Posts tagged ‘theory’

March 5, 2018

A modest theory of truth

by Neil Rickert

I have previously discussed some of the problems that I have with the so-called correspondence theory of truth.  In this post, I shall suggest my own theory.

I am describing it as modest, because it does not attempt to settle all truth questions.  The use of “true” in ordinary language is a mess, and my theory will not attempt to address all such use.  Rather, it is intended only for technical uses, such as in mathematics and science.

In my last post, I made a distinction between ordinary mathematical statements such as 3+5=8 and the axiom systems (such as the Peano axioms)  that we use to prove those ordinary statements.  There is widespread agreement on truth questions about those ordinary mathematical questions.  But there is less agreement about whether axioms are true.  Mathematics can be done, without settling questions on the truth of the axioms used.

Coming up with axiom systems is also part of mathematics.  But when a new axiom system is offered, the main concern is on whether that axiom system is useful.  Whether the axioms are true is often not asked, perhaps because there isn’t a good way to decide.  Axiom systems are usually adopted on a pragmatic basis.  That is, they are adopted for their usefulness.

Something similar happens in science.  The ideal gas laws of physics are a good example.  Those laws are true only for an imagined ideal gas.  They are false for any real gas.  But although technically false, they provide a pretty good approximation of the behavior of real gases.  And that makes them very useful.  So, with the gas laws, we see important scientific laws that are adopted on a pragmatic basis, even though they might be technically false.

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February 20, 2018

What is truth?

by Neil Rickert

Pilate famously asked the title question (John 18:38).  I expect people have been asking that question for as long as they have been asking questions.  For a good discussion of theories of truth, check the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Truth is a central concept in philosophy.  But I am not at all satisfied with the way that it is used.  Hence this post.

Correspondence

If you ask about truth, you may be answered with the correspondence theory.  But the idea of “correspondence” is usually left unexplained.  I sometimes see statements similar to:

  • A sentence is true if it corresponds to the facts.
  • A sentence is true if it expresses what is the case.
  • A sentence is true if it expresses the state of affairs.

The trouble with all of these, is that they seem to be roundabout ways of saying “A sentence is true if it is true.”  And that does not say anything at all.

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January 18, 2018

Generalization in science

by Neil Rickert

According to most treatments of philosophy of science, or at least most of those that I have looked at, science advances by means of inductive generalizations. Inductive generalizations are often assumed to be the basis for scientific laws (such as laws of physics).

To me, that seems wrong.  I do not see the evidence that science is using induction.

I can agree that there are generalizations in science.  But it does not seem to me that they are inductive generalizations.

Induction

First an example of induction, to illustrate what is meant by the term.

All the many crows that I have seen are black.  Therefore all crows are black.

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February 5, 2016

Denton: “Evolution: still a theory in crisis” — a review

by Neil Rickert

Michael Denton has a new book, “Evolution: still a theory in crisis“.  So I picked up a copy, and will review it in this post.  I actually purchased the Kindle version of the book.

Structuralism vs functionalism

Denton outlines the main gist of his argument in chapter 1, where he explains that he is a structuralist rather than a functionalist.  He expands on that in later chapters.

Denton seems to be using “functionalism” to describe what I would call “pan-selectionism” or “pan-adaptationism”.  So he would see Dawkins, and probably Jerry Coyne, as functionalists.  Denton himself prefers structuralism, which is an emphasis on the forms or body plans (he uses the term “bauplan”) of organisms (or groups or organisms).

I’m inclined to say “a pox on both of their houses”.  I am not a pan-selectionist.  I usually say that I am not a Darwinist, for I see Darwinism as an over-emphasis on natural selection.  To me, Denton’s preference for structuralism seems strange.  Surely the structural features are their because of their functional role.

In section 1.1, Denton writes:

It is hard to imagine two scientific frameworks as diametrically opposed as structuralism and functionalism.  Whereas functionalism  suggests that function is prior and determines structure, structuralism suggests that structure is prior and constrains function.

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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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November 13, 2013

Convention (7) – Relativism

by Neil Rickert

When I mention my ideas about the role of conventions in science, I am often accused of being a relativist or a social constructionist or a post-modernist.  Those seem to all be related.  I am not any of those.  Today’s post will look at why my ideas about conventions do not have any relativist implication.

What am I

I’ve just said that I am  not a relativist or a social constructivist or a post-modernist.  So perhaps I should say something about what I am.  It’s not easy to say what I am, because my views don’t fit any of the standard labels.

In his book “Science and Relativism“, Larry Laudan presents a discussion between four philosophers of science, whom he labels as a positivist, a realist, a pragmatist and a relativist.  I disagree with all four of them.  For each of them, there are places where I agree with what they say.  But, overall, I do not see science the way that any of them see it.

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January 28, 2013

HSW – Kepler’s laws are false

by Neil Rickert

While my title line might seem dramatic, I want to be clear that this post is not intended as a criticism of Kepler, or of Kepler’s laws.  Rather, it is critical of the view that scientific laws are true descriptions of the world.  This post is intended as part of my series on how science works.  My aim is to describe my own understanding of Kepler’s laws.

The basis of Kepler’s laws

In case some of my readers are not familiar with them, Kepler’s laws are an attempt to account for the motion of the planets in our solar system.  Kepler’s laws were preceded by the Ptolemaic idea that the planets moved in cycles and epicycles.  Galileo argued, instead for the idea of Copernicus, that the planets traveled in circular paths around the sun.  I presume that Kepler was looking for something a little more precise than the Copernican circles.

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December 9, 2012

Perception – direct vs. representational

by Neil Rickert

The two most important theories of perception are representationalism on the one hand, and direct perception on the other.  There are probably many versions of each of those, and there are some other theories which I see as less important.  By far, the dominant theory — the one most widely accepted — is representationalism.  However, as mentioned in the previous post in this series on perception, I happen to prefer the idea of direct perception.

In this post, I plan to do to things:

  • I will briefly describe both representationalism and direct perception, and their disagreements;
  • I shall try to address some of the misconceptions about direct perception that seem to crop up.

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December 2, 2012

HSW2 – How I see Newton’s mechanics

by Neil Rickert

This continues my discussion of how science works, a topic that I introduced in a recent post.  The “HSW” in the title of this post is intended to indicate that.  My plan, for this post, is to describe how I look at Newton’s laws.  I won’t be discussing his law of gravity here, mostly to keep this post reasonably short.  I might post on that at a future time.

A note on history

I am not an historian.  My primary concern is with how the science works, rather than with how it was discovered.  If you think that I have said something about history, then you have misunderstood.  Some of what I am discussing here might actually be due to Galileo or to other scientists.

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November 25, 2012

How does science work?

by Neil Rickert

For the moment, I am presenting this as a question.  It is a question for which I believe I have the answer.  But I will postpone discussing that until future posts.

I am currently watching (for the second time), a TED talk by David Deutsch:

In that video, Deutsch is puzzling about what changed at the time of the scientific revolution.  He correctly points out that people have been making observations and coming up with explanations for thousands of years.  We often describe their explanations as myths.  Something must have changed in what we are doing, that made science possible.

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