his dog concept is, it's fairly clear our concepts of the Pythagorean Theorem are different.

Coming to my purpose for this review: Dr. Feser presented no evidence that realism is a better position than conceptualism from what I can see, while his argument against nominalism was stronger. So, I would say he failed in the part of the task where he wanted to convince me he was right. However, I can certainly see why people might reasonably hold to realism, so he was successful in his fall-back option of convincing me that his position is rational.

39 comments:

UnBeguiled said...

"Oddly, he does not use fictional examples like unicorns and griffons to illustrate this point. No doubt this is an oversight."

No doubt.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "The fourth is an argument from the nature of propositions, and is basically the idea that a true proposition will often be true even when there is no one around to state it, and that it has no material component. He makes an excellent argument for these propositions being true. However, he makes no argument for them being real."

It is not clear to me what distinction, with respect to propositions, between being "true" and being "real" you are trying to make here, Eric, or why the distinction is important.

Those who adhere to a "correspondence" criterion of "truth" basically say that a proposition is "true" if it corresponds to (agrees with) the "facts" (this is a crude summary, but I think you know what I mean).

Now, given that "propositions" may depend upon the existence of a "proposer," why are they not "real?" Is the idea that nothing is "real" unless it has an independent existence "out there?" That reality can ONLY be imputed to those things which are totally divorced from a subjective mind? If so your definition of "reality" presupposes the conclusion you reach. You don't need to read a single word or argument that Feser or anyone else says to know that "realism" is not "real." It would, for you, given your definition of "reality," be a trivial analytical truth that propositions are not real.

Unfortunately, this might also apply to your proposition that propositions are not real, in which case mebbe you shouldn't rely on it's "truth" to determine what is "real," ya know?

Similarly, if "correspondence" to (external) reality is your criterion for "truth" (which it may not be) then true propositions which correspond to reality would seemingly be "real" because they describe, and apply to, the "only" thing that is real, i.e., the external, objective world.

On the other hand, if propositions have no "real" relationship to (external) "reality," then you yourself cannot even begin to speak of "reality" in any meaningful way.

aintnuthin said...

It seems to me that there may be certain degree of confusion and misunderstanding going on here. I would put myself squarely in the conceptualist camp if the purported choice is between either:

1. The claim that universals are theoretical constructs of the human mind, or
2. The claim that universals exist in "objective" reality (i.e, any suggestion that the numeral 3 is out there somewhere, mebbe having a drink in a bar right now, who knows?)

But proposition 2 would presumably be an absurd mischaraterization of the realist position. So the question becomes one of what they really mean by saying things like numbers are "real?" Do they simply mean that concepts (of "universality") are real? If so, "real" in what sense?

If I say there are 3 shotglasses on the bar (and there are) is this a statement about "reality?" If so are there "really" just 3 glasses, or is the whole concept of "3" just something that creates a false illusion, because there is "really" no such thing as the numeral 3? That seems to be the question, fairly expressed, I think.

One Brow said...

It is not clear to me what distinction, with respect to propositions, between being "true" and being "real" you are trying to make here, Eric, or why the distinction is important.

False propositons would still be real things, from my understanding of the point of view of realism. The proposition "snow is white" is still real even in downtown St. Louis after heavy traffic, where you will see very little white snow. The notion of being real and being true are independent, as far as I can tell.

Now, given that "propositions" may depend upon the existence of a "proposer,"

According to realism, they exist regardless of whether there is a proposer, AFAICT.

Is the idea that nothing is "real" unless it has an independent existence "out there?" ... If so your definition of "reality" presupposes the conclusion you reach. You don't need to read a single word or argument that Feser or anyone else says to know that "realism" is not "real." It would, for you, given your definition of "reality," be a trivial analytical truth that propositions are not real.

That depends on whether you mean "out there" to be a purely physical thing, as opposed to different sort of existence.

On the other hand, if propositions have no "real" relationship to (external) "reality," then you yourself cannot even begin to speak of "reality" in any meaningful way.

You can't speak meaningfully outside of propositions? I certainly prefer using propositions, but that point of view seems extreme.

2. The claim that universals exist in "objective" reality (i.e, any suggestion that the numeral 3 is out there somewhere, mebbe having a drink in a bar right now, who knows?)

But proposition 2 would presumably be an absurd mischaraterization of the realist position.


I agree if you mean in the sense of having a physical location. However, the whole point of the argument from communication is that there is a real number three that we bring into our minds from a real, exterior-to-minds sort of existence, and that this is the reason we can know we are discussing the same thing when we use "3", because we are bringing in the same real thing.

If I say there are 3 shotglasses on the bar (and there are) is this a statement about "reality?" If so are there "really" just 3 glasses, or is the whole concept of "3" just something that creates a false illusion, because there is "really" no such thing as the numeral 3? That seems to be the question, fairly expressed, I think.

Again, perhaps I'm reading his ideas incorrectly. I will ask him this weekend.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "The notion of being real and being true are independent, as far as I can tell."

Yeah, I agree.

Under the rubric of "reality," this wiki article discusses the perhaps related but distinct concepts of truth, fact, existence, uncertainty (epistemology, more generally) and others. It seems to me that all of these sometimes get entangled when someone is trying to define "reality."

I thought this passage was worth reflecting on:

"In philosophy, reality is contrasted with nonexistence (penguins do exist; so they are real) and mere possibility (a mountain made of gold is merely possible, but is not known to be real—that is, actual rather than possible—unless one is discovered). Sometimes philosophers speak as though reality is contrasted with existence itself, though ordinary language and many other philosophers would treat these as synonyms. They have in mind the notion that there is a kind of reality — a mental or intentional reality, perhaps — that imaginary objects, such as the aforementioned golden mountain, have. Alexius Meinong is famous, or infamous, for holding that such things have so-called subsistence, and thus a kind of reality, even while they do not actually exist. Most philosophers find the very notion of "subsistence" mysterious and unnecessary, and one of the shibboleths and starting points of 20th century analytic philosophy has been the forceful rejection of the notion of subsistence — of "real" but nonexistent objects."

Despite what "many philosophers" may think, I kinda like the idea of subsistence, but not necessarily as confined to "non-existent" realities. To me, an "idea" is "real," i.e., it has some aspect of "reality" to it. Whether ideas "exist" strictly in a mind,(and not in, say, books or not, doesn't really matter. Minds too are "real" in that they exist in some sense, even if it is an "immaterial" sense.

As the evolutionist we discussed in another thread (forget his name, now noted, "information" is a type of thing completely distinct from "matter." A "gene," he said, should not be confused with material objects, such as a collection of molecules--it is of an entirely different character and order than matter.

If so, I don't see why you shouldn't conclude that there are different orders of "reality," Information is "real," even if ultimately immaterial.

aintnuthin said...

Wiki said: "Sometimes philosophers speak as though reality is contrasted with existence itself, though ordinary language and many other philosophers would treat these as synonyms."

So, is "existence" synonomous with "reality?" If so, what kind of "existence" does something need to have to be part of "reality?" A three-dimensional, material existence? If so, quarks and other point particles (along with many other things which we treat as "real") presumably don't exist and are not part of "reality." If you claim that a material, extended form is a prerequisite to being "real," then the very claim you make to assert that ontology is "unreal."

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "He makes an excellent argument for these propositions being true. However, he makes no argument for them being real."

I don't know what arguments Feser does or does not make, Eric, but, leaving that aside, what would he have to argue to convince you that propositions are "real?" That they have an extended, three-dimensional, material existence, or what, exactly.

aintnuthin said...

I asked: "If I say there are 3 shotglasses on the bar (and there are) is this a statement about "reality?" If so are there "really" just 3 glasses, or is the whole concept of "3" just something that creates a false illusion, because there is "really" no such thing as the numeral 3?"

Your response is that you would ask Feser questions to clarify what he meant. That's fine, but, whatever Feser says, what would your answer be?

If me seeing, and counting, 3 shotglasses on the bar is "just an illusion," then all "science" is also an illusion, it would seem. This is probably why Feser claims that science itself depends upon a "realistic" metaphysical view.

One Brow said...

Despite what "many philosophers" may think, I kinda like the idea of subsistence, but not necessarily as confined to "non-existent" realities. To me, an "idea" is "real," i.e., it has some aspect of "reality" to it. Whether ideas "exist" strictly in a mind,(and not in, say, books or not, doesn't really matter. Minds too are "real" in that they exist in some sense, even if it is an "immaterial" sense.

The way it read to me, subsistence applied to the non-existent object, as opposed to the concept of the object, which would be real to anyone who accepts the idea of universals being real. The concept of a mountain of gold is certainly a universal.

If so, I don't see why you shouldn't conclude that there are different orders of "reality," Information is "real," even if ultimately immaterial.

I agree.

I don't know what arguments Feser does or does not make, Eric, but, leaving that aside, what would he have to argue to convince you that propositions are "real?" That they have an extended, three-dimensional, material existence, or what, exactly.

I'm not completely sure, and it might even depend on the proposition. If you view the universal 'white' as being real, perhaps the proposition 'snow is white' can get some reality out of that. Since I don't think '4' is real, I would have trouble assigning a real status to '2 + 2 = 4'. So, perhpas my position would be that a proposition is a real as the least realistic member of itself. But I'm not sure.

I asked: "If I say there are 3 shotglasses on the bar (and there are) is this a statement about "reality?" If so are there "really" just 3 glasses, or is the whole concept of "3" just something that creates a false illusion, because there is "really" no such thing as the numeral 3?"

Your response is that you would ask Feser questions to clarify what he meant. That's fine, but, whatever Feser says, what would your answer be?


I think the concept '3 glasses on a bar' gets a much higher degree of reality from 'glasses', with three as a description. I am not questioning that descriptions are real, it's the attempts to treat them like independent nouns that I question. Even when people picture a descripiton like 'red', is it an bodiless red or a red patch? In my case, it is more the latter, but I can at least see where someone might be able to believe the former. Similarly, I will picture three tally marks, three dots, etc., but I have never pictured a threeness that was not three of something.

If me seeing, and counting, 3 shotglasses on the bar is "just an illusion," then all "science" is also an illusion, it would seem. This is probably why Feser claims that science itself depends upon a "realistic" metaphysical view.

I don't know of any philosophical position that would say there being 3 shotglasses is an illusion, not even the nominalism Feser describes. It's whether 'threeness' is real.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I don't know of any philosophical position that would say there being 3 shotglasses is an illusion..."

Parmenides said that nothing does not exist. Therefore all is being. Being does not change. Therefore motion and change is an illusion. Sumthin like that.

I don't know, and don't really care, what "threeness" is, I just want to know what "reality" is, eh?

If threeness does not exist and/or is not "real" then I am relying on a non-existent fiction when I talk about 3 shotglasses. 3 does not really exist, so any conclusion I draw based on it bein real must be an illusion, right? 3 is just sumthin I conceptualize (make up) to help me have illusory conclusions about (non-)"reality."

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I don't think '4' is real,..."

Why isn't it "real?" Because it is a product of the mind, rather than atoms, that it?

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I will picture three tally marks, three dots, etc., but I have never pictured a threeness that was not three of something."

Well, then, maybe you'll like the Aristotlean view that Feser ultimately adopts better, eh? Aristotle rejected Plato's independently existing forms, and held that form can only exist as instantiated in a particular object.

That said, it seems to me that mental pictures may well help provide "concrete" visualization, but I can easily think of "threeness" it terms of the symbolic numeral "3." Whether it's 3 bears, 3 stooges, or 3 shotglasses, the "threeness" is something they all have in common. That "commonality" (universality, if you prefer) stands on its own.

Different people may have different "mental pictures" if I use the word "Christian." Some may see a bible-thumping, big-haired televanelist. Others may see a catholic nun while others see an amish guy with a pitchfork, or whatever. I can "see" someone who simply believes in Christ as Lord. That's what they all have in common, and that's what the word means, more or less. The word "christian" simply does not mean any of those (or any other) particular instantiations of "christianity." It includes them, but it does not refer to any of them in particular.

What do you "see" when someone says "republican," or "patriot," or "homophobe," or "evolutionist," I wonder?

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I will picture three tally marks, three dots, etc., but I have never pictured a threeness that was not three of something."

This view also serves as a somewhat crude argument for the "objective reality" of numbers. We don't "invent" numbers, we "see" (count) them in the external world. They are empirically-derived conceptualizations (abstractions from reality) some claim. This argument carries some apparent weight. As far as we know, no infant is born with an innate knowledge (or concept) of numbers (contrary to what Plato proposed). It is something that develops after interaction with the material world.

aintnuthin said...

To elaborate on another point I made elsewhere: "Science," as we conceive it, deals with quantities, not qualities. Quantification is the sine qua non of "scientific" activity.

Quantities are, essentially, just numbers. We then analyze and manipulate the numbers we measure to discover some order and (mathematical) regularity in their relationships. Modern physics (and other scientific disciplines, also) is highly mathematical in theoretical content. If numbers are not "real" in some sense, then it would seem to follow that any conclusions which rely on measurements and numerical manipulation are not "real" either.

As I said before, this is apparently the kind of thing Feser has in mind when claiming that science itself is premised upon "realistic" metaphyical premises.

One Brow said...

I don't know, and don't really care, what "threeness" is, I just want to know what "reality" is, eh?

If threeness does not exist and/or is not "real" then I am relying on a non-existent fiction when I talk about 3 shotglasses.


Why? How does the the existence of three as a real property guarantee the existence of "threeness" as a real (abstract) thing stand-alone?

Why isn't it "real?" Because it is a product of the mind, rather than atoms, that it?

No, I accept that things like information are real. You should know that by now, I've stated it often enough. If anything, it's because it has no inherent properties of its own. Any property of 4 can be true or not true in a given context.

Well, then, maybe you'll like the Aristotlean view that Feser ultimately adopts better, eh? Aristotle rejected Plato's independently existing forms, and held that form can only exist as instantiated in a particular object.

Well, Feser describes the existence form as being independent enough that it can merge with our minds to facilitate communication. But before I want to comment more on that, I will reread the section involved.

... "threeness" it terms of the symbolic numeral "3."

Is that really a visualization of threeness, or just an association? How is "3" more evocative of threeness than "4"?

Whether it's 3 bears, 3 stooges, or 3 shotglasses, the "threeness" is something they all have in common.

Yes, the groups have similar properties.

That "commonality" (universality, if you prefer) stands on its own.

Because?

What do you "see" when someone says "republican," or "patriot," or "homophobe," or "evolutionist," I wonder?

Indeed.

This view also serves as a somewhat crude argument for the "objective reality" of numbers. We don't "invent" numbers, we "see" (count) them in the external world. They are empirically-derived conceptualizations (abstractions from reality) some claim. This argument carries some apparent weight. As far as we know, no infant is born with an innate knowledge (or concept) of numbers (contrary to what Plato proposed). It is something that develops after interaction with the material world.

I agree, also this depiction also fits with numbers being highly useful fictions, the results of a particularly useful construction, or properties that have no independent reality of their own.

If numbers are not "real" in some sense, then it would seem to follow that any conclusions which rely on measurements and numerical manipulation are not "real" either.

I would agree that numbers are real in some sense, and think I have explained that sense in this response.

aintnuthin said...

Well, mebbe we're startin to get somewhere here, I dunno.

One Brow said: "If anything, it's because it has no inherent properties of its own. Any property of 4 can be true or not true in a given context."

I don't know what you're trying to say here, but at least you are trying to answer. It seems to me that 4 does have an "inherent property of its own," i.e., "fourness" (for lack of a better word right now). Unless you are confused about definitions, it's not hard to distinguish 3 cows from 4 cows from 5 cows. 3 is simply different from 4, which is different from 5. What makes them different is what I might call their "inherent properties." You must have something else in mind, though.

Not sure what this means either, exactly: "Any property of 4 can be true or not true in a given context." Suppose I change this to say: "Any property of water can be true or not true in a given context." That would be true, wouldn't it? I mean, just for example, the "property" of fluidity might hold for water in it's liquid state, but not in it's solid state (ice). But, so what? Isn't that true of everything? We still deem water to be "real," don't we?

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I would agree that numbers are real in some sense, and think I have explained that sense in this response."

Well, I'm not sure you did. I am assuming that you are basically referring to this comment: "I agree, also this depiction also fits with numbers being highly useful fictions, the results of a particularly useful construction, or properties that have no independent reality of their own."

Not sure what you're agreeing with (my post started out with the proposition that this was an argument which favored the "objective reality of numbers." Apparently you are not argeeing with that, given that you refer to "properties that have no independent reality of their own." Of course, as I mentioned in my last post, you may have a different meaning of "properties" in mind than I do. You do not explain why you do not think that these properties, whatever they are, are not "independent" or even what they are presumably dependent upon (our minds, is that it?).

To say something is a "useful fiction" is not really what I would call an "explanation," either. It is merely an assertion. The term "fiction" simply presupposes that something is untrue or "unreal," it does not explain why.

aintnuthin said...

Suppose I say I saw 4 lions chewing on a giraffe carcas, and let's assume that I didn't just make it up and that I didn't miscount. If that's the case, most people would agree that my claim was "true: (rather than a lie, or just a fabrication).

Would you?

Now let's imagine that they were there, but I didn't look their way. Would the statement that "there are 4 lions chewing on a giraffe carcas off to your right, if you care to look," also be true (even though I didn't see it)? If so, would it still be true, even if all counting creatures had been eliminated from the face of the earth? Or would the absence of a counting observer just make "4" a fiction, that applied to nothing, ever?

aintnuthin said...

Eric, I suspect that both your personal values and your criterion for "reality" is close to that of the logical positivists who, after starting in the so-called "Vienna Circle" became prominent many decades back:

"A 1929 pamphlet written by Neurath, Hahn, and Rudolf Carnap summarized the doctrines of the Vienna Circle at that time. These included: the opposition to all metaphysics, especially ontology and synthetic a priori propositions; the rejection of metaphysics not as wrong but as having no meaning....

Although the logical positivists held a wide range of views on many matters, they were all interested in science and skeptical of theology and metaphysics. Early on, most logical positivists took the view that all knowledge is based on logical inference from simple "protocol sentences" grounded in observable facts. Many logical positivists supported forms of materialism, metaphysical naturalism, and empiricism.

Perhaps the view for which the logical positivists are best known is the verifiability criterion of meaning, or verificationism. In one of its earlier and stronger formulations, this is the doctrine that a proposition is "cognitively meaningful" only if there is a finite procedure for conclusively determining whether it is true or false....

Logical positivism spread throughout almost the entire western world. It was disseminated throughout the European continent. It was spread to Britain by the influence of A. J. Ayer...Logical positivism was immensely influential in the philosophy of language and represented the dominant philosophy of science between World War I and the Cold War."

This fad eventually crumbled under the weight of it's own inconsistencies, however, although this author claims that one factor in its decline "has been the incorporation of its ideas into the mathemetical and logical formalisms developed in many fields without always citing their historical legacy."

As I understand your viewpoint, though, mathematical and logical formalism is not "reality."

All quotes from this wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_positivism

aintnuthin said...

Then again, maybe you have moved on to scientific realism, I dunno:

"Scientific realism is developed largely as a reaction to logical positivism....Logical positivism encountered difficulties with:

1. The verification theory of meaning (for which see Hempel (1950)).

2.Troubles with the analytic-synthetic distinction (for which see Quine (1950)).

3. The theory ladenness of observation (for which see Kuhn (1970) and Quine (1960)).

4.Difficulties moving from the observationality of terms to observationality of sentences (for which see Putnam (1962)).

5.The vagueness of the observational-theoretical distinction (for which see Maxwell (1962)).

These difficulties for logical positivism suggest, but do not entail, scientific realism, and lead to the development of realism as a philosophy of science. Realism became the dominant philosophy of science after positivism....Many realist think the operational success of a theory lends credence to the idea that its more unobservable aspects exist, because they were how the theory reasoned its predictions. For example, a scientific realist would argue that science must derive some ontological support for atoms from the outstanding phenomenological success of all the theories using them."

Sound like you?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_realism

One Brow said...

I don't know what you're trying to say here, but at least you are trying to answer. It seems to me that 4 does have an "inherent property of its own," i.e., "fourness" (for lack of a better word right now).

Unless you posit there are four different abstractions that 4 represents, 4 most certainly does not exhibit fourness. If it had an inherent numerical property at all, it would be oneness.

Unless you are confused about definitions, it's not hard to distinguish 3 cows from 4 cows from 5 cows.

"Four" would be a property of the group of cows.

Not sure what this means either, exactly: "Any property of 4 can be true or not true in a given context." Suppose I change this to say: "Any property of water can be true or not true in a given context." That would be true, wouldn't it?

It would be true of properties like being a liquid. It would not be true of properties like being a compound of hydrogen and oxygen.

Well, I'm not sure you did. I am assuming that you are basically referring to this comment:

Look harder, then. That's not what I was referring to.

Not sure what you're agreeing with (my post started out with the proposition that this was an argument which favored the "objective reality of numbers."

I read it as favoring many different interpretations of numbers, not all of which say they are objective reality.

You do not explain why you do not think that these properties, whatever they are, are not "independent" or even what they are presumably dependent upon (our minds, is that it?).

They are dependent upon the material object(s) they describe.

The term "fiction" simply presupposes that something is untrue or "unreal," it does not explain why.

I agree.



November 12, 2009 4:18 PM
aintnuthin said...
Suppose I say I saw 4 lions chewing on a giraffe carcas, and let's assume that I didn't just make it up and that I didn't miscount. If that's the case, most people would agree that my claim was "true: (rather than a lie, or just a fabrication).

Would you?

Now let's imagine that they were there, but I didn't look their way. Would the statement that "there are 4 lions chewing on a giraffe carcas off to your right, if you care to look," also be true (even though I didn't see it)? If so, would it still be true, even if all counting creatures had been eliminated from the face of the earth?


Yes to all of those.

Eric, I suspect that both your personal values and your criterion for "reality" is close to that of the logical positivists

Interesting. Didn't sound lie me.

Anonymous said...

One Brow said: "Yes to all of those."

Well two were opposing answers, which one are ya sayin yes to?

"If so, would it still be true, even if all counting creatures had been eliminated from the face of the earth? Or would the absence of a counting observer just make "4" a fiction, that applied to nothing, ever?"

aintnuthin said...

Well, forget that last post, I now see that you didn't include one alternative in your "all" statement.

I'm not sure in what way you are disagreeing with Feser, or think he is disagreeing with you. I take him to mean that the number 4 would apply to the quantity of lions even if no human minds existed and even if we were not around to invent a word (four) to represent that number. There would be 4 lions, either way. This, presumably, is in contrast to what the so-called "conceptualists" claim, but I don't really know. There claim seems to be that 4 is a concept which exists only in the mind. It would seem to follow that, without a mind, 4 would not exist.

aintnuthin said...

You do not explain why you do not think that these properties, whatever they are, are not "independent" or even what they are presumably dependent upon (our minds, is that it?).

"They are dependent "upon the material object(s) they describe.

Well, accordin to Aristotle, matter and form are mutually interdependent. You can't have form without matter, and you can't have matter without form. If he is right, then matter is no more "real" than forms if absolute independent existence is the test of what "exists" or is "real."

One Brow said...

I'm not sure in what way you are disagreeing with Feser, or think he is disagreeing with you. I take him to mean that the number 4 would apply to the quantity of lions even if no human minds existed ...

I think his claims go a little beyond that, but that's a subject for my next post.

Well, accordin to Aristotle, matter and form are mutually interdependent. You can't have form without matter, and you can't have matter without form. If he is right, then matter is no more "real" than forms if absolute independent existence is the test of what "exists" or is "real."

When you move from talking about the properties matter exhibits to discussing forms, you have added an additional level influence on the matter, from what I can tell.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "When you move from talking about the properties matter exhibits to discussing forms, you have added an additional level influence on the matter, from what I can tell."

Well, yeah, I spoze so, although I don't know exactly what you mean by "additional level influence." And, of course, there is the question of what is meant by "form." Assuming that matter has certain "primary" qualities, such as extension, solidarity, etc., then it can only exist in some "form" (which need not be a familiar or symmetrical form like a cube or a sphere), that seems clear.

Of course such absractions as "mass," "extension," "solidarity," etc. which some philosphers and physicists want to impute to "matter" are themselves the very kind of "universals" that some claim aren't "real" to begin with, as is "matter" itself.

"Lions," and "giraffes" are also, as is, I guess, every "category" which we posit. Do lions exist without a conceptualizing being to conceptualize them? Is there, in nature, some "pattern," "blueprint," "mold" or whatever you want to call it, which "makes" lions and giraffes want we think they are in terms of "similarities" (whether it be DNA, or whatever)? Or is there "really" no such thing as a "lion" even though there may be thousands of "lion-like" organisms running around (which, in "reality" are all unique, one time occurences of a particular organism and no more)? The whole question of what "really exists" seems ultimately to be one that is guaranteed generate futile and subjective attempts to answer.

aintnuthin said...

Note that it would not help for me to get more and more general, and therefore less and less specific, in my use of "universals" (if I think universals are fictitious and therefore problematic and "unreal"). It doesn't help to call the "4 lions" 4 critters, for example. Of course there cannot be 4 of anything unless the "anything" supposedly have some commonality which seems to make it permissible to group them. If I see a gun, a shotglass, a pornographic picture, and a mexican hairless dog on the bartop, and then say there are "4 objects" on the bartop, I'm still resorting to 2 distinct "universal" categories ("4" and "object") to express that.

aintnuthin said...

As the logical positivists seemed to illustrate, if your motivation in forming your ontological foundations is merely to "defeat" something you detest (like metaphysics or religion) you will almost invariabily end up chucking out the baby with the bathwater. What they try to "prove" or establish by definition always "proves too much," it seems. In there zealousness to "destroy" and eliminate the things they dislike, they end up undermining the very thing they are determined to preserve.

One Brow said...

Well, yeah, I spoze so, although I don't know exactly what you mean by "additional level influence."

I think I will have more on that in a new post in a couple of days. For now, let's just say that "formal cause" means a more than just being a property.

And, of course, there is the question of what is meant by "form." Assuming that matter has certain "primary" qualities, such as extension, solidarity, etc., then it can only exist in some "form" (which need not be a familiar or symmetrical form like a cube or a sphere), that seems clear.

In other words, you can always classify its properties in some fashion or another? Does that say more about matter, of the human propensity to categorize?

Or is there "really" no such thing as a "lion" even though there may be thousands of "lion-like" organisms running around (which, in "reality" are all unique, one time occurences of a particular organism and no more)?

Living things have one natural method of identifying "lions" tht are not available to non-living things: common descent. So, it's a lion if it is descended exclusively from other lions. I agree that doesn't do much to improve the situation, though.

The whole question of what "really exists" seems ultimately to be one that is guaranteed generate futile and subjective attempts to answer.

Agreed.

As the logical positivists seemed to illustrate, if your motivation in forming your ontological foundations is merely to "defeat" something you detest (like metaphysics or religion) you will almost invariabily end up chucking out the baby with the bathwater.

Agreed.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "Living things have one natural method of identifying "lions" tht are not available to non-living things: common descent. So, it's a lion if it is descended exclusively from other lions. I agree that doesn't do much to improve the situation, though."

Well, I think it does kinda improve the situation. As I understand it, much of the realism/nominalism debate originated in connection with Aristotle's species and genus concepts. Even today, the whole field of systematics in biology is fraught with theoretical issues involving classification.

But, that said, lions do tend to have similar characteristics, even if no two are absolutely indentical. There can be gross mutations and other exceptions, but on the whole there are persistent and recurring similarities. The question seems to be whether there is any real "form" of a lion which underlies these perceived similarities.

My answer would be, yeah, the evidence suggests that there is. Whatever DNA is exactly, it seems to contain information that is persistently communicated and instantiated in "the real world." If, as I think we agree, DNA is best viewed as a form of information, rather than matter, the DNA must exist in the "realm" which contains information, whatever that may be.

There does in fact seem to be a generalized "bauplan" for lions and other creatures that is repeatedly manifested in the material world. I don't think you have to abandon "naturalism" or be a mystic to recognize and adhere to this belief. If someone wants to ridicule the belief as being "platonistic," let them. The facts seem to speak for themselves.

There is in fact seem to be a "form" of a lion that does "exist" in some immaterial realm and which influences the things we see in the world, and the way we see them (the way they appear to us). It goes beyond mere subjective conceptualization, I think.

One Brow said...

I have a slight quibble, in that we would probably agree that DNA contains information as well as matter, as opposed to being a form of information. I agree that this information contains many of the general characteristics that determine the general form of a lion (although environmental factors also have their say, as well).

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "I have a slight quibble, in that we would probably agree that DNA contains information as well as matter, as opposed to being a form of information."

Well, this is where Aristotle's hylemorphism might help understand the relationship. I wouldn't say that DNA, qua information, "contains" matter, although matter may, in a sense, "contain" DNA. DNA can be seen as a combination of form (information) and matter, but not really just one or the other. The form is merely "embedded in," or "intertwined with" matter.

One Brow said...

If anything, I would say that the DNA is the matter, and the information is something you might call a gene, or a code, etc.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said: "If anything, I would say that the DNA is the matter, and the information is something you might call a gene, or a code, etc.

Yeah, I agree in the sense that the word "gene" is more appropriate than DNA. I might not say that DNA is the matter (I might say molecules are, or something), but I think we agree in substance.

aintnuthin said...

More on Van Flandern. This is in the article I cited, but not the part I cited:

"Predictions
Van Flandern, frustrated by the lack of true falsifiability in the dominant models, was very concerned about the falsifiability of his own, insisting that “models must be judged by the success or failure of their predictions, and not by aesthetics or the opinions of authorities” [8, p. 44]. Van Flandern defined the goal of the scientific method itself as “to arrive at theories that explain and predict” [4, p. 348]. Predictions, he said, “must be compared to reality at every opportunity” [4, p. 362]. To that end Van Flandern made several predictions about his three central theories: the Exploded Planet Hypothesis, the Meta Model, and the Face on Mars. Van Flandern overtly stated that failure of his predictions would affect the viability of the theories [4, p. 362].
Specifically regarding the Exploded Planet Hypothesis, Van Flandern made six correct a priori predictions about the nature of the solar system. These confirmed predictions are as follows:
1.) The general prediction that satellites of asteroids would be “numerous and commonplace” [9,10], and specifically that the Galileo spacecraft would discover one or more satellites around asteroids [11,2].
2.)That the Hubble Space Telescope would discover satellites of Comet Hale-Bopp [12].
3.)That salt water would be found in comets and meteorites (1997 private communication with University of Maryland astronomer Michael A’Hearn, 1998 suggestion to assembly of experts at Cornell University)[13, pp. 45-46].
4.)Most accurate prediction of time and rate of Leonid meteor storms 1999-2002, and Ursid meteor storm 2000, with Esko Lyytinen [14,15].
5.)That multiple moonlets would be found to have rolled to a landing on the asteroid Eros [16].
6.)That comet nuclei would have an asteroid character [17].


Exploded Planet Hypothesis
Van Flandern advocated the alternative theory (first proposed by Olbers in 1802) that the asteroid belt consists of the remains of an exploded former planet. As a specialist in celestial mechanics/dynamical astronomy, Van Flandern’s intimate knowledge of the physics of orbiting bodies led to his insight that pieces of an exploded planet would orbit each other, which led directly to his successful predictions 1, 2, 4, and 5 in “Predictions” above."

If this account is correct, then Van Flandern's "crank" theory led him to boldly predict a variety of things that have subsequently been confirmed. The page also summarizes his critique of the scientific method and some other observations that I think are worth pondering. By the way, I am no Van Flandern devotee by any means. I had never heard of him before posting about him a few days back. I don't judge him by whether I do, or do not, believe him to be a crank, in fact I don't even ask that question. I just see if I can understand what he is trying to say, and, if so, whether it seems to make sense to me.

On that criterion, based on the little I have read by him, I see no reason to think he is merely a "crank." Quite the contrary. He may be right or wrong, but he seems reasonable and far from "extreme" in the articulation of his viewpoints.

aintnuthin said...

Meant for other thread, sorry. Maybe you can move it, I dunno.

One Brow said...

DNA is the molecule (as I understand it, a chromosome is materially two long molecules weakly bonded to each other). You can have DNA without have the genetic information.

aintnuthin said...

One Brow said... DNA is the molecule (as I understand it, a chromosome is materially two long molecules weakly bonded to each other). You can have DNA without have the genetic information.

Well, OK, I see what you're saying, and that's fine, given that perspective. Another perspective (perhaps aristotlean) would be that without information, a molecule is not a DNA molecule. It's still a molecule, sure, but it aint DNA even if it appears to have a material "shape" which is indistinguable from a "true" DNA molecule.

To me the perspective one takes in such matters is rather arbitrary and relative--there is no "preferred frame of reference," kinda like Einstien said, ya know?

One Brow said...

If you think about what the letters DNA stand for (deoxyribonecleic acid, IIRC), I don't see where the notion of "information" is requred. But this is almost certainly not worth arguing about, and I am content to leave you to yor definition.