Archive for September, 2014

September 13, 2014

Metaphysics — an example of what I criticize

by Neil Rickert

This morning, I came across a blog comment which is a good example of where I see metaphysics leading us astray.  I replied to that comment, and this post will mainly be quoting my reply.

Here’s what I wrote, starting with a quote from the comment to which I was responding:

Kantian Naturalist: More precisely, the point of the act/potency distinction (energeia and dunamis, respectively) is to characterize how the world must be in order for there to be modally robust empirical generalizations.

As a piece of metaphysics — indeed, a fundamental position in what might be called “transcendental realism” — it strikes as perfectly right that we should ask “how must the world be in order for science to be possible?” as well as the Kantian question, “how must the mind be in order for science to be possible?” And in answering the former question, it seems perfectly right to say that the world must have modal structure, otherwise there is nothing to make our counterfactuals correct or incorrect. (This is different from the epistemological question of how to explain our conceptual grasp of modality.)


To me, this reads like philosophy’s version of “Adam and Eve.” That is to say, it comes across to me as the origins myth that is the founding belief of philosophy seen as religion.

I prefer the alternative: it is obvious that science is possible, so let’s investigate how does it actually work. Let’s not start with a dubious a priori assumption, that it works by generalization (induction).

September 11, 2014

Metaphysics — what I am against

by Neil Rickert

I’ve occasionally suggested that I don’t do metaphysics.  One of the comments to my previous post took me to task over that, saying that it was an example of doing metaphysics and that I was therefore contradicting myself.

Such literalism.  This kind of quibbling is part of why many scientists are dismissive of philosophy.  Here, I’ll try to clear up that confusion.

What I’m against

Of course, every thinking person will do some thinking about metaphysical questions, self-included.  We can’t help it.  We are confronted with these questions, posed by others.  They may be questions that have no answers.  But we will think about them anyway.

What I oppose, is using metaphysical assumptions as a basis for other reasoning, such as reasoning about knowledge.


I’ll illustrate the point with mathematics.  There, I avoid platonist assumptions.  I usually consider myself a fictionalists (mathematical entities are useful fictions).  And I suppose that, technically, fictionalism is considered a metaphysical position.  But the point of fictionalism is to avoid making assumptions about the existence of mathematical entities by treating them as fictions.

read more »

September 1, 2014

The simulation argument

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post over at Scientia Salon

Mark O’Brien asks a question and gives his own answer with:

Could a computer ever be conscious? I think so, at least in principle.

As O’Brien says, people have very different intuitions on this question.  My own intuition disagrees with that of O’Brien.


After a short introduction, O’Brien presents two starting assumptions that he makes, and that he will use to support his intuition on the question.

Empirical assumption 1: I assume naturalism. If your objection to computationalism comes from a belief that you have a supernatural soul anchored to your brain, this discussion is simply not for you.

Personally, I do not assume naturalism.  However, I also do not believe that I have a supernatural soul.  I don’t assume naturalism, because I have never been clear on what such an assumption entails.  I guess it is too much metaphysics for me.

read more »