From owner-bhaskar Thu May 15 10:33:44 1997 Return-Path: owner-bhaskar Received: (from daemon@localhost) by jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU (8.8.5/8.6.6) id KAA50245 for bhaskar-outgoing; Thu, 15 May 1997 10:33:39 -0400 Received: from ( []) by jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU (8.8.5/8.6.6) with SMTP id KAA16701 for <bhaskar@jefferson.village.virginia.EDU>; Thu, 15 May 1997 10:33:33 -0400 Received: from by (5.x/SMI-SVR4) id AA17969; Thu, 15 May 1997 08:32:50 -0600 Received: by (SMI-8.6/SMI-SVR4) id IAA13161; Thu, 15 May 1997 08:25:35 -0600 Date: Thu, 15 May 1997 08:25:35 -0600 Message-Id: <> From: Hans Ehrbar <> To: bhaskar@jefferson.village.virginia.EDU Subject: BHA: rts2-25 Sender: owner-bhaskar@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU Precedence: bulk Reply-To: bhaskar@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 105 ... 5. AUTONOMY AND REDUCTION Laws we already know do not describe the patterns of events. But how do they stand to the world of our everyday action and of perceived things? Reflect for a moment on the world as we know it. It seems to be a world in which all manner of things happen and are done, which we are capable of explaining in various ways, and yet for which a deductively-justified prediction is seldom, if ever, possible. It seems, on the face of it at least, to be an *incompletely described world of agents*. A world of winds and seas, in which ink bottles get knocked over and doors pushed open, in which dogs bark and children play; a criss-cross world of zebras and zebra-crossings, cricket matches and games of chess, meteorites and logic classes, assembly lines and deep sea turtles, soil erosion and river banks bursting. Now none of this is described by any laws of nature. More shockingly perhaps none of it seems even governed by them. It is true that the path of my pen does not *violate* any laws of physics. But it is not determined* by any either. Laws do not describe the patterns or legitimate the predictions of kinds of events. Rather it seems they must be conceived, at least as regards the ordinary things of the world, as situating limits and imposing constraints on the types of action possible for a given kind of thing. 106 A Realist Theory of Science Laws then not only predicate tendencies (which when exercised constitute the normic behaviour) of novel kinds (or of familiar things in novel or limit situations); they impose (more or less absolute) constraints on familiar things. In this section I want to reconcile these aspects of laws by arguing that familiar things are comprehensive entities which may be controlled by (or subject to the control of) several different principles at once; and that they may be said to be agents. Laws ascribe possibilities which may not be realized and impose necessities which constrain but do not determine; they ascribe the former to novel kinds and impose the latter on familiar things. These features cannot be explained away as an imperfection of knowledge; but must be seen as rooted in the nature of our world. They are therefore inconsistent with the thesis of regularity determinism which underpins the doctrine of the actuality of causal laws, and to which I must now return. So far I have discussed regularity determinism merely as an epistemological thesis to the effect that our knowledge of the world can be cast in a certain form. But of course this presupposes that the world is such that our knowledge of it can be cast in that form. To deal with regularity determinism I must thus draw out this ontological presupposition; i.e. cast the thesis itself in ontological form. The main work for this has already been done. For I have already shown in sections 2 and 3 that regularity determinism makes a claim about what would happen (and the way it would happen) if certain highly restrictive conditions were satisfied. These were, it will be remembered, conditions such that *if* we knew they were satisfied and the constant conjunction formula was not vindicated, the regularity determinist would be bound to admit his thesis refuted. Now regularity determinism's ontological claim is simply that the world is such that these conditions are satisfied and his thesis is not refuted. Now of course because we can never know that these conditions are satisfied we can never refute regularity determinism in this way. But I have also asserted that regularity determinism is metaphysically refutable. How can this be done? In the only way open to transcendental realism: that is by showing that if the world were as claimed by regularity determinism science would be impossible. But as science is possible (which we know, because as a matter of fact it occurs) the world Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 107 must be such that either the critical conditions are not satisfied and/or the constant conjunction formula is abrogated. In short, the ontological untruth of regularity determinism is a condition of the possibility of science. Close to the appeal of determinism lies the following error: to think that because something happened and because it was caused to happen, it had to happen before it was caused. Now if we take determinism to assert that all events are determined before they happen and conceive their determination as lying in the satisfaction of antecedent sufficient conditions for them then we have a picture of a chain of antecedent sufficient conditions for events stretching back infinitely into the past (assuming that conditions can be analysed as events or vice-versa). So if we ask how long is an event determined before it actually happens the answer must be at any (i.e. at every) time before it happens. And so if we now take cause in the ordinary sense, we have the result that every event is determined before it was caused (or made) to happen. At play here are of course two concepts of cause: qua causal agent (cause_1) and qua antecedent condition (cause_2). I am going to argue that the former is irreducible to the latter and essential to science. To say that something is *determined* before it has been caused to happen is either to say that it can be *known* before it has been caused_1 to happen (epistemic determinism) or that it has been *caused_2* before it has been caused_1 to happen (ontological determinism). The former depends upon a closure, the latter depends upon the critical conditions for it being satisfied. Now I want to argue that at any (and every) time the world consists of things which are already complexly structured and pre-formed wholes; which may be simultaneously constituted at different levels and simultaneously controlled by different principles. It is because things cannot be reduced to the conditions of their formation that events are not determined before they are caused to happen. This fact accounts for both the temporal asymmetry of causes and effects and the irreversibility of causal processes in time. And it is because things cannot be reduced to atomistic components that when events are caused to happen it is by the thing which acts (i.e. the agent), the event being produced in the circumstances that prevail. Now I want to argue that determinism is ontologically false 108 A Realist Theory of Science (it is not true that events are determined before they are caused to happen, whether in a regularly recurring or non-recurring way) and epistemically vacuous (there are no significant descriptions that satisfy the formula of regularity determinism). This has the methodological corollary that the search for such descriptions is likely to be unrewarding. (And here once again it is necessary to counterpose the investigation of complex preformed things to the search for the complete atomistic state-descriptions that it is supposed would enable us to predict their behaviour.) The only sense in which science presupposes `determinism' is the sense in which it presupposes the ubiquity of causes_1 and hence the possibility of explanations. And the only sense in which it presupposes `regularity determinism' is the sense in which it presupposes the ubiquity of causes_1 for differences and hence the possibility of their explanation. But it is probably better not to use `determinism' in this way (nb. cause_1 is not the same as cause_2). Now any refutation of regularity determinism as an ontological thesis must depend upon establishing the autonomy of things, in the sense of the impossibility of carrying out the reductions implicit in the vital conditions B1 and C1 of Table 2.1 on page 76 (their being a clear asymmetry, for the realist, between the subjects and the condition of action, and the constancy alternative being recessive). It is here that I will pitch my attack. Thus I am not going to argue that if the critical conditions were satisfied the constant conjunction formula would not be vindicated. Rather, I am going to argue that the critical conditions could not be satisfied in any world containing science. The question of whether or not history would repeat itself is one that need not detain us here. A nagging doubt may remain: surely, it might be felt, in the (very) last instance regularity determinism must be true. But this is not so. For once we have established an ontology of structures there is no earthly reason why events should [have to] be constantly conjoined. There are indeed principles of indifference (as we shall see in Chapter 3). But they do not apply, nor is there any reason why they should, to events, states-of-affairs and the like. In establishing the autonomy of things I will follow the normal procedure of transcendental realism; that is, I will first analyse some more or less underanalysed feature of science and then ask what the world must be like for this feature to be possible. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 109 The feature I am concerned with are two aspects of scientific laws, viz:- (i) their normic and non-empirical character; and (ii) their consistency with situations of dual (and multiple) control. I will argue that for these features to be possible the world must be composed of agents. Agents are particulars which are the centres of powers. In an incompletely described world of other agents powers must be analysed as tendencies. And laws are nothing but the tendencies or ways of acting of kinds of thing. By an agent 1 mean simply anything which is capable of bringing about a change in something (including itself). A hydrogen atom is, in virtue of its electronic structure, an agent. For it possesses the power to combine with an atom of chlorine to produce, under suitable conditions, a molecule of hydrochloric acid. It should perhaps be said at the outset that I am not going to refer to quantum mechanics in my argument. It seems to me to be always a mistake, in philosophy, to argue from the current state of a science (and especially physics). In general, I have refrained from scoring points against determinism and actualism which turn on the inaccuracy (or imprecision) of our descriptions or the indeterminacy of our measures. This is because they do not in general raise important ontological questions. It is debatable whether quantum mechanics does - but if it in fact requires a reinterpretation of the category of causality in fundamental physics it will not be in the Humean direction and can only strengthen the anti-determinist's hand. I have already discussed (i) at some length so I will be brief with it here. Contrast the law of conservation of energy or of mass action with a simple empirical generalization like `all pillar-boxes are red' or `all blue-eyed white tom cats are deaf'. Whereas the latter, at least so long as they remain unattached to any theory, could be defeated by a single counter-instance, the truth of the former is consistent with almost anything that might happen in the world of material objects and human beings. For they do not attempt to describe this world; i.e. they cannot be interpreted as undifferentiated empirical generalizations. Rather they must be interpreted as principles of theories - of physics and chemistry - which tell us something about the 110 A Realist Theory of Science way things act and interact in the world. As such they specify conditions which we presume are not contravened but rather continually satisfied in the countless different actions and interactions of the world, including those of which we have direct experience. And they are manifest in certain impossibilities, e.g. that of building a perpetual motion machine. Nevertheless they are principles for which any test would require not only fine measurement but closed conditions. As such they are not normally empirically manifest to us or actually satisfied. (For the scientist this feature appears as a difference between the real or corrected and the actual or measured values of the variables he is concerned with.) Thus we could say that relative to these vantage points, viz. of experience and actuality, these principles specify levels of deep structure or (metaphorically) place conditions on the inner workings of the world. Now it might be said that laws, such as those of mechanics or electricity, do not describe the world as such, but only those aspects or parts of it which fall within their domain, i.e. the mechanical or electrical aspects of it. But this concedes my point. For one can only say which aspects are mechanical or electrical by reference to the antecedently established laws of mechanics and electricity, and such aspects are real. Clockwork soldiers and robots do not more nearly observe the laws of mechanics than real people. Rather their peculiarity stems from the fact that if wound up and left alone their intrinsic structure ensures that for each set of antecedent conditions only one result is possible. But outside the domain of a closure the laws of mechanics are, as Anscombe has put it, rather like the rules of chess; the play is seldom determined, though nobody breaks the rules'.46 Closely connected with this feature of laws is their consistency with situations of `dual control'. A game of cricket is only partially controlled by the rules of cricket, language-using by those of grammar. Chemical reactions are only partially controlled by Dulong and Petit's law, black bodies behave in all kinds of ways that are not specified by the Stefan-Boltzmann law. Coulomb's law does not completely describe the action of charged particles, or Faraday's law all that happens to an electrode. Similarly the `boundary conditions' for the laws of 46 G. E. M. Anscombe, op. cit., p. 21. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 111 mechanics, the domain within which they apply, are controlled by the operating principles defining a machine.47 Laws leave the field of the ordinary phenomena of life at least partially open. They impose constraints on the type of action possible for a given kind of thing. But they do not say which out of the possible actions will actually be performed. They situate limits but do not dictate what happens within them. In short, there is a distance between the laws of science and the ordinary phenomena of the world, including the phenomena of our actual and possible experience. And it is with the investigation of this distance that I am here concerned. To say that laws situate limits but do not dictate what happens within them does not mean that it is not possible to completely explain what happens within them. The question `how is constraint without determination possible?' is equivalent to the question how `can a thing, event or process be controlled by several different kinds of principle at once?' To completely account for an event would be to describe all the different principles involved in its generation. A complete explanation in this sense is clearly a limit concept. In an historical explanation of an event, for example, we are not normally interested in (or capable of giving an account of) its physical structure. In deciding to write `!' on this piece of paper I select the conditions under which the laws of physiology and physics are to apply. So that it is absurd to hold that the latter might account for my `!'; or that it might have been predicted in the basis of a knowledge of a physical state-description prior to my writing it. On the other hand my neuro-physiological state and the physical conditions must be such that I can write it; they could prevent it (e.g. if I were suddenly to fall asleep or be propelled into orbit around the moon). There is a space between the laws of physics and physiology and what I do within which deliberation, choice and voluntary behaviour have room to apply. The theory of complex determination, in situating persons as comprehensive entities whose behaviour is subject to the control of several different principles at once, allows the possibility of genuine self-determination (subject to constraints) and the special power of acting in accordance with a plan or in the light of reasons. 47 Cf. M. Polanyi, `The Structure of Consciousness', The Anatomy of Knowledge, ed. M. Grene, p. 321. 112 A Realist Theory of Science Human freedom, on this view, *if* it exists, would not be something that somehow cheats science (as it is normally conceived) or, on the other hand, something that belongs in a realm apart from science; but something whose basis would have to be scientifically understood. As freedom would be ana1ysed as a power of men and science is, for us, non-predictive there is nothing inconsistent or absurd about such an assertion; any more than to say that purposefulness in animals, which is no doubt not the same as intentionality in men, has (still) to be scientifically understood. I suggest that only the theory of complex determination is compatible with agency; and that there are no grounds for assimilating intentional action to the classical paradigm or supposing that intentionality is not a real attribute of men. However, this is peripheral to my main concerns here. Dogs cannot fly or turn into stones, but they can move about the world and bark in all kinds of ways. To deny the latter possibility is as absurd as to deny the former necessity. But the reasons why they behave in canine ways is an open question for a putative science of animal ethology to answer. The difference between laws of nature and empirical generalizations is analogous to the difference between the rules of cricket and a television recording of the actual play on some particular occasion. Whether or not Boycott scores a century is not determined by the rules of cricket; but by how he bats and how the opposition play. Now it is clearly necessary for the intelligibility of the idea of dual (or multiple) control that the higher-order level is open with respect to, in the special sense of irreducible to, the principles and descriptions of the lower-order level. It is easy to see why this must be so. For it is the operations of the higher-order level that control the boundary conditions of the lower-order level, and so determine the conditions under which the laws of that level apply. It is the state of the weather that determines, in England, when and where the rules of cricket can apply; the state of the conversation that determines the ways in which we can express ourselves in speech; the state of the market that determines the use of machines, the use of machines that determines the conditions under which certain physical laws apply. The use of machines is thus subject to dual control: by the laws of mechanics and those of economics. But it is the latter that determine the boundary conditions of the former. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 113 It follows from this that the operations of the higher level cannot be accounted for solely by the laws governing the lower-order level in which we might say the higher-order level is `rooted' and from which we might say it was `emergent'. Now an historical explanation of how a new level came to be formed would not, it is important to see, undermine this principle. Let us suppose that we could explain the emergence of organic life in terms of the physical and chemical elements out of which organic things were formed and perhaps even reproduce this process in the laboratory. Now would biologists lose their object of inquiry? Would living things cease to be real? Our apprehension of them unmasked as an illusion? No, for in as much as living things were capable of acting back on the materials out of which they were formed, biology would not be otiose. For a knowledge of biological structures and principles would still be necessary to account for any determinate state of the physical world. Whatever is capable of producing a physical effect is real and a proper object of scientific study. It would be the task of biologists to investigate the causal powers of living things in virtue of the exercise of which inter alia they brought about various determinate states of the physical world. Living creatures qua causal agents determine the conditions under which physical laws apply; they cannot therefore already be manifest in the latter. Sentience determines the conditions of applicability of physical laws, but it is also subject to them. If the elements of the lower-order are real then so must be the causes that determine the conditions of their operation, i.e. the comprehensive entities formed out of them. If black bodies are real then so are physicists, if charged particles are real then so are thunderstorms. In short, emergence is an irreducible feature of our world, i.e. it has an irreducibly ontological character. Reflect once more on the distinctiveness of laws of nature and empirical generalizations. The laws of nature leave the conditions under which they operate open, so the field of phenomena is not closed: it is subject to the possibility of dual and multiple control, including control by human agents. What I can do is constrained by the operation of natural laws. But I can hack my way all over the physical world, defeating empirical generalizations. I can interrupt the operations or break the mechanism of a machine and so falsify any prediction made on the basis of 114 A Realist Theory of Science its past behaviour. But I cannot change the laws that governed and so explained its mode of operation. And I can come, in science, to have a knowledge of such normic and non-empirical statements; and perhaps in time begin to recognize analogous principles at work controlling my own behaviour (marking the site of a possible psychology). I have argued that complex objects are real (and that the complexity of objects is real); and that the concept of their agency is irreducible. Complex objects are real because they are causal agents capable of acting back on the materials out of which they are formed. Thus the behaviour of e.g. animate things is not determined by physical laws alone. But that does not mean that their behaviour is not completely determined: only that an area of autonomy is marked out which is the site of a putatively independent science. And because the forms of determination need not fall under the classical paradigm this in turn situates the possibility of various kinds of self-determination (including the possibility that the behaviour of men may be governed by rational principles of action). From the normic and non-empirical nature of laws and their consistency with situations of dual control I conclude that the world is a world of agents incompletely described. Laws neither undifferentially describe nor uniquely govern the phenomena of our world. And this is accounted for by the fact that it is an incompletely described world of agents which are constituted at different levels of complexity and organization.48 However it might be objected here that all I have shown is that the laws that we currently possess do not describe the world as we currently know it. And that I have not shown that if we were in fact able to reduce (apparently) complex things to complete atomistic state-descriptions that we would be unable to predict future physical states of the world without referring to comprehensive entities and principles of behaviour special to them. The final stage of my argument against actualism must thus constitute a critique of strong actualism in which the incoherence of the programme of reduction it envisages for science is demonstrated. It is important to be clear about the different senses of `reduction'. There are three distinct ways in which a science 48 Cf. M. Bunge, The Myth of Simplicity, Chap. 3; and M. Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, Chap. 2. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 115 might be said to be `reducible' to a more basic one, which ought not to be confused. There is first the idea of some lower-order or microscopic domain providing a basis for the existence of some higher-order property or power; as for example, the neurophysiological organization of human beings may be said to provide a basis for their power of speech. There is secondly the idea that one might be able to explain the principles of the higher-order science in terms of those of the lower-order one. This depends upon being able to undertake at least a partial translation of the terms of the two domains; though it is conceivable that they may retain substantially independent meanings and overlap only in some of their reference states. Such a `reduction' may of course result in modifications of the laws of the higher-order domain.49 There is finally the sense in which it is suggested that from a knowledge of the states and principles of the lower-order science we might be able to predict behaviour in the higher-order domain. It is important to see that it is to this claim that the strong actualist is committed, if he is to eliminate complex behaviour in favour of its atomistic surrogates. It depends not only upon the establishment of a complete parallelism between the two domains, but upon a closure, i.e. the attainment of a complete atomistic state-description of all the systems within which the events covered by the descriptions of the higher-order science occur. Now it is especially important to keep the second and third senses distinct. For though it is clear that we can explain the principles and laws of chemistry in terms of those of physics or of classical mechanics in terms of quantum mechanics, we cannot predict physical and chemical events such as the next eruption of Vesuvius on the basis of that knowledge alone. For that we would need an antecedent complete atomistic state-description, i.e. a closure, as well. Now the strong actualist, claiming that the world is in the end closed, must, unless he is to limit himself merely to a dogmatic reassertion of this claim, presumably map out a strategy for the sciences to attain such a closure. The fact that a successful reduction in science does nothing in itself to achieve empirical invariances is something 49 Cf. P. K. Feyerabend, `Explanation. Reduction and Empiricism', Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science Vol. III, eds. H. Feigl and G. Maxwell, pp. 28-95. 116 A Realist Theory of Science of a blow to the programme (as distinct from dogma) of strong actualism. But even if it did there is an even more damaging objection at hand (which carries a more general moral for all those who see in `reduction' the hope of the `less developed' sciences). For every historically successful reduction of one science to another has depended upon the prior existence of an established corpus of scientific principles and laws in the domain of the reduced science. It is easy to appreciate why this must be so: for without the specification of some already more or less clearly demarcated and well charted domain no programme of reduction could possibly get to work. But this means that as a means of discovery, i.e. of achieving such a body of knowledge reductionism must fail. For it presupposes precisely what is to be discovered. I still have not refuted strong actualism as a possible account of the world. This I shall now do by arguing that it is inconsistent with any world containing science, and thus in any world in which science is possible. The only way of reconciling experimental activity with the empiricist notion of law is to regard it as an illusion; that is, to regard the actions performed in it as subsumable in principle under a complete atomistic state-description. In principle this applies not only to experimental activity but to all scientific activity (including theory-construction) in as much as it involves physical effects. Now this has the absurd consequence that the apparent discovery of natural laws depends upon the prior reduction of social to natural science. Or to put it another way, in an actualist world there would be no way of discovering laws which did not already presuppose a knowledge of them. So a closed world entails either a completed or no science. But as `completion' is a process in time the former possibility is ruled out: so a closed world entails the impossibility of science. But as science occurs the world must be open. This is not the reason why the world is open (though it is the reason for my justified belief that it is). Rather it is because the world is open that science, whether or not (and for how long) it actually occurs, is possible. In an open world all laws must be of normic form; and this is quite independent of our knowledge of them. In short, the complexity of agents and the normic character of laws are irreducible ontological features of the world; that is, they are necessary Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 117 features of our world established as such by philosophical It is relatively easy to show that all (and not just scientific) action depends upon our capacity to identify causes in open systems. For all action depends upon our capacity to bring about changes in our physical environment. Hence we must belong to the same system of objects (nature) on which we act. But we not only act on it, in the sense of bringing about changes that would not otherwise have occurred; we act on it purposefully and intentionally, i.e. so as to bring about these changes (as the results and consequences of our actions) and knowing that we are acting in that way. This depends upon our being able to identify features of our environment as the objects of our causal attention and as part of the system to which causality applies. Thus we must be capable of identifying and ascribing causes in our environment, and knowing ourselves as a causal agent among others. Unless we could do this, we could not act intentionally at all. Thus all human action depends upon our capacity to identify causes in open systems (to which of course the Humean theory cannot apply). I suggested earlier that human freedom is not only compatible with science, but had to be scientifically understood. This is important because it is inter alia a precondition for science. For science to be possible men must be free in the specific sense of being able to act according to a plan e.g. in the experimental testing of a scientific hypothesis. Human freedom is not something that stands opposed to or apart from science; but rather something that is presupposed by it. The idea that freedom is opposed to or apart from science stems from the empiricist conception of scientific experience as consisting in the passive observation of repeated sequences rather than in the active intervention of men in the world of things in an endeavour to grasp the principles of their behaviour. Men are not passive spectators of a given world, but active agents in a complex one. The view of the world as open and the view of the world as closed lead to totally different conceptions of science. The laws of nature, which are painstakingly uncovered by the theoretical work of science supplemented wherever possible by experimental investigation, do not seek to describe the myriad phenomena 118 A Realist Theory of Science of the world, the contents of a biscuit tin or the junk in the builder's yard. They do not seek to trace the path of a squirrel, predict which rafter a sparrow will light on or how many buns the vicar will have for tea.50 They can indeed come to explain such things in a certain way, but only on the condition that they are not interpreted as describing them. 50 A caricature of such an empiricism exists in some of the early experiments conducted under the august auspices of the Royal Society. The following is an example: '1661, July 24: a circle was made with a powder of unicorn's horn, and a spider set in the middle of it, but it immediately ran out several times repeated. The spider once made some stay upon the powder', C. R. Weld, History of the Royal Society, Vol. I, p. 113. Among the items of allegedly scientific interest collected by the Society were 'the skin of a moor, tanned with the beard and hair white' and 'an herb which grew in the stomach of a thrush', ibid, p. 219. Quoted in P. K. Feyerabend, 'Problems of Empiricism', op. cit., p. 156. --- from list --- .