Archive for January, 2015

January 31, 2015

Structuring the world

by Neil Rickert

I noticed this yesterday:

Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.

It’s from actress Julianne Moore.  I only noticed it, because it was quoted in a post by Hemant Mehta.

I agree with Moore, and appreciate her insight.  But I do wonder why I am hearing this from an actress.  Why am I not seeing it discussed by philosophers?

Maybe it is being said by some philosophers, but not by most of them.  When I say or write something along those lines, philosophers seem to react as if I have said something that is obviously wrong.

I expect to write more on the idea of structuring in future posts.  So this will serve as a light introduction to the topic.

January 22, 2015

A heretic’s take on scientific realism

by Neil Rickert

Note that the “heretic” in the title refers to me, and comes from this blog’s title.

I have long considered myself a scientific realist.  At least, on some definitions, a scientific realist is one who believes that science provides the best available descriptions of the natural world.  And, in that sense, I surely am a scientific realist.

I’ve been noticing that some people have been suggesting that I am an instrumentalist or an anti-realist.  So they must be using a different notion of “scientific realism.”  There’s a post, today, at Scientia Salon which gets into such an account of scientific realism:

Here, I will discuss that post and where I have difficulty with the way that it looks at science.  My own view of science, and how it works, should be apparent from that discussion.  And I think it will be clear that my own view is non-standard (and, in that sense, heretical).

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January 21, 2015

Against ontology – part 2

by Neil Rickert

My second example of why I don’t like ontology, is a TEDx talk by Kit Fine (h/t Brian Leiter).  In that talk, Fine discusses what is the fundamental nature of the being of numbers.

It’s a puzzle to me that anyone would suppose that numbers have any fundamental being.  It seems obvious that they do not.

Fine gives three possible versions of the nature of numbers.  The first is due to Frege and Russell, the second to von Neumann, the third to Cantor.  The only one of those that I find useful is von Neumann’s.  But I do not take it as being about the nature of numbers.  Rather, I take it as a useful way to model arithmetic within set theory.  I have always assumed (perhaps wrongly) that was why von Neumann proposed that definition.

Kit Fine seems to think that there are puzzles about numbers and mathematics, that can be resolved by understanding the nature of numbers.  He suggests that there is a puzzle as to why mathematics is so useful in science.  Others apparently also see that as a puzzle.  Fine asks (about numbers):

How can they be so far removed from the familiar world, yet so intimately connected to it?

Presumably, he thinks that understanding the fundamental nature of numbers will answer that question.

Numbers have no fundamental nature.  Perhaps knowing that will help Fine.

The usefulness of numbers and of mathematics is explained by how we use them, not by what they are.  The usefulness of numbers in science is explained by how scientists use them.

January 21, 2015

Against ontology – part 1

by Neil Rickert

I’ve been critical of metaphysics in the past.  When I suggest that there is a problem with metaphysics, philosophers seem to come out of the woodwork to tell me how wrong I am.

Well, never mind that.  I’ll continue to call them as I see them.

I’m told that ontology is the main part of metaphysics.  I’ve recently come across some examples of ontology that illustrate my viewpoint.

This post will comment on the first of those examples.  It is a blog post

As an example of “fundamental ontology” it mentions:

First, what is the nature of being – is it all one substance diversified into different entities, or do the entities themselves have qualitatively, perhaps even quantitatively, separate substances?

I presume some people see that as an important question.  To me, it looks as if some words have been strung together so as to match the syntactic form of a question.  But it still reads as word salad.

Now maybe I have just picked one sentence out of that blog post.  So go read the whole thing.  To me, it all seems silly.

So I see ontology as nonsense.  Epistemology should be done without ontology.  If you don’t think that epistemology can be done without ontology, then you are doing it wrong.  Lots of people are doing epistemology wrongly.  (And that’s why I am a heretic).

January 2, 2015

Intuition and philosophy

by Neil Rickert

This is mostly a reaction to a recent post at Scientia Salon:

Apparently some philosophers, including the author Massimo Pigliucci, are seriously arguing that philosophy does not depend on intuition.

I had to check my calendar.  It seems far to early in the year for an April Fools joke.  The argument presented seems to suggest a staggering lack of self-awareness among philosophers.

Mathematics and intuition

I’ll start with where I see intuition as important.  And, quite frankly, I could not do mathematics or science without intuition.  Skeptics often criticize the use of intuition, but I’m inclined to think that when I am expressing skepticism, that skepticism is partly based on intuition.

Mathematics can be said to have a formal structure that is independent of intuition.  We make definitions and prove theorems based on those definitions.  Thus the conclusions are formal consequences of the definitions and other assumptions, so technically they are not dependent on intuition.

However, in order to do mathematics without any intuition, I would  be forced to rely on a mathematical philosophy of formalism.  Yet mathematics, seen as logical manipulation of formal symbols, seems sterile.  Almost everything that I value about mathematics depends on intuition.  My ability to use mathematics to solve real world problems depends on intuition.  My ability to think of numbers as if they were actual entities rather than formal meaningless symbols, is dependent on mathematical intuition.