Why I am a heretic

by Neil Rickert

I’ve been thinking about posting on this topic for several weeks.  But it has been hard to get started.  Writer’s block, I guess.

And then, earlier today, I posted a comment elsewhere which looks as if it might be a good fit for the topic.

For context, there was a brief discussion of the usefulness of ontology.  And then walto posted a new thread to give his position on the questions:

My comment was a response to that post.

Here’s what I wrote (I’ve skipped the first two sentences):

The big problem that I see in philosophy, is an over-emphasis on logic. Quine pretty much wants to see everything as logic. The early Wittgenstein had the same problem. The later Wittgenstein seems to have recognized that as a mistake.

Several years ago, I read a paper “There are no ordinary things” by Peter Unger (Synthese 41#2, 1979). I took Unger’s point to be that there are problems with the way philosophers reason with logic. Okay, that was already my opinion before I read that paper.

In retrospect, I think a better title would have been “Ordinary things are not logical objects.” It seems to me that ontology could only makes sense if it were about logical objects.

I guess I could summarize my view as:

  • Natural language is not a logic expression system.
  • Natural language statements are not logic propositions.
  • Ordinary things are not logical objects.
  • Most logic disagreements are not really disagreements over logic; rather, they are disagreements over assumed premises or disagreements over meanings.
  • Ontology is pointless.
  • Epistemology is mostly silly, but it could actually be quite useful if people would dispense with its commitment to logicism.

That more or less explains why my viewpoint is often different from that of academic philosophers.

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6 Comments to “Why I am a heretic”

  1. I don’t know if this post makes you a heretic, Neil, but it does give some idea where you’re coming from. The positions you criticize have never actually been held by anybody (except maybe Leibniz?–not sure, as I indicated elsewhere, a number of the terms you use don’t really register). My sense is that It’s a critique of some kind of bad dream about evil philosophers in Hades or something. I don’t know if I’d want to make it my rallying cry myself, but different strokes and all that.

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    • …, but it does give some idea where you’re coming from.

      That was the point of the post.

      Perhaps I worded some of it in a confusing way. But I see a similar over-emphasis on logic in what you post. For example, at TSZ, you express concern about truth conditions for Multiple-Worlds. For myself, I don’t see that it matters. I think of MW as a mathematical model. So the only truth conditions that matter are those internal to the model. The only external requirement, is that the model should fit the evidence well enough for it to be useful. I’m not a physicist, so I don’t pretend to be able to judge that.

      My understanding, perhaps wrong, is that MW was originally formulated as an alternative to QM theories that were probabilistic. So I saw MW as allowing more congenial mathematics.

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  2. I, as a rank amateur, am with you, except more radically since I believe that most, if not all, of philosophy’s pretensions are a distraction.
    A central fact about it is that any two individuals, professional or amateur, will always find points of disagreement. I.e. schools and -isms will proliferate ad infinitum. It is all a matter of PERSPECTIVE. As ‘proof’ I will invoke the idioverse as defined by Rosenzweig: everyone is genetically and psychologically different and so his or her ‘universe’ will be unique.
    Just for fun I googled ‘perpectivism’, a neologism for me, et voila, there it was: “Nietzsche adopted a view of knowledge that is referred to as perspectivism which, essentially, argues that there is no such thing as absolute knowledge”.
    For me philosophy is about clarifying my personal thoughts and I assume that is what it does for everyone else, whether they agree with me or not.
    Talk about the curiosities of QM and MW is interesting.

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    • …, except more radically …

      That’s because I toned down my comments.

      A central fact about it is that any two individuals, professional or amateur, will always find points of disagreement. I.e. schools and -isms will proliferate ad infinitum.

      Yes, that’s an important point. There’s no fixed uniquely correct way of describing the world, though a lot of philosophy is written as if there were.

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  3. Not sure I follow all that, but my inclination is to agree. But perhaps that is just the sort of statement you’d expect from those holding your intuitions! 🙂

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    • But perhaps that is just the sort of statement you’d expect from those holding your intuitions!

      Yes, that seems right.

      My experience is that many scientists have somewhat similar intuitions.

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