Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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Many early analytic philosophers regarded ontology as a branch of metaphysics that is either trivial or meaningless. But from the fifties onward, attitudes changed. Instead of having a good laugh about Heidegger's 'The Nothing noths', analytic philosophers took up ontology themselves, and with a vengeance. The war cry that philosophy should concern itself with things instead of words, with reality instead of concepts, has gained wide currency......
Quine, who has been the main inspiration behind analytic ontology. Quine's naturalistic ontology purports to help science in drawing up an inventory of the world. Through logical paraphrase it seeks to identify and reduce the ontological commitments of our best scientific theories. Against this programme I shall argue that Quine's conception of ontological commitment is inadequate, and that his logical paraphrase cannot contribute to the exploration of reality, but at most to the clarification of our conceptual framework .
So the analytical folk preceded the AI folk. And, yes, it's time to put those neo-ontologists in their place!
Ontological commitment (2,700 hits):
Ted Sider is not shy about his ontological commitments: Trenton Merricks, Objects and Persons (2001):
Many otherwise reasonable philosophers are impatient with ontology. These philosophers will probably have little time for Objects and Persons, which claims that while there do exist "atoms arranged statuewise", there do not exist statues; while there do exist atoms arranged tablewise and atoms arranged chairwise, there exist no tables and chairs.
Yes, I believe that chairs exist, but only as cosmic furniture: only in virtue of their cosmological function in fulfilling God's love. So that make us God's tools? Yes, and so is God ours. And, to some non-negligible degree, I am the tool of my chair. This is just functional relationalism; basic to any dynamic idealism. But does this entail a downward causation relative to chairs? Yes. Chairs are subjects of and to all sorts of causation, as are we.
Nihilist philosophers of Merricks' ilk [except for atoms & humans, as noted below] forcefully remind us that any ontological commitment at all is not a casual, piecemeal affair. If chairs exist then as clearly as night follows day, so must God exist. Are you able to resist this logic? Perhaps, then, you need some remedial logic.
Merricks makes an exception to his causal overdetermination argument for human beings. In addition to atoms arranged human-wise, there also exist humans. On its face, this exception is theoretically unsatisfying, all too convenient, and even tender-hearted. But Merricks’s justification for the exception is interesting: humans have causal powers beyond the causal powers of their micro-parts. Indeed, the property consciousness, instantiated by human persons, does not even globally supervene on microscopic physical properties, and it conveys distinctive causal powers.
Vitalism and psychism are not about to go away.
I need to consider 'scientific realism'. Does it imply an ontology broader than physicalism? I gather that scientific realism is equivalent to naturalism in its commitment to the ontology of the theories of science. There may be degrees of commitment to particular ontologies, but this is not spelled out. My question is the degree to which scientific realism is anti-reductionist.
But see The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism. Koons does not consider reduction, per se, but he points out that scientific realism necessarily entails an irreducible normativity that is incompatible with naturalism. A good point. [Apparently my neurons have grown more tolerant of Robert's pedagogy.]
Let me mention again the Research Project: Rationality and Non-Reductionism (van Tilburg University, NL). Remind me to investigate this project. One participant is Dr. M. V. P. Slors. Like the other participants , Slors struggles mightily to placate both the emergentists and the reductionists. They are of the school that all differences can be analyzed away. This, in itself, constitutes a reductionist outlook. Is this philosophy or is it arbitration? I think the latter. On second thought, I am also a monist. We believe that all differences will be resolved in the end. Instead of downward reduction, I anticipate and upward reduction which is the hierogamos.

[12/6]
Continuing with "scientific realism" & physicalism (400 hits):


I am finding no one remarking on the logical incompatibility of scientific realism and physicalism. Are the philosophers asleep at the switch? At the vary least, scientific realism entails the reality of universals, beyond those entailed by physics.
The Deep Problem of Physicalism -- Bryan Wesley Hall:
Many philosophers of mind attempt to “explain away” the mental via the physical. This explanation has had many permutations over the years. Barbara Montero, in her recent article “The Body Problem,” makes the point that all of these physicalist explanations require that one have a consistent and coherent definition of the physical. If one does not have this definition, then any attempt at explaining away the mental in terms of the physical is questionable.
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Hempel’s Dilemma: this dilemma has two horns. The first horn of the dilemma states that if one defines the physical using contemporary microphysical entities, then physicalism is probably false. In every likelihood, the contemporary posits of microphysical science will seem as abstruse to physicists one hundred years from now, as aether, phlogiston, or Aristotelian elementals seem to us today. The second horn of the dilemma states that if one defines the physical by reference to a yet-to-be-completed microphysics, then our definition of the physical is conceptually vacuous but trivially true.
After several decades, Hempel's dilemma still stands. Physicalism remains logically vacuous. Why then does its ghost still haunt the philosophy of science? It is because Scientism is still alive in the land. Where is the silver spike that can be driven into the heart of this Zombie? The Postmoderns have made a go at Zombie killing, but their own notorious metaphysical indulgences (i.e. incoherent pluralism) render any such attempts highly suspect.
A Kantian Critique of Scientific Realism -- also by Bryan Hall:
Our purpose is to revisit the scientific realist debate from a Kantian perspective. Kant was certainly not this kind of scientific realist, and if his theory is shown to be damaging to the scientific realist’s cause, then I believe the whole history of philosophy that fell out of the scientific realist position becomes highly questionable. This is particularly true of scientific essentialism. The purpose of this paper is not to challenge scientific essentialism per se, but rather to challenge the thinking that led up to the advent of scientific essentialism, namely, scientific realism.
Neither physicalism nor scientific realism stand up to scrutiny. Isn't it time to look elsewhere for coherence and rationality? In the meantime, the postmoderns are content to wallow in their own quagmire.
I am reminded that Physics is replete with abstract mathematical constructions and universals. Also, like any realism, physicalism has to invoke normative standards. If norms and abstractions are irreducibly entailed by physicalism, then on what basis may anything of a mental nature be excluded, even without appealing to the Quantum? How any version of materialism ever achieved a status above that of moonshine will be the enduring mystery of modernism.
Naturalism : A Critical Analysis (Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Philosophy) by William Lane Craig (Editor), J. P. Moreland (Editor). Have I not already noted this title [here]? It is reviewed here by the 'Infidels': Review of- Craig, William Lane, and Moreland, J.:
Of course, it can hardly be denied that there are enthusiastic naturalists who fit the characterization offered by Craig aThe next chapter illustrates the widespread confusion or conflation of scientific materialism with science. Machines are described in anthropomorphic terms which are then re-applied to human beings. Wallace gives examples from journalistic articles and textbooks, but reserves his main analysis for the philosophical conflations of John Searle, who does nevertheless reject some of the more crass materialistic approaches to consciousness but cannot finally extricate himself from its assumptions. This leads into the final chapter on scientific materialism as an ideology, which begins with a masterly statement of the overall view. If you disagree with this you must be either ignorant or irrational! However, as Wallace repeatedly observes, the astonishing thing is not materialism itself (as Crick maintained) but the fact that people 'so enthusiastically embrace an unconfirmed speculative theory that utterly denies the validity, even the very existence, of their personal, inner life' (p.161). The ethical implications of such a view have proved disastrous in the past and may do so againnd Moreland. Moreover, it is true that those naturalists are enemies of theism. However, even if the collected essays manage to land some effective blows on those naturalists, it does not follow that the cause of theism has been advanced in the least.
Really, now! I'm certainly relieved to know that the Infidels are not enthusiastic about naturalism. They have excellent reasons not to be. The naturalists must be hurting if even the infidels are keeping them at arms length!

[12/7]
Still on the topic of "scientific realism" & physicalism:


The Taboo Of Subjectivity -- B. Alan Wallace, Oxford New York, 2000, Reviewed by David Lorimer:
Subtitled 'Towards a New Science of Consciousness', this is a landmark book in consciousness studies in the grand tradition of William James. Indeed it is the kind of book that James would have written had he been updating his writings 100 years on.
A section on the ideology of scientific materialism unpacks the key assumptions in a way not unlike the manifesto contained in this issue: objectivism, monism, universalism, reductionism, the closure principle and physicalism. While these may hold up for the world of scientific materialism, they are lead to an impoverished understanding of reality as a whole.
More generally, the sceptical approach of science is not applied to its philosophical assumptions as these remain for the most part unconscious.
The next chapter illustrates the widespread confusion or conflation of scientific materialism with science. Machines are described in anthropomorphic terms which are then re-applied to human beings. Wallace gives examples from journalistic articles and textbooks, but reserves his main analysis for the philosophical conflations of John Searle, who does nevertheless reject some of the more crass materialistic approaches to consciousness but cannot finally extricate himself from its assumptions. This leads into the final chapter on scientific materialism as an ideology, which begins with a masterly statement of the overall view. If you disagree with this you must be either ignorant or irrational! However, as Wallace repeatedly observes, the astonishing thing is not materialism itself (as Crick maintained) but the fact that people 'so enthusiastically embrace an unconfirmed speculative theory that utterly denies the validity, even the very existence, of their personal, inner life'. The ethical implications of such a view have proved disastrous in the past and may do so again....
In his conclusion, Wallace suspects that consciousness may be the cloud on the horizon at the end of the 20th century, comparable to the ultraviolet catastrophe [physicists take note] at the end of the 19th. From a contemplative perspective, the current scientific world-view is fundamentally flawed since it has failed to take into account the role and significance of consciousness in nature. He sees contemplation playing a mediating empirical role between science and religion as they overlap in the mind itself.
The natives are getting restless.
Nicholas Rescher appears on the list. He is one of less than a handful of senior professional philosophers in this country pursuing contemporary idealism. From his incredibly voluminous list of publications, not a single one is posted as being online. This is a major handicap. He does have a list of 94(!) books on Amazon. What little I have seen of his work, I find murky. I have not been able to discern any narrative of a world view. Lack of any narrative sensibility goes with the analytic territory. But even an Umberto Eco can only project his continental hermeneutic skill onto the past. The future remains a blank slate for us non-materialists. I remain convinced that it is the Eschaton that lurks beneath this deceptively placid surface. The Eschaton is the telos of all narration. The closer that one approaches to the metaphysical foundation of the Eschaton, the deeper is its shadow. No narrative of less than biblical proportion can illuminate that shadow. This is the eschatological barrier to all narration of the future. The breaking of that barrier entails a Parousia. It's that simple. The coherence we struggle for here is simply the Logos, in all its historical singularity. While the Cat is away, we mice have no choice but to keep on playing.
Nicholas Rescher, Objectivity- The Obligations of Impersonal Reason Reviewed by Scott Ryan:
Nicholas Rescher, probably the single most prolific [!] author among contemporary philosophers, here provides a sturdy defense of objectivity based on the primacy and inevitability of practical reason.
Objectivity hinges on rationality -- as a matter not simply of logical coherence, but also "of the intelligent pursuit of circumstantially appropriate objectives." From its requirements follows a sort of "rational economy," the principles of which are very obviously objective and universal although they may (and do) have different applications in different situations.
On this foundation, Rescher takes on a host of contemporary critics of objectivity -- anthropologists, historicists, sociologists of knowledge, personalists, feminists, Marxists and class-interest theorists, post-modernists, and social activists. He finds that each attack on objectivity involves a misconstruing of what it is all about, and devotes the remainder of the volume to showing why this is the case.
A 'rational economy' outside of a cosmological, eschatological context would be throwing good money after bad. Coherence is not sold retail.
As always, Rescher's presentation is clear and cogent.
You recognize, of course, that my use of 'murky' for someone of Nicholas' provenance is being relative in the extreme. He is fighting the good fight. I'm just not sure that he is aware of Godzilla in the wings. The awareness of that Presence must entail a new gestalt. How can he be so close, and yet be so far? The only clue may lie in the compulsive nature of his publishing, as if to keep the Monster at bay. I am only two feet on the other side of that fence.
Now!, from the Helsinki Metaphysical Club (at the University of Helsinki, 'an open discussion and study group, which is primarily focused on the investigation and advancement of Peircean philosophy and sign theory'), we bring you:
EMERGENCE THEORIES AND PRAGMATIC REALISM -- Charbel Niño El-Hani & Sami Pihlström, Draft version, February 2002. Comments welcome. Please do not quote. (Shhhhhh........)
The re-emergence of the emergence debate is related to the great development of the sciences of complexity, interdisciplinary fields of research concerned with the complex properties of life and mind, in the 1990s (Emmeche 1997). Another reason for the strong comeback of this philosophical doctrine lies in the collapse of positivistic reductionism and the related ideal of an unified science since the 1970s. We can think of the fortunes of reductionism as inversely correlated with those of emergentism, and, thus, the fading away of reductionism and the enthronement of non-reductive materialism as a new orthodoxy would simply amount to the resurgence of emergentism (Kim 1999:5). The revitalization of the emergence debate is also related to a number of emergentist hypotheses about mind and consciousness that have been proposed (e.g., Sperry 1969, 1983, 1991; Searle 1992; Baas 1996). The very term ‘emergence’ and its derivatives have become popular in the context of computer models of non-linear dynamical systems, complex systems research, Artificial Life, consciousness studies etc. As the concept of emergence is increasingly used, it becomes more and more important to keep the exact meaning of the central ideas involved clear. Moreover, it is crucial to discuss in detail what kinds of metaphysical commitments [?] are necessarily involved in emergentist thinking, inasmuch as many scientists and philosophers still think that emergentism is incompatible with basic metaphysical commitments of the current scientific discourse. In fact, there are now at least two different research programs dealing with the notion of emergence (or, at any rate, using the term ‘emergence’), one which is clearly materialist and naturalist, and another which aims at the alleged synthesis of science and religion that some classical emergentists, as Lloyd Morgan, dreamt about (Blitz 1992). Several examples of papers affiliated with this latter research program can be found in Zygon, a journal devoted to the examination of the relationships between science and religion (e.g. Polkinghorne 1991; Peacocke 1991, 1993, 1994, 1999; Ashbrook 1996; see also Hasker 1999).
'Metaphysical commitments'? Eschatology, anyone?
In view of the difficulties faced by supervenience physicalism as a non-reductive stance, we have to search for alternative paths to the middle road between substance dualism and reductionism that many philosophers find attractive. In this connection, it is worth investigating if a combination of supervenience and emergence might fulfill the double requirement of dependence and determination, on the one hand, and non-reducibility, on the other.
'Middle road'? Is this metaphysics or arbitration? Is it the thesis of pragmatism that truth is arbitrated?
Here we are getting close to what might be labeled pragmatic pluralism regarding different approaches to the human mind.
If you are going to be pluralistic you will have to include theism. With God and Physics we have the irresistible force and the immovable object. May the best One win! Atheistic pluralism in oxymoronic. Sorry 'bout them apples, fellas. Mark my words, in the End it will be idealism versus materialism.
....reminding scientists that the mind remains psychological [...] even when its capacities are neurally or physiologically explained.
Sure, Hani, as long as you are willing to eliminate all essences, you may think whatever you please.
For some purposes it is better to employ the standard physicalist notion of effective causation; for some others one may adopt an ‘Aristotelian’ variant; for still others one might prefer a non-causal account. This pluralism liberates us from the dilemma to which Kim has led us, although, admittedly, some tensions do remain between the positions we propose.
Good, then. On Sundays we can believe in God, and on the other days we can be materialists. Will God cooperate? If She doesn't, will just have to put Her in Her place. We'll keep Her in the kitchen for the rest of the week. I wonder if God's love is always quite so pragmatic. The mystics might be dubious on this score.
And then there was murkiness. And more murkiness.
Perhaps I'm forgetting though, that, despite or because of all their Pragmatism, James are Peirce are generally considered to reside in the idealist camp. Pragmatism then serves mainly as a smoke screen for their idealism:
The tradition of pragmatism, in particular, has strongly emphasized the practice- and discourse-embeddedness of the real world and its properties that we take our discourses and theories to be about. It is meaningless to speak about the reality of emergents absolutely independently of human theories and conceptualizations.
Yes, keep your eyes on the shell with the pea.
This is not to deny that emergence is, primarily, an ontological notion; rather, it is to say that ontology is not clearly separable from epistemology, because it concerns a humanly structured conceptualized reality.
If it walks like an idealist and talks like an idealist,.....
It is from Putnam that we adopt the pragmatist idea that ontological commitments depend on the conceptual frameworks within which they are made, frameworks which in turn depend on the human purposes and interests they serve.
And which framework is God's, pray tell?
Well, are we getting the idea?
According to this pragmatist approach, not even basic ontological notions such as existence have one fixed metaphysically privileged meaning or use (see, e.g., Putnam 1990:96-97). Our language and mind "penetrate so deeply into what we call ‘reality’ that the very project of representing ourselves as being ‘mappers’ of something ‘language-independent’ is fatally compromised from the very start". What counts as ‘objects’ or as ‘properties’ is as much up to us as it is up to the world, partly depending on how we use these words in the language-games within which our ontological structurings are created.
This sounds like a fun game. Can God play, too?

[12/8]
The convoluted issue of emergence has effectively blurred the boundary between ontology and epistemology. Scientific realism and naturalism are thus beholden to the normativity and functionality essential to epistemology. This is a big step toward idealism. Pragmatism, as we have been shown, is a significant waypoint on this path.


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The Biological Notion of Self and Non-self by Alfred Tauber:
Without pursuing the ramifications of the cognitive approach to immunity, it is still evident that this turn in the language-“perception,” “memory,” “learning”-are in service to a more elusive “knowing entity.” Thus hidden within new formulations, the self still resides, reflecting a deep struggle over the character of biology, one that has its roots in Bernard's original understanding of autonomy, and now linked to our own more complex ecological views of agency and determinism.
I just wanted to underscore the ontological travails of the biologists. A travail which, evidently, they share with the organisms they seek to know.
It is possible that biology will become the primary battleground of contending metaphysical projects.

[12/9]
Presently I am listening to Nancey Murphy's presentation, 'Physicalist Anthropology and Resurrection: How Much Can we Know?' at the Berkeley Eschatology, Immortality, and the Future of the Cosmos conference (2001). Her limited web page at Fuller Theological is accessed only through their search page:


Nancey Murphy joined the Fuller faculty in 1989. She is highly sought as a speaker at nationwide conferences on the relationship between theology and science. Murphy also serves on the boards of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley, and is a member of the Planning Committee for conferences on science and theology, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory..... {She] is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren.
I would use Google: Nancey Murphy.
'Nancey Murphy, Supervenience and Causality' -- abstract by Lindsay Cullen
Nancey Murphy argues in Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, that a post-modern approach to metaphysics, based on a non-reductive physicalism, will allow a fruitful bridging of the gap between interventionist and immanentist views of God's interaction with the world. This is achieved through her contention that there are causally significant 'higher level' laws which can affect interactions and which are neither constrained by, nor reducible to, lower level laws (such as the laws of physics). Whilst her aim is to be applauded, her methodology is somewhat flawed. In particular, her scientific defence of a non-reductive view is shallow and unpersuasive, and her use of the philosophical concept of supervenience is both eccentric and unhelpful. Thus her argument regarding higher-level laws founders, taking with it her basis for a rapprochement between 'liberals' and 'conservatives' on this particular topic.
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