From owner-bhaskar Tue Jul 23 13:16:35 1996 Date: Tue, 23 Jul 1996 11:14:01 -0600 From: Hans Ehrbar <> Message-Id: <> Subject: rts2-03 16 A Realist Theory of Science It is argued in Chapter 1 that the very concept of the empirical world embodies a category mistake, which depends upon a barely concealed anthropomorphism within philosophy; and leads to a neglect of the important question of the conditions under which experience is in fact significant in science. In general this depends upon antecedent social activity. Neglect of this activity merely results in the generation of an implicit sociology, based on an epistemological individualism in which men are regarded as passive recipients of given facts and recorders of their given conjunctions. Against this it is argued that knowledge is a social product, produced by means of antecedent social products; but that the Introduction 17 objects of which, in the social activity of science, knowledge comes to be produced, exist and act quite independently of men. These two aspects of the philosophy of science justify our talking of two dimensions and two kinds of 'object' of knowledge: a transitive dimension, in which the object is the material cause or antecedently established knowledge which is used to generate the new knowledge; and an intransitive dimension, in which the object is the real structure or mechanism that exists and acts quite independently of men and the conditions which allow men access to it. These dimensions are related in Chapter 3. Two criteria for the adequacy of an account of science are developed: (i) its capacity to sustain the idea of knowledge as a produced means of production; and (ii) its capacity to sustain the idea of the independent existence and activity of the objects of scientific thought. It is the overall argument of this study then that knowledge must be viewed as a produced means of production and science as an ongoing social activity in a continuing process of transformation. But the aim of science is the production of the knowledge of the mechanisms of the production of phenomena in nature that combine to generate the actual flux of phenomena of the world. These mechanisms, which are the intransitive objects of scientific enquiry, endure and act quite independently of men. The statements that describe their operations, which may be termed `laws', are not statements about experiences (empirical statements, properly so called) or statements about events. Rather they are statements about the ways things act in the world (that is, about the forms of activity of the things of the world) and would act in a world without men, where there would be no experiences and few, if any, constant conjunctions of events. (It is to be able to say this inter alia that we need to distinguish the domains of the real, the actual and the empirical.) Although the primary aim of this book is constructive, it is an important subsidiary aim to situate the conditions of the plausibility of empirical realism and to show it as depending upon what is in effect a special case. These conditions are briefly: a naturally occurring closure, a mechanistic conception of action and the model of man referred to earlier. The attempt to reduce knowledge to an individual acquistion in sense-experience and to view the latter as the neutral ground of 18 A Realist Theory of Science knowledge that (literally) defines the world results in the generation of an ontology of atomistic discrete events, which if they are to be related at all (so making general knowledge possible) must be constantly conjoined. (Hence the presupposition of a closure.) On this view the causal connection must be contingent and actual; by contrast I want to argue that it is necessary and real. Chapter 1 establishes the necessity for an ontological distinction between causal laws and patterns of events (see esp. 1.3) and contains a sketch of a critique of empirical realism (see esp. 1.6). Chapter 2 develops in detail the conditions required for the Humean analysis of laws and provides an analysis of normic statements (see esp. 2.4). Determinism is shown to be an immensely implausible thesis; and the central tenets of orthodox philosophy of science - such as the principle of instance-confirmation (or falsification), the Humean theory of causality, the Popper-Hempel theory of explanation, the thesis of the symmetry between explanation and prediction, the criterion of falsifiability, etc. - to be manifestly untenable. Chapter 3 sets out to give a rational account of the process of scientific discovery; in which both nature and our knowledge of nature are seen as stratified, as well as differentiated (see esp. 3.3). A theory of natural necessity is developed which it is claimed is capable of resolving inter alia the problems of induction and of subjunctive conditionals and Goodman's and Hempel's paradoxes (see 3.6). Chapter 4 rounds off the argument and summarises some of the main themes of this study. Moving towards a conception of science as concerned essentially with possibilities, and only derivatively with actualities, much attention is given to the analysis of such concepts as tendencies and powers. Roughly the theory advanced here is that statements of law are tendency statements. Tendencies may be possessed unexercised, exercised unrealised, and realized unperceived (or undetected) by men; they may also be transformed. Although the focus of this study is natural science, something is said about the social sciences and about the characteristic pattern of explanation in history. If the first half of this work is concerned with establishing the necessity for an ontological distinction between causal laws and patterns of events and tracing the implications of the Introduction 19 distinction between open systems and closed, that is, of the differentiation of our world, the second is concerned principally with showing how science can come to have knowledge of natural necessity a posteriori. The differentiation of the world implies its stratification, if it is to be a possible object of knowledge for us. If generative mechanisms and structures are real then there is a clear criterion for distinguishing between a necessary and an accidental sequence: a sequence E_a . E_b is necessary if and only if there is a generative mechanism or structure which when stimulated by the event described by `E_a' produces E_b. If we can have empirical knowledge of such generative mechanisms or structures then we can have knowledge of natural necessity a posteriori. In showing how this is possible a non-Kantian 'sublation' of empiricism and rationalism is achieved. In the transitive process of science three levels of knowledge may be distinguished. At the first (or Humean) level we just have the invariance of an experimentally produced result. Given such an invariance science moves immediately to the construction and testing of possible explanations for it. If there is a correct explanation, located in the nature of the thing whose behaviour is described in the putative law or the structure of the system of which the thing is a part, then we do have a reason independent of its behaviour as to why it behaves the way it does. Now such a reason may be discovered empirically. And if we can deduce the thing's tendency >from it then the most stringent possible (or Lockean) criterion for our knowledge of natural necessity is satisfied. For example, we may discover that copper has a certain atomic or electronic structure and then be able to deduce its dispositional properties from a statement of that structure. We may then be said to have knowledge of natural necessity a posteriori. At the third (or Leibnizian) level we may seek to express our discovery of the electronic structure of copper in an attempted real definition of the thing. This is not to put an end to enquiry, but a stepping stone to a new process of discovery in which we attempt to discover the mechanisms responsible for electronic structure. In 3.5 the grounds for inductive scepticism are examined and shown to be fundamentally mistaken and in 3.6 the problem, which arises from the ontology of atomistic events (and closed 20 A Realist Theory of Science systems), resolved. Dynamic realist principles of substance and causality are shown to be a condition of the intelligibility of experimental activity and the stratification of science. Science, it is argued, is concerned with both taxonomic and explanatory knowledge: with what kinds of things there are, as well as how the things there are behave. It attempts to express the former in real definitions of the natural kinds and the latter in statements of causal laws, i.e. of the tendencies of things. But it is concerned with neither in an undiscriminating way. It is concerned with things only in as much as they cast light on reasons; and reasons only in as much as they cast light on things. A realist theory of the universals of interest to science complements the realist theory of scientifically significant invariances, i.e. invariances generated under conditions which are artificially produced and controlled. It is the argument of this book that if science is to be possible the world must consist of enduring and transfactually active mechanisms; society must consist of an ensemble of powers irreducible to but present only in the intentional actions of men; and men must be causal agents capable of acting self-consciously on the world. They do so in an endeavour to express to themselves in thought the diverse and deeper structures that account in their complex manifold determinations for all the phenomena of our world. .