Archive for January 21st, 2015

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).