From owner-bhaskar Mon Aug 26 23:29:12 1996 Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 21:24:56 -0600 Message-Id: <> From: Hans Ehrbar <> Subject: rts2-14 36 A Realist Theory of Science 4. THE STATUS OF ONTOLOGY AND ITS DISSOLUTION IN CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHY This analysis of experimental episodes enables us to isolate a series of metaphysical, epistemological and methodological mistakes within the tradition of empirical realism. For if the intelligibility of experimental activity entails that the objects of scientific understanding are intransitive and structured then we can establish at one stroke: (i) that a philosophical ontology is possible; (ii) some propositions in it (causal laws are distinct from patterns of events, and events from experiences); and (iii) the possibility of a philosophy which is consistent with (and has some relevance for), i.e. which is itself `in phase with', the realist practice of science. Ontology, it should be stressed, does not have as its subject matter a world apart from that investigated by science. Rather, its subject matter just is that world, considered from the point of view of what can be established about it by philosophical argument. The idea of ontology as treating of a mysterious underlying physical realm, which owes a lot to Locke and some of his rationalist contemporaries (particularly Leibniz), has done much to discredit it; and to prevent metaphysics from becoming what it ought to be, viz. a conceptual science. Philosophical ontology asks what the world must be like for science to be possible; and its premises are generally recognized scientific activities. Its method is transcendental; its premise science; its conclusion the object of our present investigation. The metaphysical mistake the argument of the previous section allows us to pinpoint may be called the `epistemic fallacy'. This consists in the view that statements about being can be reduced to or analysed in terms of statements about knowledge; i.e. that ontological questions can always be transposed into epistemological terms. The idea that being can always be analysed in terms of our knowledge of being, that it is sufficient for philosophy to `treat only of the network, and not what the network describes',17 results in the systematic 17 L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.35. Philosophy and Scientific Realism 37 dissolution of the idea of a world (which I shall here metaphorically characterize as an ontological realm) independent of but investigated by science. And it is manifest in the prohibition on any transcendent entities. It might be usefully compared with the naturalistic fallacy in moral philosophy. For just as the naturalistic fallacy prevents us from saying what is good about e.g. maximizing utility in society, so the epistemic one prevents us from saying what is epistemically significant about e.g. experience in science. To show that it is a fallacy and to trace its effects are two of the principle objectives of this study. In showing that the intelligibility of experimental activity entails that the objects of scientific knowledge, in so far as they are causal laws, are intransitive I have already succeeded in the first of these aims. For this means that a statement of a causal law cannot now be reduced to or analysed in terms of a statement about anyone's knowledge of it or knowledge in general. On the contrary, its assertion now entails that a causal law would operate even if unknown, and even if there were no-one to know it. So that knowledge ceases to be, as it were, an essential predicate of things. The epistemic fallacy is most marked, perhaps, in the concept of the empirical world. But it is manifest in the criteria of significance and even the problems associated with the tradition of empirical realism. Kant committed it in arguing that the categories `allow only of empirical employment and have no meaning whatsoever when not applied to objects of possible experience; that is to the world of sense.'l8 (For us on the other hand if the Kantian categories were adequate to the objects of scientific thought then they would continue to apply in a world without sense, and have a meaning in relation to that possibility.) Similarly, the logical positivists committed it when arguing, in the spirit of Hume, that if a proposition was not empirically verifiable (or falsifiable) or a tautology, it was meaningless.l9 Verificationism indeed may be regarded as a particular form of the epistemic fallacy, in which the meaning of a proposition about reality (which cannot be designated `empirical') is confused with our grounds, which may or may not be empirical, for holding it. Once this doctrine is rejected 18 I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B.724. 19 See e.g. A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, pp. 31-41. 38 A Realist Theory of Science there is no need to identify the necessary and the a priori, and the contingent and the a posteriori; or, to put it another way, one can distinguish between natural and logical necessity, and between natural and epistemic possibility. Further there is no need to assume that the order of dependence of being must be the same as the order of dependence of our knowledge of being. Thus we can allow that experience is in the last instance epistemically decisive, without supposing that its objects are ontologically ultimate, in the sense that their existence depends upon nothing else. Indeed if science is regarded as a continuing process of discovery of ever finer and in an explanatory sense more basic causal structures, then it is rational to assume that what is at any moment of time least certain epistemically speaking is most basic from the ontological point of view.20 More generally, the epistemic fallacy is manifest in a persistent tendency to read the conditions of a particular concept of knowledge into an implicit concept of the world. Thus the problem of induction is a consequence of the atomicity of the events conjoined, which is a function of the necessity for an epistemically certain base. Although the epistemic fallacy is of most interest to us as it is manifest in the tradition of empirical realism, it is worth mentioning that a philosopher who rejected empirical realism might still commit the epistemic fallacy, i.e. analyse being in terms of knowledge, if, as in some varieties of Platonism and rationalism, he were to define the world in terms of the possibility of non-empirical knowledge of it. For the transcendental realist it is not a necessary condition for the existence of the world that science occurs. But it is a necessary condition for the occurrence of science that the world exists and is of a certain type. Thus the possibility of our knowing it is not an essential property, and so cannot be a defining characteristic, of the world. Rather on a 20 A recent book, A. Quinton's Nature of Things, is vitiated by a failure to distinguish these two questions. >From the outset Quinton tends to identify the problem of fundamental entities with that of the foundations of knowledge (p. 5). This leads him to argue that `if all possible evidence for the existence of theoretical entities is provided by common observables it follows . . . that the logically indispensable evidence, and thus the sense of assertions about theoretical entities must be capable of being expressed in terms of those common observables and thus that theoretical entities can have only a derived and dependent existence' (p. 285). Philosophy and Scientific Realism 39 cosmic scale, it is an historical accident; though it is only because of this accident that we can establish in science the way the world is, and in philosophy the way it must be for science to be possible. The view that statements about being can be reduced to or analysed in terms of statements about knowledge might be defended in the following way: ontology is dependent upon epistemology since what we can know to exist is merely a part of what we can know.2l But this defence trades upon a tacit conflation of philosophical and scientific ontologies. For if `what we can know to exist' refers to a possible content of a scientific theory than that it is merely a part of what we can know is an uninteresting truism. But a philosophical ontology is developed by reflection upon what must be the case for science to be possible; and this is independent of any actual scientific knowledge. Moreover, it is not true, even from the point of view of the immanent logic of a science, that what we can know to exist is just a part of what we can know. For a law may exist and be known to exist without our knowing the law. Much scientific research has in fact the same logical character as detection. In a piece of criminal detection, the detective knows that a crime has been committed and some facts about it but he does not know, or at least cannot yet prove, the identity of the criminal. To be is not to be the value of a variable;22 though it is plausible (if, I would argue, incorrect) to suppose that things can only be known as such. For if to be were just to be the value of a variable we could never make sense of the complex processes of identification and measurement by means of which we can sometimes represent some things as such. Knowledge follows existence, in logic and in time; and any philosophical position which explicitly or implicitly denies this has got things upside down. The metaphysical mistake the analysis of experimental episodes pinpoints, viz. the epistemic fallacy, involves the denial 21 D. H. Mellor, `Physics and Furniture', American Philosophical Quarterly, Studies in the Philosophy of Science, p. 184. 22 See W. V. O. Quine, `Designation and Existence', Readings in Philosophical Analysis, ed. H. Feigl and W. Sellars, p. 50; Methods of Logic, p. 224; and From a Logical Point of View, Chap. 1 and passim. 40 A Realist Theory of Science of the possibility of a philosophical ontology. But if transcendental realism is correct, and ontology cannot in fact be reduced to epistemology, then denying the possibility of an ontology merely results in the generation of an *implicit ontology* and an *implicit realism*. In the empirical realist tradition the epistemic fallacy thus covers or disguises an ontology based on the category of experience, and a realism based on the presumed characteristics of the objects of experiences, viz. atomistic events, and their relations, viz. constant conjunctions. (Such presumptions can, I think, only be explained in terms of the needs of a justificationist epistemology, e.g. for incorrigible foundations of knowledge.) This in turn leads to the generation of a methodology which is either consistent with epistemology but of no relevance to science; or relevant to science but more or less radically inconsistent with epistemology. So that, in short, philosophy itself is `out of phase' with science. Let us see how this happens. First, the general line of Hume's critique of the possibility of any philosophical ontology or account of being, and in particular his denial that we can philosophically establish the independent existence of things or operation of natural necessities, is accepted. Now it is important to see what Hume has in fact done. He has not really succeeded in banishing ontology from his account of science. Rather he has replaced the Lockean ontology of real essences, powers and atomic constitutions with his own ontology of impressions. To say that every account of science, or every philosophy in as much as it is concerned with `science', presupposes an ontology is to say that the philosophy of science abhors an ontological vacuum. The empiricist fills the vacuum he creates with his concept of experience. In this way an implicit ontology, cystallized in the concept of the empirical world, is generated. And it is this ontology which subsequent philosophers of science have uncritically taken over. For whether they have agreed with Hume's epistemology or not, they have accepted his critique of ontology, which contains its own implicit ontology, as valid. Let us examine the generation of this implicit ontology in greater detail. In Hume's positive analysis of perception and causality experiences constituting atomistic events and their conjunctions are seen as exhausting our knowledge of nature. Philosophy and Scientific Realism 41 Now, adopting a realist meta-perspective this means that such events and their conjunctions must occur in nature, if science, is to be possible. But from Hume onwards the sole question in the philosophy of science is whether our knowledge is exhausted by our knowledge of such events and their conjunctions; it is never questioned whether they in fact occur. That is, philosophy's concern is with whether our knowledge of the world can be reduced to sense-experience as so conceived or whether it must include an a priori or theoretical component as well; not with whether experience can adequately constitute the world. But in Humean empiricism two things are done. First, knowledge is reduced to that of atomistic events apprehended in sense-experience. Secondly, these events are then identified as the particulars of the world. In this way our knowledge of reality is literally identified, or at best taken to be in isomorphic correspondence, with the reality known by science. From Hume onwards philosophers have thus allowed, for the sake of avoiding ontology, a particular concept of our knowledge of reality, which they may wish to explicitly reject, to inform and implicitly define their concept of the reality known by science. The result has been a continuing `*ontological tension*' induced by the conflict between the rational intuitions of philosophers about science and the constraints imposed upon their development by their inherited ontology. This has led to a nexus of interminably insoluble problems, such as how we can reason from one experience to another, and to a displacement of these rational intuitions whereby, for example, the locus of necessity is shifted from the objective necessity of the natural world to the subjective necessity of causally-determined or the inter-subjective necessity of rule-governed minds. Now if transcendental realism is true, and scientists act as if the objects of their investigation are intransitive and structured, then any adequate methodology must be consistent with the realist practice of science, and so inconsistent with the epistemology of empirical realism. It is instructive to look at Hume here. One finds in the *Treatise* an eminently sensible realist methodology in almost total dislocation from, and certainly lacking any foundation in, his radical epistemology. Thus one might be forgiven for wondering what has become of his phenomenalism and the doctrine of impressions when Hume 42 A Realist Theory of Science allows that the `understanding corrects the appearances of the senses'.23 Or what has happened to the idea of the contingency of the causal connection and the problem of induction when he argues that scientists, when faced with exceptions to established generalizations, quite properly search for the `secret operation of contrary causes' rather than postulate an upset in the uniformity of nature. 24 This is typical. There is a similar dislocation between Kant's *Critique of Pure Reason* and his *Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science*. It might be argued in defence of Hume that he is concerned to show that our realist intuitions cannot be justified; that his point is precisely that there is a dislocation between what can be shown and what must be believed (that there is a direct and total opposition twixt our reason and our senses');25 and that he leaves the latter intact. But the matter is not so simple as this Humean empiricism is not neutral in its consequences for scientific practice. Taken consistently, it does generate a methodology; not indeed Hume's (or Newton's), but Mach's For in the absence of the concept of an ontological realm, the implicit realism generated implies that whatever is experienced in sense-experience is an event and whatever constant conjunctions are experienced are causal laws. In this way our current knowledge fills the vacuum left by the dissolution of the ontological realm; and in so doing it squeezes out meta- phorically speaking, the possibility of any substantive scientific criticism. In the methodology of Humean empiricism facts which are social products, usurp the place of the particulars of the world; and their conjunctions, which are doubly social products (once qua fact, once qua event-conjunction), the place of causal laws. The result is the generation of a conservative ideology which serves to rationalize the practice of what Kuhn has called `normal science'.26 Descriptivist, instrumentalist and fictionalist interpretations of theory do not do away with e.g. 23 D. Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, p. 632. 24 D. Hume, op. cit., p. 132. Cf. Newton's 4th rule of reasoning in philosophy: `propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena [are to be regarded as] true . . . till such time as other phenomena occur by which they may either be made more accurate or liable to exceptions', I. Newton, Principia Mathematica, Bk. III. 25 D. Hume, op. cit., p. 231. 26 " T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chaps. II-IV. Philosophy and Scientific Realism 43 scientific laws, but by reducing their ontological import to a given self-certifying experience, they serve to exempt our current claims to knowledge of them from criticism. It is thus quite incorrect to suppose that realist as opposed to non-realist interpretations of scientific theory have consequences for science which are in practice more dogmatic;27 or to suppose that the concept of natural necessity is a kind of survival from the bad old days of scientific certainty.28 On the contrary, the converse is the case. For it is only if the working scientist possesses the concept of an ontological realm, distinct from his current claims to knowledge of it, that he can philosophically think out the possibility of a rational criticism of these claims. To be a fallibilist about knowledge, it is necessary to be a realist about things. Conversely, to be a sceptic about things is to be a dogmatist about knowledge. Now it is not only the doctrine of empirical realism, and philosophers' uncritical acceptance of it, that accounts for the ontological tension within philosophy and the dislocation of epistemology from methodology, of philosophy from science. It must be accounted for in part by the conditions of science, as well as philosophy. For the period in which Humean ontology became embedded in philosophy (1750~1900) was, at least in physics, a period of scientific consolidation rather than change. The role of philosophy was seen more and more to be that of showing how our knowledge is justified as distinct from showing how it was produced, can be criticized and may come to be changed. Thus whereas transcendental realism asks explicitly what the world must be like for science to be possible, classical philosophy asked merely what science would have to be like for the knowledge it yielded to be justified. It was presumed that our knowledge was justified; science was not viewed as a process in motion; and doing away with ontology left philosophy without any critical purchase on science. The transcendetal realist, on the other hand, allows a limited critical role for philosophy. For by restoring the idea of an ontological realm distinct from science, he makes it possible for us to say that in a particular field, say social psychology, science is not being done, although as a philosopher he cannot say dogmatically whether or not a 27 See e.g. M. Hesse, In Defence of Objectivity, p. 14. 28 See e.g. G. Buchdahl, op. cit., p. 31. 44 A Realist Theory of Science science of social psychology is possible. 29 (An ontological dimension is in this way necessary not only to render intelligible scientific criticism, but to make possible philosophical critcism of the practice of a science.) Increasingly then it was the logical structure of justificatory argument that defined philosophy's concept of science; and the philosophy of science itself became a kind of battleground for internecine warfare between opposed concepts of justified belief. Moreover, when the idea of scientific certainty eventually collapsed, the absence of an ontological dimension discouraged anything other than a purely voluntaristic reaction - in which it was supposed that because our beliefs about the world were not causally determined by the world then they must be completely `free creations of our own minds, the result of an almost poetic intuition'.30 Behind this state of affairs there ran a stong *anthropocentric* current in classical and subsequent philosophy,31 which sought to rephrase questions about the world as questions about the nature or behaviour of men. One aspect of this is the view, which I have characterized as the epistemic fallacy, that ontological questions can always be rephrased as epistemological ones. The anthropocentric and epistemic biases of classical philosophy led to the dissolution of the concept of the ontological realm, which we need to render intelligible the transitive process of science. In this way the world, which ought to be viewed as a multi-dimensional structure independent of man, came to be squashed into a flat surface whose characteristics, such as being 29 The structure of such a critique would be as follows: If the subject matter of social psychology is such that a science of social psychology is possible and social psychologists are to have knowledge of it, then social psychologists should do phi, psi, etc. rather than x, omega, etc. The transcendental realist could thus not accept the notorious definition of economics as what economists do. For him, whether or not they actually do economics is at least in part a contingent question. Notice that the formula I have used leaves the question of whether a science of social psychology is possible open. This is important because for the transcendental realist it is the nature of the object that determines the possibility of a science. Thus he can allow, without paradox, that there may be no humanly intelligible pattern to be discovered in the stars or politically intelligible pattern in voting behaviour. So that no science of astrology or psephology is possible, no matter now scrupulously `scientific method' is adhered to. 30 K. R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, p. 192. 31 Cf. J. J. C. Smart, op. cit., pp. 149-51. Philosophy and Scientific Realism 45 constituted by atomistic facts, were determined by the needs of a particular concept of knowledge. This led to a barrage of problems and an impossible account of science. For from now on any structure, if it was allowed at all, had to be located in the human mind or the scientific community. Thus the world was literally turned inside out in an attempt to confine it within sentience. An inevitable `involution' in the philosophy of science occurred. Without a concept of a reality unknown, but at least in part knowable, philosophy could not display the creative and critical activity of science, and ceased to be of any practical relevance for it. This was the price paid for the dissolution of ontology. A philosophy for science depends upon its reconstitution. .