• Wayfarer
    9.8k
    Do you think the allegory of the cave is representative of metaphysics generally, in your understanding?
  • Snakes Alive
    638
    I think that Plato likely had something like initiation into a mystery religion in mind.
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    When 'science' is pilfered for a deck of 'science-against-science' cards (quotes),it calls to mind someone in fear of a conquering civilization who believes what they hold dear can only be saved so long as members of that civilization reveal their angelic aspect and swoop down (condescend) to save. Tales of such salvific miracles (ala the 'good samaritan') are sought out, and then held dearly, as one collects stories of the saints, or centurions with a heart of gold.csalisbury

    My initial impetus towards what I now understand as philosophy was actually counter-cultural. I came of age in the 1960’s, and in that period there was a strong sense that ‘straight culture’ (means something different now!) was basically hostile towards anything creative, spiritual or good. Remember it was the Vietnam era, there was a strong sense of antagonism between the counter-culture and mainstream culture.

    In the decades since, some counter-cultural memes have really begun to affect mainstream society. I think of ‘biosemiotics’ and ‘systems theory’ as some aspects of that, along with environmentalism generally. But overall, science in the sense it was and is deployed by the military-industrial complex, by consumer capitalism, is often dehumanising and alienating and we see the consequences of that writ large in many facets of modern culture.

    The reason I ‘cherry pick’ quotations from the likes of Bohr and Heisenberg and others, is because they’re used to illustrate salient points in the context of this whole debate. Many of their aphorisms, in particular, are pregnant with meaning, and in fact Capra’s Tao of Physics is still a counter-cultural classic for good reason. But I know that many of those born in the decades since have no feel for any of those issues - as if a window was opened into another dimension for a brief period of time, then it slammed shut again, and pretty soon at was as if nothing had happened.

    And yet.....
  • Janus
    9.1k
    Yes, I do think Lonergan is a creative, interesting thinker; but I see him mainly as a phenomenologist. I haven't read any of his work in some time; but if memory serves he believes faith is a matter of feeling. I don't really see him as a metaphysician, insofar as he doesn't propose any metaphysical system. In any case, even if he were a metaphysician, I could appreciate the originality and subtly of his thought without believing that it claims anything plausibly true about the nature of reality, just as I could appreciate great poetry or art.

    You might find this article which talks about his Critical Realism and General Empirical Method interesting.
  • bongo fury
    475
    So I brought up a discussion of the ontology of universals, from Russell's Problems of Philosophy, and other sources on the ontology of math, referencing a couple of articles from SEP and IEP. I note very little reaction to or comment on those issues, which are actually the kinds of things that academic metaphysics discusses.Wayfarer

    Yes, nice counter-example. Not that @Snakes Alive meant to shield even the likes of Russell from the aspersion that metaphysics makes fools of us all. So can we see how it arises, here?

    Perhaps it is inevitable wherever questions posed in (what might plausibly be read as) an object-language get entangled with questions in a corresponding meta-language? Where questions not requiring use of a term like "denotes" merge with questions concerning the same domain but so requiring?

    But a difficulty emerges as soon as we ask ourselves how we know that a thing is white or a triangle. — Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy (1912)

    So this might be using the word "white" to ask about things, but it might also be asking about the relation of the word (and its relatives) to the things. Probably @Snakes Alive is here begging that we please stick to either the one,

    Is it, do electrons exist? Okay, sure. Is it, do electrons have similar properties? Okay, sure.

    What else is there to say?
    Snakes Alive

    ... or the other,

    Are you talking about the general ability to use nouns?Snakes Alive

    ... While @Marchesk is with Russell in happily mixing it up:

    Do things share properties and if so, what does that entail?Marchesk

    If we wish to avoid the universals whiteness and triangularity, we shall choose some particular patch of white or some particular triangle, and say that anything is white or a triangle if it has the right sort of resemblance to our chosen particular. But then the resemblance required will have to be a universal. — Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy (1912)

    Which is woo... or where it starts.

    But I (like ?) don't understand why [modern*] nominalism should be tarred with the same brush, if all it says is, let's assume we are talking about physical particulars and also about the talking of organisms such as ourselves, about those particulars, and let's be especially careful not to get confused when the two targets of our talk overlap, which they probably often must.

    * edit, see below.
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    But I don't understand why nominalism should be tarred with the same brush, if all it says is, let's assume we are talking about physical particulars and also about the talking of organisms such as ourselves, about those particulars, and let's be especially careful not to get confused when the two targets of our talk overlap, which they probably often must.bongo fury

    It has to do with what is required by the very act of speaking. Universals are not strange medieval notions, but are basic to the mechanism of meaning.

    Nominalism means 'mere name', meaning that, we don't really speak of types, forms or ideas, and if we do, then we're only referring to something in our own minds. I think you will find the majority of people believe something very much like that.

    But in order to analyse that, we need to contextualise what the dispute between realism and nominalism was about in the first place.

    I think modern philosophy has lost sight of how critical ancient and medieval philosophy actually was. It's another popular myth that medieval philosophy was all basically about religious belief, and belief is the opposite of scepticism. But the medievals were sceptical in a different way to today's scientific sceptics, because (like the ancients) they dared to question the testimony of sense (which in the guise of 'empiricism' is nowadays practically the sole criterion of actuality.)

    And that kind of scepticism goes back to the original dialectic in Greek philosophy initiated by Parmenides and elaborated by Plato. Scepticism, in the original sense of the term, was, I think, a lot nearer to the intuition of Matrix and Inception type scenarios: what if all that we think we know is illusory? What if our existence is a kind of grand theatre, an illusion in which we and all our fellows are ensnared?

    That, at any rate, is one interpretation of the Allegory of the Cave. Of course that's the mother of all metaphysical texts so I don't want to get lost in a swamp at this point. The specific aspect of Platonic epistemology I want to focus on is the notion of the intelligibility of the objects of reason. This is how the notion of Plato's forms and ideas really played out over subsequent history. What was special about forms, ideas and mathematical truths, was that they were directly perceptible to reason, so, apodictic, in a way that sense testimony was not; they were presented as the means of navigating out of the cave. Through understanding the form of a particular, you had insight into what it is and what it means, in a way that you don't have by the mere seeing of it. This was attributed to intellect, nous, the faculty of the mind which understands what is real.

    The way this was developed in Aristotle and the later tradition, culminating in Aquinas, was through Aristotle's conception of the 'four causes' - formal, final, efficient and immediate. When combined with Aristotle's hylomorphic dualism, it gave rise to a holistic understanding which maintains the role of intellect/nous in the act of understanding.

    Words signify forms—this is the heart of Aquinas’s realism. It is not that these signified forms are universals or have any universal existence; they exist only as the individual acts of [intellect], characterizing individual things. (And, as we will see, even the sense in which they “exist” in individuals can admit of great qualification.) But as the individual forms of individual things, they have a potential intelligibility which can be abstracted by the mind; abstracting this potential intelligibility—making it actually understood by the mind—is the formation of the concept. It is by means of such a concept that a word signifies, and the mind is aware of, many things insofar as they all share that same form. This is why Aquinas said that universality is a feature of individual forms existing in the mind, insofar as those individual forms relate that mind to many things. — Joshua Hothschild

    So, you see, I think the mind does this all the time - if it didn't do this, as I think I mentioned earlier in this thread, then you could never utter a general statement (including that statement!)

    Much more could be said, obviously, but it's already a long post. Suffice to say for now that the reason this is so easily characterised as 'woo' is because the way of understanding that it was associated with has been long forgotten.

    You might find this article which talks about his Critical Realism and General Empirical Method interesting.Janus

    He is interesting. I am going to find a kind of primer on Lonergan. He's a Jesuit, and I have to say I find quite a few of the Jesuit philosophers pretty acute. But you can't say he doesn't do metaphysics, that article mentions metaphysics 14 times, and phenomenology only once, in a footnote.

    Metaphysics anticipates the general structures of reality by formulating the way our knowing operates.  Science actually works out the explanation of the data by a never-ending process of research.  — Bernard Lonergan
  • bongo fury
    475


    I liked your choice of the Russell as a case study because it is clear and analytical enough to suggest an answer to the OP's question how philosophy becomes metaphysical, often in spite of itself. I'm therefore sorry that my sketch of an answer prompted such an outpouring of metaphysics.

    I guess that kind of reaction might explain the tarring of "nominalism" as metaphysical, so I have edited my question to specify modern nominalism, which is what I would like to save from the tar brush. The assumption that to say (e.g.) ...

    ... that anything is white or a triangle if it has the right sort of resemblance to our chosen particular. — Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy (1912)

    ... is to say merely that the thing is picked out in our talking as exemplifying the same word as the other exemplar. I.e. that we say it is white when we do. You might complain that is a circular answer, but it's a circular question.

    Modern nominalism is happy with that, not only to close off metaphysical misadventures but also to address psychological questions (learning, perception) where some circularity is inevitable, though hopefully to some extent straightenable: with enough care, and enough healthy distrust of woo.

    And yes it does reject any obligation to its ancestors. Even Roscellinus . :smile:
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    I’m therefore sorry that my sketch of an answer prompted such an outpouring of metaphysics.bongo fury

    Any excuse will do. (I write user manuals also, but only for money.)
  • Janus
    9.1k
    But you can't say he doesn't do metaphysics, that article mentions metaphysics 14 times, and phenomenology only once, in a footnote.Wayfarer

    I didn't say he doesn't do metaphysics, but that his approach is phenomenological. It's like Heidegger, who eschews the traditional reificational metaphysical practices of "ontotheology". As the passage you quoted notes Lonergan sees metaphysics as anticipating "the general structures of reality by formulating the way our knowing operates". He calls his method the General Empirical Method: and this is an empirical, phenomenological, not a merely rational, approach. "Science actually works out the explanation of the data by a never-ending process of research".

    Lonergan is a complex thinker, and I think you need to actually read him (no easy task) before you start drawing conclusions about his attitudes to metaphysics. In any case even if his attitudes to metaphysics differed from mine, why do you think that would rule out my having any admiration for his thought?
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    seems to be saying that nobody understands what they believe themselves to be claiming metaphysically. If they could understand it they ought to be able to explain it.Janus

    There's entire SEP articles on various metaphysical positions explaining what is meant. But every attempt at explanation gets dismissed by those who think it's meaningless.

    I don't know what to say to that. I find the explanations meaningful, but I'm being told that I don't really. That's kind of irritating. It's similar to how my believing relatives think I must really believe God exists deep down, because it's impossible to be an atheist.

    It's facile (and usually their only "comeback") for such enunciators to claim that those who claim that their claims are meaningless simply "do not understand". — Janus

    It's not that they don't understand, it's that they claim there is nothing to understand. We're not claiming any sort of special knowledge about metaphysics. The arguments are there for anyone to read and debate.
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    I believe that what they are saying really amounts to something like "you don't feel it"; they are conflating discursive understanding with feeling. It's just the same with poetry and the arts in general; there is nothing determinately discursive to understand; it is all a matter of feeling.Janus

    Or those who think metaphysical arguments are meaningless dismiss logical arguments because they don't feel like those arguments are discursive.

    See how that works? I don't know the name of the logical fallacy, but it certainly is one.
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    The point is that if I state that any empirical object is real, we all know what that means; that we can all ( given that we are not blind, or lacking in tactile sensitivity , etc.) see it, touch it and so on.Janus

    There's plenty of posits in science which are not empirical, like quarks. They're used to explain the empirical. Thus the debate around scientific realism. That and the philosophical questions around scientific findings like the various interpretations of QM, or questions about causality and the arrow of time.
  • Janus
    9.1k
    Quarks are empirical insofar as they have empirical effects. If empirical predictions about what would be observed if they existed and acted as they are understood to do are confirmed by experiment. No such process is possible with metaphysical speculation.

    Or those who think metaphysical arguments are meaningless dismiss logical arguments because they don't feel like those arguments are discursive.Marchesk

    It;s not that the arguments are not thought to be discursive; they may be valid as fuck; but that their premises are groundless and even incoherent.

    Take the argument for independently real universals (and by independent here I mean not only independent of human minds, but of the empirically real): the proponents cannot say what it would mean for anything to be real in such a purported way. On the other hand we all know that if something is physically real, it or its effects can be observed or detected in some way.
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    On the other hand we all know that if something is physically real, it or its effects can be observed or detected in some way.Janus

    Assuming we know what "physically real" means. As for effects, we can say the existence of categories of particulars in the world is an "effect" of universals, if one wishes to argue for realism.

    It;s not that the arguments are not thought to be discursive; they may be valid as fuck; but that their premises are groundless and even incoherent.Janus

    This could apply to any contentious argument. Take Dennett versus Chalmers. One rejects the other's premises. Chalmers charges Dennett with being ideologically dogmatic about materialism, Dennett says Chalmers is being misled by faulty intuition.

    So who's right? Depends on which set of arguments you find more persuasive. So what now? Do we just agree it's all sophistry?
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    Reason, positivists think, can be a guide to life only in a very limited sense. Its role is restricted to discharging three tasks: (1) it can criticize a set of beliefs and ends for failing to satisfy certain minimal principles of logical consistency; (2) it can criticize a given choice of means towards a given end on a variety of possible empirical grounds, such as that the means in question will not actually lead to the envisaged end or will have undesirable side effects, and it can propose more appropriate means; (3) it can unmask inherently non-cognitive beliefs, for instance value judgments, that are presenting themselves as if they had cognitive content. The role of reason in discharging the third of these tasks is especially important in the view of the positivists because any statements that do not belong to the descriptive and explanatory apparatus of science, and in particular any statement about what ought to be the case, stand wholly outside the domain of rational argumentation and can be nothing but the expression of arbitrary choice or personal preference.

    Or, 'how you feel about it'.

    Routledge Ency. of Phi., Critique of Instrumental Reason.
  • Marchesk
    3.6k
    Or, 'how you feel about it'.Wayfarer

    I feel like positivism is misguided and can't support it's own claims.
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    Which is, oddly, just what positivism says about metaphysics.
  • Janus
    9.1k
    Assuming we know what "physically real" means. As for effects, we can say the existence of categories of particulars in the world is an "effect" of universals, if one wishes to argue for realism.Marchesk

    We do know; I already explained it. Universals don't have any discernible, measurable effects; to say that they do would be to commit a category error.:wink: Universals are themselves an effect of discernible physical difference.

    So who's right? Depends on which set of arguments you find more persuasive. So what now? Do we just agree it's all sophistry?Marchesk

    They're both misguided insofar as they are reifying human notions. When we say the world is physical, that claim strictly only has provenance as far as it relates to human experience; for us the natural world is physical and we know what that means.

    We might also say that for us the world of human experience is spiritual, but that is a fact of culturally and linguistically mediated feeling and idea; the natural world is beautiful, but it is only the human world that we can rightly say is spiritual. We have less justification for projecting that notion beyond the human than we do for claiming the world is physical, as such.

    If the world as experienced is physical, then metaphysical ideas consist in speculating about the nature of the world in itself. As Kant has showed us we have no rational justification for doing this. But then he also noted that we cannot help doing it. We may have practical justification for metaphysical ideas, but then it's a matter of sensibility, of preference and of feeling. That doesn't rule out metaphysical thoughts from being valued as creative and poetic, beautiful, inspiring and even ethical.
  • Janus
    9.1k
    Or, 'how you feel about it'.Wayfarer

    To say it's "somehow" more than a matter of human sensibility, when you cannot say what that "somehow" is amounts to a kind of amorphous reification (a species of faux-determination).

    To say everything is "nothing but the physical" is also a reification. This is where human knowledge cannot rationally penetrate, but nonetheless arrogates to itself a right to rational penetration.
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    There's a blog post about Lawrence Krauss that evokes a concept from Lonergan about 'animal extroversion', which ties in with a lot of what I have previously argued for about the reality of intelligible objects. It's a long excerpt, but I might as well post it. (Parenthetical comments are mine.)

    In terms theologian Bernard Lonergan develops in his major work Insight, Krauss is caught in a notion of reality as "already-out-there-now," a reality conditioned by space and time. (This is the point I made up-thread about the naturalist conception of 'what exists' as being conceived solely in terms of 'what is out there' or what exists in space and time.) Lonergan refers to this conception of reality as based on an "animal" knowing, on extroverted biologically-dominated consciousness. He distinguishes it from a fully human knowing based on intelligence and reason, arguing that many philosophical difficulties arise because of a failure to distinguish between these two forms of knowing.

    This distinction can help us identify why Krauss is confused about the ontological status of space. Our "animal" knowing identifies "reality" as an "already-out-there-now" of things, particles, fields and so on, "in" space and time. Our genuine fully human knowing, on the other hand, knows that space exists because it is intelligent and reasonable to affirm its reality.

    As a scientist, Krauss is obviously fully committed to the use of intelligence and reason. Indeed, the whole of scientific method is predicated on the use of intelligence and reason. Intelligence is the creative ecstatic origin of all scientific hypotheses. In the moment of insight - when the "light goes on," or "the penny drops," when we move from struggling to grasp anything at all to that moment of illumination when everything becomes clear - that moment is the beginning of every scientific and mathematical discovery.

    Nonetheless, it is only a first step. While we well remember the scientific and mathematical successes, the insights which were genuine breakthroughs, we tend to forget the less successful ones, the failures. Something more is needed: in science it is verification and in mathematics it is rigorous proof. Both of these involve a movement from insight to judgment; from hypothesis to checking that the hypothesis works or is correct.

    This process of reasoning leading to judgment is very different from the process of insight, less exciting, more imperious, demanding and exacting. Alternate explanations need to be eliminated; hidden assumptions need to be uncovered and verified if needed; more data may need to be found; possible predictions or consequences need to be investigated and so on.

    This is a process of reasoning; it is more than just logic and much more than just a mechanical process, because it involves an element of personal responsibility. Our insights are spontaneous and serendipitous, they cannot be forced or produced at will; judgments involve us as persons, for we may judge too hastily and appear foolish, or too slowly and appear pedestrian.

    So Krauss is very familiar with the operations of intelligence and reason. However, he has a notion of reality, not as uncovered by the operations of intelligence and reason, but by mere looking - the already-out-there-now "real" of animal extroversion (i.e. what is 'out there', what can be discovered by telescopes or microscopes). To break out of this metaphysical muddle, Krauss needs to shift his criteria of reality from "taking a look" to "intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed."

    This is the underlying criteria which grounds the scientific method, with hypothesis intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed in empirical verification. It is not an alien intrusion to the scientific project, but it is nonetheless a startling and unsettling shift to accomplish. Indeed, it is so startling that if you do not think it is startling, you haven't made it. This shift is the beginning of what Lonergan calls "intellectual conversion."

    Welcome to a fuller reality

    It goes without saying that you cannot prove the existence of God to a materialist without first converting the materialist away from materialism. In the present context, if we think of the real as an "already-out-there-now" real of extroverted consciousness, then God is not real. God becomes just a figment of the imagination, a fairy at the bottom of the garden, an invisible friend (and the frequent subject of debate on forums). However, if the real is constituted by intelligent grasp and reasonable affirmation, then reality suddenly becomes much richer, and the God-question takes on a different hue.

    But it is not just the God-question that we can now begin to address more coherently. There are a whole range of other realities whose reality we can now affirm: interest rates, mortgages, contracts, vows, national constitutions, penal codes and so on. Where do interest rates "exist"? Not in banks, or financial institutions. Are they real when we cannot touch them or see them? We all spend so much time worrying about them - are we worrying about nothing? In fact, I'm sure we all worry much more about interest rates than about the existence or non-existence of the Higgs boson! Similarly, a contract is not just the piece of paper, but the meaning the paper embodies; likewise a national constitution or a penal code.

    Once we break the stranglehold on our thinking by our animal extroversion, we can affirm the reality of our whole world of human meanings and values, of institutions, nations, finance and law, of human relationships and so on, without the necessity of seeing them as "just" something else lower down the chain of being yet to be determined.

    The Metaphysical Muddle of Lawrence Krauss, Neil Ormerod.
  • csalisbury
    2.5k
    My initial impetus towards what I now understand as philosophy was actually counter-cultural. I came of age in the 1960’s, and in that period there was a strong sense that ‘straight culture’ (means something different now!) was basically hostile towards anything creative, spiritual or good. Remember it was the Vietnam era, there was a strong sense of antagonism between the counter-culture and mainstream culture.

    In the decades since, some counter-cultural memes have really begun to affect mainstream society. I think of ‘biosemiotics’ and ‘systems theory’ as some aspects of that, along with environmentalism generally. But overall, science in the sense it was and is deployed by the military-industrial complex, by consumer capitalism, is often dehumanising and alienating and we see the consequences of that writ large in many facets of modern culture.

    The reason I ‘cherry pick’ quotations from the likes of Bohr and Heisenberg and others, is because they’re used to illustrate salient points in the context of this whole debate. Many of their aphorisms, in particular, are pregnant with meaning, and in fact Capra’s Tao of Physics is still a counter-cultural classic for good reason. But I know that many of those born in the decades since have no feel for any of those issues - as if a window was opened into another dimension for a brief period of time, then it slammed shut again, and pretty soon at was as if nothing had happened.

    And yet.....
    Wayfarer

    I understand, I grew up around many veterans of the counter-cultural 60s. And, with some (not all) I often got the sense that the antagonism was being held onto at the expense of the thing that was antagonized.

    For example: While the Iraq War was an unabashed mess, I remember that many of the veterans of the 60s in my hometown seemed to recapitulate everything that was happening in terms of Vietnam - literally, often. I remember being at a barbecue at a frisbee golf course, listening to people talk about Gulf of Tonkin and WMDs and it wasn't that the parallels weren't there, I mean, it's that the whole animating spirit was the need to recast, piece-by-piece the present in the past. It felt like everyone had been waiting for the dragon to rear its head, the same head, to define themselves against, in the same way

    I'm not part of the military-industrial complex (at least in any capacity other than being born American), I believe in God, the afterlife, and prayer. I have a syncretic belief system and think that eudaimonia requires a mesh of spiritual, aesthetic and practical practices, community, and a faith in a life beyond our own.

    But, all that said, I do not think that the metaphysical arena is related to any of that. I think it can be entered into, innocently enough, but that, entered into, it is a kind of supra-personal thought- game, with its own autonomous logic, that endlessly recreates itself, gradually stripping away content. In the same way, one can enter into business with a plan to change things for the better, but get caught up in the autonomous logic of business. Lots of things are like this, not just metaphysics. But the point is that arguing for one side - the true, the good, etc - in metaphysical terms is just one necessary aspect for the metaphysical system of argument to propagate (like all systems it lives in time and needs an influx of energy to continue.)

    Have you read Hesse's Journey to the East? I read it a long time ago but from what I can recall it was partially the excitement about being a counter-cultural fellow traveller and partially about making sense of how that changes as things fall apart. One thing he talks about is how those on the journey, while believing they're still on the journey, can slowly, frog-in-boiling-water, become something else entirely. That's the lens I'm approaching this from - not a scientism shut-down of the divine. I'm on your side, I'm saying the metaphysical approach rots that side out.
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    Thanks, very considerate response. I read a lot of Hesse in my 20’s, very much part of my corpus.
  • fdrake
    3.9k
    In short, the middle layer is the layer at which the language takes action – and since at the first layer it has no coherent set of truth conditions, the middle layer acts as a proposal, conscious or not, to change the way one speaks, so that the same null truth conditions, involving the world as one always took it to be, are scrambled to be described in different vocabulary. Since we can create infinite vocabularies to describe the same state of affairs, this arena of changing the way people talk is endless. It's important to realize that this second stage can be more or less conscious, since we are typically not finely aware of how the claims we make do or don't have descriptive application, and we just stick to the words themselves, sort of like magic talismans, which we hold onto and say 'this is true!' Note that this also explains why metaphysicians have no subject matter, and do not investigate anything, but only converse – it is because the practice in principle only offers new ways of speaking, these proposals to speak in new ways are always available by talking.Snakes Alive

    I largely agree with this! But I still think metaphysics is valuable. I think you are quite right in pointing out that metaphysical talk is essentially carving up the world in different ways. It's like gardening but with ideas; what happens if I plant this idea there? What happens if I take this idea and tie it to that one, will they grow together? What happens if I declare this cutting up of the world rather than that one; what does it emphasise?

    This does not work of course, and the philosopher consciously may know this. But the process itself is so intoxicating that it pulls us in pre-rationally. And it may even service deeper desires – for instance, if I fear change, the mantra that 'time is unreal' may comfort me, because that means change is unreal, and so change cannot hurt me.Snakes Alive

    I don't think you should be so hasty in psychologising metaphysics like that though, as if individual aesthetic taste or some unarticulated need is the sole sufficient reason for preferring one flavour of talk over another.

    It might not strictly be philosophy; but at the margins, people use it to inform research methodology in an active way; do you interpret self reports in a hermanutic-phenomenological paradigm; do you interpret it with a social dynamics one?

    We could get into a game where those marginal cases aren't philosophy, but I'm not really interested in having that discussion. I'm interested in how "carving explanations at their joints" differently engenders different explanatory categories and the use they're put to; ultimately, what talk they facilitate and what they shut down.
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    Morris Lazerowitz was interested in the nature of metaphysics, starting from the hunch that it was not what its practitioners claimed it was (an inquiry into the basic nature of things).Snakes Alive

    Sorry, I haven't read the rest of the discussion. Just wanted to say that your introduction aroused my curiosity, so I read a couple of his papers to get a sense of what he was about. I chose papers on specific questions, because I think they reveal more about a philosopher's outlook than what he says about his own philosophy: The Existence of Universals (1946) and The Paradoxes of Motion (1952).

    In these articles he deploys the kind of deflationary, anti-metaphysical, language-oriented analysis that characterized early analytical philosophy, e.g. Russell (with whom he polemicizes), Wittgenstein and Moore (his teachers). I am attracted to that kind of philosophy in general, and find his arguments fairly persuasive.

    I have to say though that as far as literary style, he is no Russell. And I don't know about the rest of his output, but these two papers are badly in need of an editor: both could probably be shortened by a factor of four, at least.
  • Andrew M
    1k
    The Existence of Universals (1946)SophistiCat

    Lazerowitz's reclassification hypothesis at the end of that paper seems apt for this thread. Which is the philosophical proposal that an abstract word, such as "horse", can be reclassified as a proper name for an abstract entity.

    He gives an example of this from Quine:

    It is convenient, however, to regard such general terms [ 'wise', 'city' ] as names on the same footing as 'Socrates' and 'Paris': names each of a single specific entity, though a less tangible entity than the man Socrates or the town Boston.W.V. Quine, Mathematical Logic

    Understood metaphysically, it opens up a whole new world that is otherwise hidden to the ordinary person. See, for example, Plato's Allegory of the Cave.
  • Snakes Alive
    638
    The deeper point for Lazerowitz is that one can in principle construe these words how one pleases where the ordinary language itself doesn't decide, as naming something or not, depending on how one sets up the language. So (early) Quine is fundamentally mistaken in thinking there is something to worry about in the ontological commitments of language, partly because there is no one ontology we have to worry about, and partly because there is no one language we're forced to speak. So the initial analytic project was fundamentally mistaken.

    This was also the view eventually taken by Carnap. There is a lot of overlap here – the error the philosopher makes is, in Carnap's turn, thinking external questions are internal ones, and so that they are questions 'about' something rather than effective insistences on speaking a certain way.
  • Snakes Alive
    638
    I like those articles because I cannot, after a considered appraisal of the issue, take the problems he critiques seriously after reading them. I just can't: psychologically, they convince me.
  • Wayfarer
    9.8k
    I ploughed through quite a bit of the first Lazerowitz article, found it repetitive. I think he mischaracterises the subject of the debate. It is true of course that universals are general terms, but the question ought to be asked, where do we acquire the ability to recognise general forms in the first place; which leads to the question of what is the nature of forms? They’re more than simply artifacts of language, as they provide the infrastructure against which language is operative; they’re part of the ‘mechanism of meaning’.

    I still think the essay I refer to, What’s Wrong with Ockham?, Joshua Hothschild, provides a better analysis of the meaning of universals and the consequences of the abandonment of realism.
  • SophistiCat
    1.3k
    I find his criticism of universals most persuasive where he attacks the very question. He questions why someone would even suppose that in addition to the meanings of general words - which is how universals appear to the uninitiated - there must be something else besides, something that non-philosophers, as well as a good portion of philosophers, do not see, and that could be discovered (how?)

    One might object that there must be a reason for why we have different general words like horse or white in the first place. How do most people acquire facility with the use of such words without much trouble and without any indoctrination from misguided philosophers? But I think he correctly diagnoses the problem with traditional realist/nominalist controversy (at least in the way that he presents it, which I don't know if it is quite fair) and thus understands that providing a positive account for the existence of general words would be missing the point.
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