From owner-bhaskar Mon Jan 20 02:09:19 1997 Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 00:02:40 -0700 Message-Id: <> From: Hans Ehrbar <> Subject: BHA: rts2-23 Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 79 3. THE CLASSICAL PARADIGM OF ACTION In developing the critical conditions for a closure I have argued that epistemological considerations tilt them in favour of the cases of atomicity and additivity, i.e. cases B1 and C1 in Table 2.1 above. I now want to bring out the concept of action implied by these conditions, which will be seen to be as special as the conditions themselves. If individuals are atomistic, then all causes must be extrinsic. And if systems are lacking in intrinsic structure (i.e. are exhausted by the properties of the individuals composing them), then there can be no action at a distance (nor can distance be a variable in action), so all action must be by contact. But as atomistic individuals cannot contribute to or be affected by the action, it must consist in the communication of received properties. But as the only property possessed by such individuals is their position in space at a moment in time, the only property they can communicate is their motion, i.e. their movement through space in time. Thus a particular physical conception of action, involving a corpuscularian view of matter and a mechanical view of causality, in which all causes are regarded as efficient and external to the thing in which the change occurs, is implied by the limit conditions for a closure. These form the twin pivots of what I am going to call the classical paradigm of action. Now this paradigm has three variations: a physical one; a metaphysical one; and a distinctively positivistic epistemological one. It is important to keep them distinct. For the prestige of the epistemological variation, which underpins the Humean theory of laws, has stemmed in large part from its misidentification, by Locke and Newton among others, with the physical one. On the physical concept, matter is viewed as composed of rigid corpuscles whose motion accounts for the aggregative and 80 A Realist Theory of Science observed behaviour of things. These corpuscles exchange momenta and redistribute velocities among themselves by impact; and they move through space according to the strict laws of mechanics. Action is seen as consisting in the impression of external forces upon these corpuscles, which merely pass on their received motion by direct impact. Events are nothing but the displacement of these basic units of matter in space and time, they are not the transformation of pre-formed substances. Large scale events or macroscopic changes are merely the surface effects of such displacements; qualitative variety and change are similarly the effects of different arrangements and motions of the corpuscles and their aggregates. The properties of aggregates are essentially the same as those of their component parts, though they can manifest themselves to observers in different, i.e. genuinely emergent ways (as in the case of secondary qualities). Now this physical concept of action encourages, though it does not imply, a metaphysical concept, which was especially prominent in seventeenth century rationalist thought. On it, matter is viewed as essentially passive and inert (which is strictly speaking irreconcilable with the role played in classical mechanics by the concept of inertia); and causation is viewed as a process which is linear and unidirectional, as well as external and inconsistent with real novelty. In contrast to matter is mind. As matter is passive, mind is active. And qualitative variety and change, denied a place in the sphere of matter, are seen as contributions of the human mind. Historically associated with this ensemble of physical and metaphysical ideas is another distinctively positivistic epistemological concept. On this concept, things are viewed as ultimately resolvable into simple qualities apprehended in sense-experience, rather than as aggregates of elementary units of matter in motion. The ontology is one of atomistic (and independent) events rather than one of atomistic (and rigid) corpuscles. And causality is seen as the regular concommitance of such events, rather than the impression of external forces upon such individuals. For the positivist, the concept of action is but a gloss put on our apprehension of such sequences. It can have no application in a world of independent events. It should be noted that the epistemological variation on the Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 81 classical paradigm only makes full sense if it is given a phenomenalistic interpretation. For if and only if we start from punctiform sense-experiences and reconstruct the world from them, is it at all plausible to suppose that the world consists of independent and atomistic events and states of affairs, constituting the surrogates of such sense-experiences, with relations that are as external to one another as the sense-experiences that ground them are held to be distinct. Conversely, if we reverse this presupposition and situate sense-experience as a natural process occurring in the world then it always makes sense, on being told that some event or happening occurred, to ask: `to what thing ?' (One could then of course go on to explain the change, along the lines of the corpuscularian/mechanical programme, in terms of the arrangements and motions of the basic individuals.) On the physical concept it is the principles of action (the strict laws of mechanics) that explain macroscopic behaviour, including observed regularities; i.e. the relationship between individuals and systems is one of explanation, not analysis. Now I have argued in Section 1 that these laws cannot be plausibly construed as empirical regularities or constant conjunctions of events. Moreover, if it is the behaviour of the individuals that is required to account for the constant conjunctions of events rather than the other way round the point of the Humean analysis of cause and the Hempelian analysis of explanation is lost. If the laws cannot be regarded as empirical regularities, the concepts in them cannot be regarded as given in or abstracted from experience. Firstly, because we ordinarily experience motion in terms of transitive verbs such as `pushing' and `pulling' which cannot be explicated ostensively.19 Secondly, because the concepts that figure in them demanded a radical break with the pre-existing Aristotelian scheme which certainly was then, and may still be now, closer to our ordinary way of thinking.20 Consider, for example, the radical change embodied in the principle of inertia, that only change in motion and not motion itself (i.e. change in position) requires explanation. Thus the notion that `the concepts of classical physics are just a refinement 19 Cf. J. R. Aronson, `Explanation without Laws', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 66, (1969), pp. 541-57. 20 See e.g. A. Koyre, op. cit., Chaps 1-2 82 A Realist Theory of Science of the concepts of daily life'21 must be rejected, and with it the notion that laws are inductive generalizations from everyday experiences or at any rate descriptions of them or instruments for predicting therm abandoned. For the experiences are literally different - an idea which will only seem paradoxical to someone who is implicitly misusing the category of experience to define the world. The key concept of atomicity is given radically different interpretations in the physical and epistemological variations. In the physical variation its primary identification is size; in the epistemological one simplicity. Physical atoms are (or were) necessarily unobservable, theoretical entities; epistemological ones were the raw data of experience. The former were the ultimate entities of the world, the latter the basic building blocks of knowledge. Physical atoms were explainers; epistemological ones justifiers. Physical atoms were Parmenidean individuals, epistemological ones Heraclitean instants. Epistemic atomicity requires that events should be apprehended in raw sense-experience. Hence it restricts the possible numbers of a cause and an effect set to one. But the constant conjunction analysis of cause requires that the cause and effect properly so-called should be constantly conjoined. The requirements of epistemic atomicity and empirical invariance can only be reconciled if the sequence of events is a linear process and each event is a member of a homogeneous series of determinations. If this were the case then the apprehension of the cause event would indeed license the expectation of the effect event. But this leaves the odd assumption of the linearity of processes to be justified. In the formula `whenever x then y', it is only if `x' and `y' are taken to refer to the objects of actual or possible experiences that we have an empiricist (in the broad sense) analysis of the causal modality; and it is only if these experiences are taken to be atomistic that we have a specifically Humean one. But it is only if `x' and `y' constitute complete as well as atomistic state-descriptions that the conjunction between x and y will (supposing regularity determinism to be true) be constant. These desiderata can only be reconciled if all causal sequences are linear processes; an idea which it would seem extraordinarily difficult to defend. Finally, it should be noted that whereas the 21 W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 83 constant conjunctions are for the most part unknown (as the regularity determinist will be bound to concede), the events they are supposed to conjoin are regarded on the Humean analysis as being intuitively ascertainable! I have dwelt at some length on the differences between the physical and epistemological concepts; as well as hinting in the last paragraph at internal difficulties in the latter (which will be developed in Chapter 3). I now want to say something about the general character of the paradigm as such and the limitations of its various ingredients. The essential features of the classical corpuscularian/mechanical world-view can be summarized as follows: - (i) the externality of causation; (ii) the passivity of matter, and the immediacy of effects; (iii) the atomicity of fundamental entities (whether corpuscles, events or sense-data); (iv) the absence of internal structure and complexity; (v) the absence of pre-formation, and of material continuity; (vi) the subjectivity of transformation and of apparent variety in nature (i.e. metaphysically, qualitative diversity and change are `secondary qualities'). It has already been seen that at the limit conditions for a closure the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic conditions collapses. For atoms possess no intrinsic conditions. An atom is distinguishable only with respect to its position (or some higher order derivative of position such as motion, acceleration etc.) in space at a moment in time. Consider now the old mechanistic prejudice crystallized in Hobbes' dictum that `nothing taketh a beginning from itself'.22 Does this mean that nothing taketh any part of its beginning from itself; i.e. that none of the total set of necessary and sufficient conditions for an event is intrinsic to the thing (whether or not the trigger that sets it off, so to speak - what we should ordinarily call `the cause' - is intrinsic)? If it does, this is tantamount to assuming that the event occurs, on the satisfaction of certain antecedent conditions, whatever the thing. It encourages, as it were, a picture of a cloud of smoke every time we pour out a drop from the bottle marked `ACID', 22 T. Hobbes, On Human Nature, reprinted in Body, Man and Citizen, ed. R. S. Peters. 84 A Realist Theory of Science irrespective of the nature of the substance or material onto which it is poured; or the sound of breaking glass every time a cricket ball hits a stationary target at 30 m.p.h., irrespective of whether it hits a greenhouse, a sand pit or a granite wall. Such `explanations' border of course on the fatalistic; or rather we could say that they are fatalistic with respect to things. For if there were substance or material conditions for the event such that were they not satisfied it would not have occurred, then they must be included as part of the total cause (in Mill's sense) of the event. Once we allow that an event would have occurred, whatever the intrinsic conditions, we are bound to end up denying the principle of material continuity. This is the principle that events are changes in things, never replacements of one kind of thing by an entirely new kind of thing.23 But if all causes are extrinsic there can be no material continuity through change: either because there is no continuity (positivism) or because there is no change (corpuscularianism). Ordinarily we think of the world as consisting of things which endure through some but not other changes. Events we think of primarily as changes in things, i.e. as the transformation of substances, rather than the displacement of physical masses in space and time. What is transformed is already given as complex and pre-formed. If it is partially transformed, material continuity is preserved through the change. If it is totally transformed, we seek for a new kind of substance, or level of `thing', which will allow us to preserve this principle.24 A chemical atom preserves continuity through chemical reactions; a gene-pool through species change; and historically, physicists have tended to treat as `substantive' precisely that which tends to be conserved, e.g. matter or energy. In our ordinary ascriptions of change then a material as well as an efficient cause is normally essential. The classical paradigm directs exclusive attention to the latter. And yet in scientific contexts it is often the search for hidden entities, leading to the identification of novel kinds, set 23 Cf. M. Bunge's genetic principle or principle of productivity: `nothing can arise out of nothing or pass into nothing', op. Cit., pp. 25-6. Cf. also Kant's 1st Analogy of Experience, op. cit.; and W. H. Walsh, `categories', Kant-studien Band 45 (1954), reprinted in Kant, ed. R. P. Wolff, pp. 54-70. 24 Cf. S. Korner, `Substance', P.A.S. Supp. Vol. 38 (1964), pp. 79-90. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 85 off by what appears prima facie to be a case of ex nihilo production, that is most important. (Cf. the discovery of the neutrino.) It is the absence of the notion of material continuity through change, as it is manifest in the epistemological variation of the classical paradigm, where it results in the generation of an ontology of atomistic and independent events, that underpins the idea of the contingency of the causal connection, which we turn to in the next chapter after rejecting the idea of its actuality here. Perhaps under the influence of the classical paradigm we tend to view events as happenings to passive things. But events are also the results of actions. Panes of glass do not shatter without being hit by things such as cricket balls; nothing could be magnetized unless there were magnets. Thus some things must be agents as well as patients; just as some conditions must be intrinsic as well as extrinsic. Yet we feel the source, the stimulus, the trigger is always extrinsic. But this is a pure prejudice. For not all efficient causes are extrinsic and not all extrinsic causes are mechanical. Thus the structure of a field or the organization of an environment may be the cause of what happens within it. There is no reason why the properties of wholes should not explain those of their component parts. But neither is there any reason why all things should be conceived as either wholes or parts. I am going to suggest later that we are radically misled by spatial metaphor and imagery here. Societies, people and machines are not collectivities, wholes or aggregates of simpler or smaller constituents (just as intentionality is not an inner urge or push). In the classical world view it was the function of matter to occupy space;25 so it was natural to assume that all `things' properly so-called were just more or less highly differentiated aggregates of matter, and so could be viewed either as wholes or parts (or as both). The victories of the corpuscularian/mechanical programme were never as complete as its propagandists made out. Neither gravity positing action at a distance nor magnetism in which distance was a variable in action could be assimilated to the paradigm. The fact that Newton could not find a contact explanation for gravity provided the basis for much early criticism of his work; and the theory of a connecting medium - 26 Cf. M. Capek, op. cit., p. 54. 86 A Realist Theory of Science the aether - has its post-relativistic advocates even today.26 Paradoxically the very fact that Newton could not find an explanation for gravity strengthened the positivist variant of the paradigm - for it gave a degree of credibility to the belief that science eschews `hypotheses'.27 Nevertheless the prestige of Newtonian mechanics was such that from Hume's time onward scientific explanation came to be identified with mechanical explanation; and a reduction of all other branches of learning to mechanics was loudly proclaimed by Helvetius and its other propagandists to be at hand. Of course we know that after mechanics had been fully developed and applied successfully in domain after domain there was bound to come a time when, under the stimulus of internal inconsistencies and irrefutable counter-instances, the principles of mechanics would themselves have to be explained non-mechanistically. Moreover we know as a matter of fact that the Newtonian system has been replaced and not just subsumed;28 and that in one respect after another the classical world view has been abandoned by modern physics.29 But given this, it is still important to ask (in view of its perennially attractive features) whether it provided a logically coherent schema for the conceiving of fundamental explanations in physics or indeed any other science. Now both Boscovitch and Kant argued, anticipating later developments in physics, that contact explanations could not be fundamental; but that they themselves required explanation in terms of forces - of attraction and repulsion - acting at a distance.30 For, they argued, since action by contact proceeds by compression, the bodies involved cannot be absolutely rigid. If they are, then there cannot be any transfer of motion. For a 26 see e.g. I. Dirac, Is there an aether?', Nature 168, pp. 906-7 27 Cf: `Hitherto we have explained the phenomena of the heavens and our sea by the power of gravity, but we have not yet assigned the cause of this power.... To us it is enough that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea.' I. Newton, op. cit, Book III, General Scholium. 28 See e.g. P. K. Feyerabend, `Problems of Empiricism', Beyond the Edge of Certainty, ed. R. G. Colodny, esp. pp. 168-70, and T. S. Kuhn op. cit., esp. pp. 99-103. 29 See e.g. M. Capek, op. cit., Pt. II. 30 R. J. Boscovitch, A Theory of Natural Philosophy, pp. 10-13 and 19-68 and I. Kant, The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 87 transfer depends upon the individuals being deformed to some extent. But basic individuals cannot be deformed. For to be deformed is to lose a property once possessed, but atoms have no properties to lose. Thus the most fundamental interactions cannot be by contact between corpuscles or atoms. But could there be non-mechanical, i.e. non-contact, interactions between atoms? If there could, atoms might still be the ultimate `things'. Now any such action would of necessity have to be at a distance. But aside from spatio-temporal location (and its derivatives), the only attribute such `atoms' could possess would be the power of affecting things at a distance. In short `atoms' would be playing a purely nominal role. Such atoms would not be `atoms' at all, but potentials or bare powers; that is, point-centres of mutual influence distributed in space.31 So far I have not discussed one important aspect of our normal concept of action; and that is the idea that things possess powers and liabilities32 to do and suffer things that they are not actually doing and suffering and that they may never actually do or suffer. It remains true to say of a Boeing 727 that it can (has the power to) fly 600 m.p.h. even if it is safely locked up in its hangar; just as it would remain true to say of a person that he could (would be liable to) get hurt if he happened to be in the way of a herd of stampeding buffaloes, even if as a matter of fact we knew he had no intention of ever going to the Prairies. The elucidation of this concept will occupy us much later on, so I will be brief with it here. It is sufficient for our purpose to note that it depends not only upon the idea of the complexity and pre-formation of things, which we found to be necessary to understand change, but upon the further idea of the stratification of their properties. Now if things are at any moment of time complex and pre-formed then it always makes sense to suppose that they might have behaved in ways that they did not. But the `might' here is susceptible of a purely conditional analysis, viz. as meaning merely that they would have behaved in those ways, if the actual conjunction of intrinsic and extrinsic conditions had in fact been different. The potentiality involved remains purely epistemic: it is still predicated essentially of events and only 31 Cf. R. Harre, op. cit., p. 308. 32 By a `liability' I mean simply what Hobbes called a `passive power'. 88 A Realist Theory of Science derivatively of things. To say that a thing has a power to do something is, by contrast, to say that it possesses a structure or is of such a kind that it would do it, if the appropriate conditions obtained. It is to make a claim first and foremost about the thing; and only subsidiarily, if at all, about events. It is to say something essentially about what the thing is, and only derivatively about what it will do. It is to ascribe a natural possibility to the thing, whose actualization will depend upon the flux of conditions. An old Austin 7 can go 105 m.p.h. if it is towed by a Jaguar; but it does not possess the power to do so. And yet, if it did, the two events if conceived in themselves (without reference to the intrinsic structure of the thing) would be the same. The ascription of powers differs from the simple ascription of complexity to things in that it presupposes a non-conventional distinction between those properties of the thing which are essential to it and those which are not. The essence of hydrogen is its electronic structure because it is by reference to it that its powers of chemical reaction are explained; the essence of money is its function as a medium of exchange because it is by reference to this that e.g. the demand for it is explained. Not all properties of a thing are equally important because it is by reference to some but not others that its causal powers are explained. In general it is these that constitute its identity and allow us to talk of the same thing persisting through change. Now Locke was wrong to construe the fundamental distinction on which the corpuscularian/mechanical world view was based, viz. between the manifested qualities of things and the configuration and motion of their parts (by which the former were explained), as one between two types of qualities. For, in the first place, though some properties of the explanatory stratum, such a solidity and motion, could plausibly be modelled on the properties of observed things (so that one might say their ideas `corresponded'), others, such as a point mass or a frictionless surface, had no such analogues. Thus Locke did not sufficiently appreciate that their concepts could not be read directly onto experience, but rather had to be produced as a result of the theoretical work of science (when they might subsequently come to inform and direct experience). Secondly, Locke should have articulated the distinction as one between the causal powers that material things possess in virtue of their hypothesized internal Actualism and the Concept of a Closure structure and the manifestation of those powers, including their manifestation as the qualities of observed things in sense- experience. If he had done this, it would have obviated the need to find an immediate reflection in sense-experience of the hypothesized basic or `primary' properties of the world - a move which provided the grist for Berkeley's attack on his ontology and has been the staple diet of phenomenalists ever since. At the same time, it would have both left open the possibility of a qualitative account of primary properties and removed the necessity to view the latter as ultimate. This would also have undermined the basis of his scepticism over a knowledge of real essences. Locke's pessimism about the possibility of future technological and theoretical advance is really the inverse of his philosophical under-statement, implied by his theory of ideas, of the conceptual advances made by the corpuscularian/mechanical world-view. For unless a philosophy of science acknowledges the existence of a past and the possibility of a future, it cannot pay tribute to the achievements of the present. Science has travelled far since Bacon could take it as axiomatic that `nature knows only mechanical causation, to the investigation of which all our efforts should be directed' and Boyle roundly declare that `the phenomena of nature are caused by the local motion of one part of matter hitting against another'. Philosophy unfortunately has lagged behind. We have seen how the two basic interactions of the Newtonian system contributed - the one by its success, the other by its failure - to the grip of positivistic epistemology. Paradoxically, the very breakdown of the system coincided with, and indeed contributed to, a revival of positivistic-sensationalist and operationist thought. For one thing the new `fundamental entities' seemed both event-like and statistical in character. And the apprehension of scientific change seemed merely to underline the necessity for a subjectivist ontology. (Later I shall show how, on the contrary, scientific change provides in fact the best possible argument for the objectivity of things.) As for the programme of reduction, historically associated with the corpuscularian/mechanical world-view, two questions raised by it survive the eclipse of that world-view: First, whatever the nature of the basic entities postulated by physics at any time, how are we to understand the status of apparently emergent things and properties? (Are 90 A Realist Theory of Science people, for example, metaphysically `secondary qualities'?) And how are we to understand the phenomena of diversity and change? Secondly, what does it mean to say that the subject matter of one science can be `reduced to' (in the sense of `explained in terms of') that of another? How does such a reduction proceed? And how, if at all, does it affect the ontological status of the entities of the reduced science? Finally, something should be said about the significance of the psychological studies of Piaget, Michotte and others for the classical paradigm.33 These studies show that we ordinarily experience mechanical causation, i.e. the displacement of physical masses in space and time, in terms of transitive verbs such as `pushing' and `pulling' which cannot be explicated ostensively; but rather embody an intensional relationship between cause and effect. Such verbs take an objective complement: We understand `pushing' as `pushing away', `pulling' as `pulling towards'. Jack does not just fall, he falls down; and the `down' is an essential part of what the `falling' means. Ink bottles do not only get knocked, they get knocked over; doors do not only get slammed, they get slammed shut. And this is how we come to understand the meaning of these verbs.34 Now it seems to me that this raises points against Hume, though not against Newton. In the first place, it undermines Hume's psychological account of the genesis of our idea of `connection'. For it is now not regular comcommitances, but completed movements, transitively understood, that provide the source of the latter. Secondly, it shows that the concepts in terms of which scientists come to understand motion could not have been given in or abstracted from sense-experience (a) because our ordinary concepts cannot be explicated ostensively; (b) because Newtonian ones cannot either; and (c) because the concepts are radically different anyway. Thirdly, it shows the poverty of the Humean account of our understanding of the basic interactions of mechanics. Because we have to ask why for three hundred years scientists and philosophers found this paradigm so compelling. And if today we must resist this compulsion, it is as well to be aware of the source of its power. 33 See J. Piaget, The Child's Perception of Physical Causality, and A. Michotte, The Perception of Causality. 34 Cf. J. R. Aronson, op. cit., pp. 551-5. --- from list --- .