Desktop version

Home arrow Psychology arrow Metaphysics and the philosophy of science : new essays



P Kyle Stanford

the admirably immodest goal of metaphysical inquiry has always been to answer our deepest questions concerning the fundamental constitution, organization, and character of the world, and the traditional methods of that inquiry in the analytic tradition have been clear-headed analysis of and reflection upon the concepts and linguistic categories we use to engage that world. But at least since the time of the Scientific Revolution, metaphysics has often seemed to be in something of an intellectual free-fall, with history bearing witness to the sequential collapse of progressively weaker and weaker rationales for thinking that the traditional methods of metaphysical inquiry have any claim to inform us about the world’s fundamental constitution, organization, or character. Descartes, for example, thought he had decisive reasons for believing his own concepts to be the creations of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God who would (therefore?) not allow these concepts to deceive him so long as he was careful to reason from and about them correctly. But as modern scientific knowledge accumulated, it ultimately came to seem imprudent, to say the very least, to rely on any such theistic guarantee of fidelity for our

And thanks to Rob Wilson for the idea of repurposing Douglas Adams’s (1984) clever title in this way, and to Michael Strevens, Katherine Brading, Jeff Barrett, Penelope Maddy, L. A. Paul, Eleanor Knox, Alexander Reutlinger, JackJack Ritchie, Collin Rice, Craig Callender, James Ladyman, Ken Waters, Katie Elliott, audiences at the Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science conference in Toronto and Universidad Auto noma Metropolitana in Mexico City, as well as others I have inexcusably forgotten for useful input on the subject matter of the paper itself.

conceptual apparatus. It no longer seems a safe bet that our concepts have been bequeathed to us by a divine creator, and even if they have, it does not appear that enabling us to attain a clear and accurate understanding of the world’s fundamental constitution and principles of operation was high on Her list of priorities.

But even as the advance of science called any such divine guarantee of fidelity into serious question, the pioneering work of Immanuel Kant seemed to offer an appealing rationale for something like traditional metaphysical inquiry by means of his Copernican Revolution. On this Kantian rationale, an investigation of fundamental concepts like cause, object, and property tells us what the world must be like in its most fundamental constitution simply because those concepts are the ones we use in constructing genuine experience of a world out of the raw materials that are available to us in sensation and reflection. Our most fundamental concepts, Kant suggests, do not arise in us in response to experience but are instead what we use to understand what we encounter in sensation as experience of a single, coherent, intelligible world at all. Their informativeness is guaranteed by the distinctive role they play in constituting the world as we experience it, rather than because we think some outside agent takes an interest in ensuring their fidelity.

But subsequent scientific developments have not been much kinder to this Kantian rationale for metaphysical inquiry than to Descartes’s theistic one. First, as the American pragmatists insisted, even the most fundamental conceptual categories we have now appear to be considerably more plastic than Kant allowed. After all, Kant’s famous Table of Categories is ultimately generated from a corresponding table of logical judgments, whose claim to universality was rooted in the fact that logic had not changed substantially in the two thousand years since Aristotle; sadly for Kant, he made this argument a mere hundred years before Frege’s Begriffsschrift inaugurated modern logic with a radical transformation of the Aristotelian approach whose presumed universality and permanence was the ground on which Kant thought he could identify metaphysical fixed points in the world-constituting conceptual apparatus of human beings. Even more importantly, scientific developments seem to have illustrated more clearly than any others just how wide a gap there is between the world as we may be constrained to experience it and the world as we might reasonably hope to conceive of it by means of our scientific theories. That is, even if Kant was right to suggest that our experience must be experience of a world whose geometry is Euclidean, say, or whose causal connections must be presumed to be deterministic, we seem to have developed scientific theories that do not respect these constraints but are nonetheless substantially intelligible to us as candidate descriptions of the fundamental constitution of nature. None of this implies or even suggests that there are no constraints on the forms of possible human experience or even on the ways in which it is open to us to conceive of the fundamental constitution of the world (in fact, that suggestion seems implausible in light of what else we think we know about ourselves), but it is to insist that (1) we have learned to recognize a deeper division than Kant saw between constraints on our possible experience of the world and constraints on the ways in which it is possible for us to conceive of that world theoretically; (2) we do not seem able to gain access to either sort of constraint in the ways that Kant thought were open to us; and (3) even when we can identify limits on our ability to conceptualize rather than experience the world, it is not at all clear which of these are necessary consequences of the human conceptual apparatus as such, rather than contingent artifacts of a particular historical, cultural, or otherwise locally restricted perspective. I freely confess that I am able to make no concrete sense of the idea that we might come to conceive of the world in a way that does not recognize the existence of objects with properties, but scientific history leaves me unwilling to infer that this conceptual limitation any more represents an obligatory feature of any possible human (or “discursive”) theoretical conception of the world than did the respective insistences of earlier generations that the idea of non-Euclidean space, or action at a distance, or wavelike propagation without a physical medium of transmission, or any purely mechanical and/or non-vitalistic conception of living organisms, were themselves literally nonsensical. The rug thus seems to have been pulled out from under Kant’s Copernican guarantee of universal applicability for the fundamental metaphysical categories he identified, and if it is possible for us to discover universal or obligate features of the human conceptual apparatus as such, empirical psychology now seems a much better bet for their identification than introspection concerning what presently makes sense to us, what presuppositions presently seem required in order for us to have experience in the way that we do, or what conceptual possibilities seem presently open or closed to human beings who happen to share the pretty rarified air of early twenty-first-century academic philosophy.

Even as this Kantian strategy has faded somewhat unquietly from view, however, analytic philosophy has seemed to promise yet another, though still weaker, Copernican rationale and method for metaphysics. At least since the linguistic turn, some philosophers have seemed tempted to insist that conceptual analysis tells us about the fundamental constitution of the world because it is only by means of our concepts that we engage that world—it is then, in some sense, our concepts and the associated meanings we assign to our terms that determine what we are prepared to count as a “physical object,” an “injustice,” or a “peanut butter sandwich.” But bereft of anything like the Cartesian or Kantian rationales for the fidelity or even the fixity of such concepts, this would seem a very cheap sense in which our ideas or language determine anything about what the world itself is like. It seems much more natural and less obscure to note that such conceptual analysis at best tells us something about how we (presently) think and talk about the world, and not about the characteristics of the entities and events that make it up. And the lasting significance of even this much more modest Copernican inquiry is no less compromised than Kant’s own version by our pervasive evidence of dramatic interpersonal variation and historical evolution in even the most fundamental conceptual resources available to particular agents in particular times and places. Conceptual analysis thus seems to emerge as a better vehicle for exploring the distinctive features and limits of a particular, local conceptual scheme or cultural inheritance than for identifying ways that the world must be insofar as human beings as such are able to understand, constitute, or conceptualize it at all.

It might seem, then, that the advancement of science has been downright dangerous if not lethal to the notion that there are legitimate and distinctively metaphysical forms or methods of inquiry by which we may acquire substantive knowledge about the fundamental constitution, organization, or character of the world. Perhaps it is small wonder that in the headiest days of logical positivism and logical empiricism, many philosophers of science saw metaphysics as a sufficiently bankrupt and destitute enterprise that they confidently declared an indefinite moratorium on it, famously embodied in the tradition of members of the Vienna Circle loudly declaring “M” whenever they judged one of their fellows to be seeking to articulate a metaphysical proposition (a tradition still occasionally honored in my own department, though with considerably more irony and good humor than I suspect was the case in Vienna in the 1930s).

With logical positivism and logical empiricism long out of philosophical fashion, however, metaphysics seems to be making a roaring comeback in many quarters, and not only among those analytic philosophers who are most proudly ignorant and/ or dismissive of scientific developments, but also and more importantly among many of those who are most intimately aware of and profoundly interested in the details of our best contemporary scientific theories. At least some philosophers seem to have decided it was not science but instead an excessively narrow philosophy of science that brought metaphysics into ill repute, and that our best scientific theories actually constitute a vast and underexplored resource or partner for metaphysical inquiry. But there are a variety of importantly different ways in which science seems to be playing midwife to this metaphysical renaissance, and we would do well to distinguish them from one another.

The first project in this new wave is something we might call “scientific metaphysics” or perhaps even “scientistic metaphysics.” It is perhaps best conceived as preserving the traditional aim of metaphysical inquiry to inform us about the fundamental constitution of the world while insisting that consulting our best scientific theories is the principal means by which this aim may be successfully accomplished. Scientistic metaphysicians characteristically start with our best scientific theories and then use them to try to answer questions like whether time has a privileged direction, whether organisms have essential properties, and whether the universe is most fundamentally constituted out of structure itself, rather than consisting of objects with properties.

Of course, scientistic metaphysicians rarely hold the simplistic view that we can simply read metaphysical truths off of the claims of our best science (what would be left for metaphysicians to do?), but instead typically subscribe to the more broadly naturalistic notion that it is by consulting our best scientific theories in some way or other that we can and should satisfy our metaphysical curiosities. In their recently influential contribution to this enterprise, for example, James Ladyman and Don Ross suggest that “one metaphysical proposal ... is to be preferred to another to the extent that the first unifies more of current science in a more enlightening way” (2007, 66), but they are also quick to point out that we must take note of how our best theories are “practically put to work” (119) in making this determination. Most fundamentally, Ladyman and Ross insist that “the raison d’etre of a useful metaphysics is to show how the separately developed and justified pieces of science (at a given time) can be fitted together to compose a unified world-view” (45) and that “any new metaphysical claim that is to be taken seriously should be motivated by, and only by, the service it would perform, if true, in showing how two or more specific scientific hypotheses jointly explain more than the sum of what is explained by the two hypotheses taken separately, where a ‘scientific hypothesis’ is understood as an hypothesis that is taken seriously by institutionally bona fide current science” (30). It thus seems that we must take Ladyman and Ross at their word when they note that by the very term ‘metaphysics’ they will “refer to the articulation of a unified worldview derived from the details of scientific research” (65; my emphasis).

The first thing to notice about this project of scientistic metaphysics is that it simply cannot satisfy the traditional aims of metaphysical inquiry without the aid of substantial further assumptions that are themselves at least contentious if not dubious. Perhaps most importantly, if we wish to see our best scientific theories as giving us answers to the traditional concerns of metaphysics, then it seems we must first embrace a quite strong version of scientific realism. That is, we can only be as confident in our answers to metaphysical inquiries as we are in the truth (and completeness) of the science from which they are derived (in whatever way). So the more confidence we have that the long-distant future of our own scientific theorizing will reflect revolutions, additions, and/or emendations as profound as those that separated Einstein’s physics from Newton’s, or contemporary thermodynamics from the caloric fluid theory of heat, or Mendel’s theory of inheritance from Weismann’s, the less confident we can be in the answers we get to our metaphysical inquiries by consulting (or unifying, or whatever) those contemporary scientific theories. And our confidence that profound alterations of some sort are still to come might be considerably enhanced by the recognition that the two best-confirmed physical theories we have (special relativity and quantum mechanics) are logically inconsistent with one another in a perfectly straightforward and fundamental way (see Barrett 2003).

Moreover, it appears that scientistic metaphysicians are asking us to invest an improvident faith in precisely those parts or aspects of our best scientific theories that seem most vulnerable to periodic wholesale transformations.1 After all, recently influential versions of scientific realism have modestly proposed that it is only the sort of formal structure that we find preserved between Fresnel’s and later versions of the wave theory of light (and that persists into contemporary accounts of electromagnetic radiation) that is reliably preserved in all successors of (sufficiently) successful theories. Alternatively, other realists have even more modestly suggested that we can at least retain our confidence in the existence of entities playing one or more distinctive roles (e.g., being deployed in a complex and fine-grained way to investigate properties of other entities) in our theorizing about the world.[1] [2] But especially within physics (the science from which scientistic metaphysicians seem to most frequently seek metaphysical guidance), it seems quite hard to make the case for metaphysical continuity itself across successive versions of successful theories, no matter how high we set the relevant standard of success. Was there ever a scientific theory more successful in its day than Newton’s mechanics ? But since the early twentieth century, our fundamental ontology has expanded to include fields, wave/particle duality, and much else that Newton never even so much as recognized as among the ontological possibilities. Thus, however hard the history of science and/or other argumentative considerations make it to sleep at night as some variety of scientific realist, I think they should make it considerably harder for scientistic metaphysicians to do so.

To be sure, arguments can and have been made for adopting forms of scientific realism strong enough to justify treating our most successful theories as metaphysical oracles in this way, especially when we compare the fruits of science to those of traditional metaphysical inquiry: science has helped us to achieve vast new abilities of prediction and control over nature, giving us cell phones, antibiotics, and space travel, while philosophy has given us mostly various sorts of headaches, and science has made real progress on answering its central questions and problems whereas philosophy has not obviously made any. Most generally (as I think the ghost of Groucho Marx whispers late at night in the ears of many philosophers of science[3]), the almost literally incredible practical accomplishments of the scientific enterprise can sometimes make philosophical inquiry feel a bit pale or even silly by comparison. But instead of therefore granting the sort of oracular privilege once reserved for first philosophy to our best scientific theories instead, I think a more appealing naturalistic response is simply to deny that any of our beliefs at all should enjoy such a privilege. The heart of the most appealing and plausible form of philosophical naturalism, I suggest (see Stanford, forthcoming a), is the idea that there is only a single, integrated project of inquiry into the world and our own place within it, a project that philosophers can and should pursue shoulder-to-shoulder with scientists themselves. And such a project cannot legitimately single out at the beginning of that inquiry just one part (e.g., “institutionally bona fide science”) of what Quine famously called “the inherited world theory as a going concern” (1981, 72) and treat it as automatically making inviolable or even just privileged claims to knowledge. Our picture of the world and our own place in it is responsible for making good sense of all the evidence we have simultaneously, and this must include historical evidence of the profound metaphysical discontinuities between successive generations of successful scientific theories just as surely as it must include the undoubtedly impressive practical achievements of those same theories.

This conception of naturalized inquiry, however, would not alone suffice to rule out a quite different form of scientifically-inflected metaphysical revival that we might call “complementary metaphysics,” recently pursued influentially by philosophers like L. A. Paul. In a recent article (2012), Paul breaks with the earlier tradition of metaphysical inquiry I describe above by explicitly and enthusiastically endorsing the idea that there are no special and distinctive philosophical methods for conducting metaphysical inquiry, holding instead that the methods of metaphysics (such as inference to the best explanation or the use of thought experiments) are simply a subset of those used within science itself,[4] but she insists that metaphysics nonetheless enjoys a special and distinctive subject matter because “metaphysics involves questions about features of the world that are prior to those described by science” (5).

On Paul’s account, “metaphysics concerns the search for general and fundamental truths about the world,” and “[t]he metaphysician engaging in such a search wants to determine the natures of the world, especially the fundamental natures of the world” (2012, 4). Lest this seem simply a dramatic way to describe the aims of scientific investigation itself, Paul argues that this distinctively metaphysical inquiry remains importantly distinct:

[T]he different approaches are not in tension, for the ontological account involves features of the world that are metaphysically prior to those of the scientific account. The ontological account describes the metaphysically prior categories and constituents of the physically fundamental entities, and in this sense describes features of the world that are more fundamental than those of the natural sciences. (5)

For those who might be suspicious of such “metaphysically prior categories” or features of the world supposedly “more fundamental” than those described by natural science, Paul offers a number of specific examples of questions that the sort of inquiry she has in mind seeks to address:

For example, when a fundamental physics takes fields to be the most physically fundamental entities of the world, an ontology will take the theory of the world a step further, by describing the ontological categories of the fundamental constituents of these fields. The substrate-attribute theorist will take fields and particles to be substances with properties, so will take both fields and particles to be substratum-attribute constructions from members of the fundamental categories of substance and attribute, while the bundle theorist will take fields to be bundles of property intensities and location properties, which are members of the fundamental category of property. And so on—the ontological account will take the properties postulated by the scientific theory, such as properties of charge, spin, and mass, and ask if they are fundamentally universals or fundamentally tropes (or fundamentally something else). (5)

The most pressing worry here, I think, is whether these metaphysical proposals are really adding anything to the conception of the fundamental constitution of the natural world offered by the relevant scientific theories themselves. I suspect that there is no more than what Ernest Nagel memorably called a “merely verbal distinction” (1961, 139) between thinking of fields as substratum-attribute constructions and thinking of them instead as bundles of property intensities and location properties (or universals, or tropes, or something else). This seems to be asking something like “does the conception of fields we find in contemporary physics more closely fit the philosophically reconstructed ordinary language notion of a substratum with attributes or the philosophically reconstructed ordinary language notion of a bundle of properties" and I do not see how or why the answer to that question adds anything to the conception of such fields that we get from physics itself.

Consider another example:

An ontological theory of parts and wholes (a mereology) of physical objects describes more fundamental and more general constructional principles than physics or chemistry does, for it gives general principles that govern all the physical objects with parts, including microparticles, atoms, and molecules. For example, chemistry may tell us that the physical structure of a polycarbonate is causally created by arranging elements a certain way, and that its physical parts consist of these arrangements of elements and the attractive forces between them. Mereology contributes the additional claim that the molecule just is (say), the mereological fusion of its arranged parts (the elements and the attractive forces). The polycarbonate molecule is created by this mereological fusion, but not in a causal sense. Rather, it is created in the compositional or ontological sense: it exists when the parts arranged in the right way exist. So the metaphysics tells us what it is to be a sum or physical object composed of these structured arrangements of parts, and thus tells us how the physical object is metaphysically constructed (composed) from its parts. In contrast, chemistry tells us what some of the parts and the arrangements of the parts are for different kinds of molecules, and it also tells us how to causally manipulate the world in order to bring such arrangements into existence. (Paul 2012, 5; original emphasis)

Once we have conceded that chemistry and physics tell us what the parts and arrangements of parts are for different kinds of molecules and how to bring those arrangements in and out of existence, I suggest that there is simply nothing left for a further metaphysical inquiry into the (non-causal) “composition" of molecules or into whether or not they “just are" mereological fusions to be investigating, aside from whether the idea of molecules as such parts in such arrangements strikes us as somehow more intuitively satisfying with or without the conceptual addition of a further relationship of metaphysical or ontological “constitution" among those parts which itself remains obscure (a further puzzle with which metaphysicians will no doubt see it as important to occupy themselves). This seems to be what the appeal to something like inference to the “best” explanation in metaphysical contexts really amounts to, and it is worth noting how closely it returns us to simply reporting what our conceptual and/or linguistic apparatus is presently prepared to count as a “molecule,” “physical object,” or the like. On this version, we are instead reporting something more like what we would prefer to count as a “molecule,” “physical object,” and so forth, but it still seems profoundly misleading if not perverse to think of this as telling us anything about the actual construction or composition of such entities.

The suspicion that any point of dispute here simply concerns how we prefer to think and talk about the world returns with a vengeance in the context of a further example Paul develops in detail:

For example, in the debate over whether mereological composition occurs, nihilists argue that for any simplesy, y can be arranged x-wise, but there is no sum or composite that is x. Thus, there may be simples arranged Finbarr-wise, but there is no sum of these simples that is Finbarr. The view entails that there are no persons, cats, rocks, and stars. Understood in terms of models, nihilists are defending a model of our ordinary beliefs, concepts and language that maximizes simplicity and ontological parsimony at the expense of our com- monsense interpretations of what we mean when, e.g., we say that “Finbarr ate the strawberry.” The nihilist reinterprets this claim to mean something like Some simples arranged Finbarr-wise ate the simples arranged strawberry-wise. Their defense of their model depends on valuing ontological parsimony over commonsense interpretations of ordinary language and other desiderata. Since the nihilist solution also entails solutions to related problems involving composite entities (e.g., there is no problem of material constitution since there are no entities to stand in the material constitution relations) they may also claim that their view has great explanatory value. (2012, 22-23)

Once again, I cannot see a disagreement here as concerned with anything more than which of two ways of thinking and/or talking about the world we find more intuitively pleasing or satisfying. In this example I think distinctively metaphysical inquiry quite evidently consists of simply investigating which further linguistic glosses “we” are most comfortable giving to ordinary linguistic descriptions of the world (like “Finbarr ate the strawberry”) rather than settling any substantive matters of fact about the world itself.

A third constituent project of the current metaphysical renaissance, distinct from both scientistic and complementary metaphysics, is something we might instead call the metaphysics of science. It seeks to answer questions about the metaphysical commitments of the best scientific theories we have: instead of applying science to traditional metaphysical questions, it applies metaphysics to science itself, using the traditional tools and products of metaphysical inquiry to try to better understand what the fundamental assumptions, presuppositions, and commitments of our best scientific theories really are. This is what we do when we carefully scrutinize what our best scientific theories say and how they are put to work to try to decide whether evolutionary theory or quantum mechanics is a fundamentally indeterministic theory, whether or not the Modern Synthesis treats drift and natural selection like forces of the sort we find in Newtonian mechanics, whether the units of inheritance recognized by contemporary genetics are defined by their functions or their material constitutions, and whether and how our best scientific theories make central use of such elements (under various conceptions) as laws of nature, causal dispositions, or natural kinds. Note that these are, at least in the first instance, questions about theories and not about the world: at issue is not whether the world is fundamentally indeterministic, for example, but whether the picture of the world given to us by evolutionary theory is a fundamentally indeterministic one.[5] To put the difference another way, even if today’s scientific theories are ultimately replaced with radically different alternatives even better supported by the evidence, those who work on the metaphysics ofscience will be well-satisfied if they can contribute to this evolutionary process by helping us get a clearer understanding of the scientific theories we already have: what they really say and how they really work. It is simply all the better if we are learning such things about theories that, as it turns out, are not ultimately replaced.

We should note explicitly that there is nothing automatically misconceived or hopeless about this project. History even reveals a healthy number of occasions on which our investigation of some part of the world was indeed productively advanced by explicit reflection on the fundamental metaphysical commitments and implications of our best scientific theories (as when Einstein suggested that the ether was a superfluous posit), and thinkers like Howard Stein (1989), Michael Friedman (2001), and Larry Sklar (2000) have rightly emphasized that much of the thinking of the most creative and theoretically innovative scientists has always been simultaneously scientific and philosophical in character, as those categories are presently understood. But it also seems extremely difficult to tell in advance where, why, when, and how reflection on such metaphysical commitments and implications really will make some substantive contribution to what I described above as the single, integrated project of naturalistic investigation into the world and our own place within it. We know that often it does not, and this is reflected in the widespread conviction among many working scientists that philosophy is completely and utterly useless in every way. Once in a great while, important progress really is achieved by reflection on the fundamental metaphysical commitments and presuppositions of our best scientific theories, but historically this sort of progress has most frequently been made through such reflection as conducted and guided by the concerns of those who actually do the science. Although philosophers of science are becoming increasingly sensitive to the ways in which making such progress depends on understanding the messy details of the science(s) in question, the pervasive hostility of many or even most scientists toward the contribution of professional metaphysicians to the project of investigating the world itself at least suggests that most of the time the sort of examination undertaken in the metaphysics of science makes little contribution to this integrated naturalistic enterprise, at least of any sort that is broadly recognizable by contemporary scientists themselves.

It may well be, however, that this pervasive hostility ultimately has its source in a further and deeper concern about whether metaphysicians reflecting on the commitments of our best scientific theories can really tell us anything more clearly or more helpfully about those commitments than the original scientific theories themselves do. Indeed, I take some version of this same concern to figure importantly in the motivation for the sorts of broadly “quietist” approaches to science (see Stanford, forthcoming b) offered by thinkers like Arthur Fine (1984, 1986), Stein (1989), and Simon Blackburn (2002). The worry is hard to formulate in a precise and rigorous way, but the central idea is that the best answer to a question like whether evolutionary theory is fundamentally “indeterministic” or treats natural selection as a “force” is simply to present the claims of the theory itself. This is arguably more illuminating than trying to decide whether the theory’s answer to a question conceived in philosophical terms quite remote from its central concerns is “yes” or “no,” or whether the theory even gives yes-or-no answers to questions of that sort.

In summary, then, the metaphysics of science is not the sort of fundamentally misguided intellectual project that I have tried to suggest scientistic metaphysics and complementary metaphysics are, but it is nonetheless a project with real pitfalls and challenges of its own to face. Contemporary philosophers of science may indeed ultimately contribute something important to our single, integrated project of naturalistic inquiry by reflecting upon and forcing others to confront the metaphysical commitments and implications of our best scientific theories. But given what seem like very long odds of any particular attempt actually making any such contribution, given the hostility and ridicule routinely heaped by scientists themselves on philosophical inquiry of just this sort, and given the nagging worry that a philosophical restatement of a theory’s most fundamental commitments frequently adds little or nothing to the theory’s own articulation of those commitments, I think that all we can say to those who are engaged in this project is ... thank you! Thank you for allowing the rest of us to hedge our bets without doing any of the work, to be confident that with all the time and effort you are putting into this project, if there really is something of value for metaphysical rumination to contribute to the single, integrated, ongoing project of naturalistic inquiry into the world and our own place within it, you will be sure to find it and let us know. If you hear someone in the back of the room shouting “M,” “M,” “M” after each sentence of your talk, it is probably me, and I apologize in advance. But please understand that I mean “M” as an expression of my deepest appreciation, my respect, and my gratitude, for the public service you are performing and for the many sacrifices I suspect you are making in order to perform it.


Adams, Douglas. 1984. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. New York: Del Rey (division of Random House).

Barrett, Jeffrey. 2003. “Are Our Best Physical Theories (Probably and/or Approximately) True?.” Philosophy of Science 70: 1206-18.

Blackburn, Simon. 2002. “Realism: Deconstructing the Debate.” Ratio 15: 111-33.

Fine, Arthur. 1984. The Shaky Game: Einstein, Realism, and the Quantum Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fine, Arthur. 1986. “Unnatural Attitudes: Realist and Instrumentalist Attachments to Science.” Mind 95: 149-79.

Friedman, Michael. 2001. Dynamics of Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hacking, Ian. 1983. Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ladyman, James, and Don Ross, with David Spurrett and John Collier. 2007. Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lipton, Peter. 1991. Inference to the Best Explanation. New York: Routledge.

Mumford, Stephen, and Matthew Tugby, eds. 2013. Metaphysics and Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nagel, Ernst. 1961. The Structure of Science. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.

Paul, L. A. 2012. “Metaphysics as Modeling: The Handmaiden’s Tale.” Philosophical Studies 160: 1-29.

Quine, W. V. O. 1981. “Five Milestones of Empiricism.” In Theories and Things. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sklar, Larry. 2000. Theory and Truth. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stanford, P. Kyle. Forthcoming a. “Naturalism Without Scientism.” In The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism, edited by Kelly James Clark, 91-108. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Stanford, P. Kyle. Forthcoming b. “Reading Nature: Realist, Instrumentalist, and Quietist Interpretations of Scientific Theories.” In Physical Theory: Method and Interpretation, edited by Larry Sklar, 94-126. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stein, Howard. 1989. “Yes, but ... Some Skeptical Remarks on Realism and Anti-Realism.” Dialectica 43: 47-65.

Worrall, John. 1989. “Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?.” Dialectica 43: 99-124.

  • [1] My thanks to Michael Strevens for pointing out that this line of argument is distinct from that of the previousparagraph.
  • [2] The former suggestion has been advanced most influentially by John Worrall (e.g., 1989) and the latter by IanHacking (e.g., 1983).
  • [3] Marx famously resigned from the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills with a telegram that read, “Please accept myresignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”
  • [4] Even this claim seems to me to involve considerable sleight of hand, as the appeal to inference to the bestexplanation ignores the fact that in scientific contexts it is typically what Peter Lipton (1991) describes as “likeliness” that is most centrally at issue in deciding on the “best” explanation, while in metaphysical contextssuch judgments must rely on what Lipton calls “loveliness” instead (see also Saatsi’s chapter in this volume).Also, the further features Paul insists are common to theory evaluation in both science and metaphysics (e.g.,choosing among empirical equivalents on grounds of simplicity or other pragmatic virtues) are precisely thosethat generate concerns about whether all theoretical desiderata in science are actually truth tracking. The mostnatural exception would be explanatory power, but my discussion of the examples that follow in the main textis intended to suggest that the explanatory power asserted for competing metaphysical proposals of the sort thatPaul offers is more apparent than real.
  • [5] Note that in this way and others the project I describe as “the metaphysics of science” is quite different from thatwhich Mumford and Tugby (2013) have recently associated with the same title. The enterprise they characterizeclaims to deliver substantive knowledge about the world and seems much closer to what I earlier called “complementary metaphysics”: they identify the metaphysics of science as “[t]he metaphysical study of the aspects ofreality, such as kindhood, lawhood, causal power, and causation, which impose order on the world and makeour scientific disciplines possible ... and also the study of the metaphysical relationship between the variousscientific disciplines” (14).
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics