Posts tagged ‘truth’

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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February 23, 2014

On David Snoke on Nagel’s book

by Neil Rickert

Physicist David Snoke has written a review of Thomas Nagel’s book “Mind and Cosmos” (h/t Uncommon Descent):

In this post, I shall discuss Snoke’s review.  I suppose that makes it a review of a review.

I have previously discussed Nagel’s book on this blog — you can find those posts with a search on the main blog page.  I clearly disagreed with a lot of what Nagel wrote in his book.  By contrast, Snoke seems to like the book.

While I disagree with Snoke about the book, I do think Snoke’s review is well worth reading.  Nagel’s book is not to everyone’s taste, and some might find it a hard read.  Snoke, in his review, gives a synopsis of what he sees are some of the important parts of the book.  So I’ll recommend that you read the Snoke review, particularly if you want to get an overview of what Nagel was arguing.

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.

November 2, 2013

Convention (1) — introduction

by Neil Rickert

I am starting a series of posts on the idea of conventions, as in social conventions.  It has long been clear to me that conventions are important.  This, however, seems to be controversial.  As best I can tell, philosophers are deeply suspicious of convention.

As a self-declared heretic about philosophy, I am not troubled by opposing what seems to be the conventional view of convention among conventional philosophers.

Here’s some background reading:

September 21, 2013

Truth and pragmatism

by Neil Rickert

I have been intending to post on this topic.  Now my hand has been “forced.”  Sabio Lantz has a post:

at his blog, and there he displays a graph with usefulness (i.e. pragmatism) on one axis, and with accuracy (i.e. truth) on the other axis.  I responded in a comment, saying that those two (usefulness and accuracy) are not orthogonal.  My point appears to have not been understood.  So this post will attempt to flesh out the details.


To a first approximation, pragmatism amounts to making decisions on the basis of their usefulness.  We all make pragmatic decisions from time to time.  A person is often described as a pragmatist if that person is seen as taking usefulness as the most important criterion in decision making.  I doubt that anybody is a pure pragmatist, in the sense of only making decisions on a pragmatic basis.

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May 3, 2013

Truth and axioms in mathematics

by Neil Rickert

There’s been some discussion of truth in mathematics in the comments to my previous post.  Here, I want to expand a little on my view and express puzzlement at the idea that axioms are themselves true or false.

In response to a question, said “Actually, I take axioms to be neither true nor false, and I take the truth of mathematical theorems to be relative to the assumed axioms.”  Let me restate that in terms of the Peano axioms for ordinary arithmetic.

  1. The Peano axioms are neither true nor false.  Rather, they are definitional statements.  They define that part of mathematics known as Peano Arithmetic (or PA, or simply arithmetic).
  2. Theorems proved in PA are true in a relative sense.  Their truth is relative to the PA axioms.  They are true as used within PA, but perhaps not even meaningful outside of PA.

April 20, 2013

Why the hard problem is hard

by Neil Rickert

In short, the hard problem is hard because it is bogus.

The “hard problem” here refers, of course, to what David Chalmers has referred to as “the hard problem of consciousness.”  There was a recent post about this at the Rationally Speaking blog.

Lopresto starts by talking about location problems, and the “problem” of locating consciousness in the physical world:

My project here is to ask whether it’s possible to locate consciousness in the physical world. That is, can we locate phenomenal properties in the physical world? My thesis is that given our conception of the physical world, it is in fact extremely difficult to locate phenomenal properties within it.

Talk of “phenomenal properties” already sounds dubious to me.  For sure, philosophers have long used the word “phenomena” to refer to sensory experience.  But what is it that is supposed to make sensory experience a kind of property?

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.

November 30, 2012

RTH4 – Correspondence with reality

by Neil Rickert

In my previous post in this series, I explained why I thought there were problems with truth as correspondence to the facts.  In this post, I will discuss the idea of truth as correspondence with reality.

There’s an intuitive sense in which “correspondence with reality” seems to be about what we think we mean when we talk about the truth of a statement.  The biggest difficult, though, is that we would need a good account of what “correspondence” means before we could ever get started with using truth.

November 27, 2012

RTH3 – Correspondence with facts

by Neil Rickert

In my third post on our debate on Putnam’s “Reason, Truth and History” I will discuss the idea of truth as correspondence with the facts.  There are two versions of the correspondence theory that I see mentioned from time to time.  Those are:

  • truth is correspondence with the facts;
  • truth is correspondence with reality.

Of those, by far the most common is the first.  I’ll discuss the second version in a future post.

The idea of truth as correspondence with the facts leaves me shaking my head.  It makes no sense to me.  One of the participants in our online debate expressed the problem by saying it is glib and vacuous, a comment that he attributed to Strawson.  You can find that yahoo groups message here.  And that “glib and vacuous” pretty much sums up my view.

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