From owner-bhaskar@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU Sun Jun 8 22:41:06 1997 Received: (from domo@localhost) by jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU (8.8.5/8.6.6) id WAA67731 for bhaskar-outgoing; Sun, 8 Jun 1997 22:40:57 -0400 X-Authentication-Warning: jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU: domo set sender to using -f Received: from ( []) by jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU (8.8.5/8.6.6) with SMTP id WAA50318 for <bhaskar@jefferson.village.virginia.EDU>; Sun, 8 Jun 1997 22:40:48 -0400 Received: from by (5.x/SMI-SVR4) id AA18116; Sun, 8 Jun 1997 20:40:01 -0600 Received: by (SMI-8.6/SMI-SVR4) id UAA14254; Sun, 8 Jun 1997 20:32:23 -0600 Date: Sun, 8 Jun 1997 20:32:23 -0600 Message-Id: <> From: Hans Ehrbar <> To: bhaskar@jefferson.village.virginia.EDU Subject: BHA: rts2-26 Sender: owner-bhaskar@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU Precedence: bulk Reply-To: bhaskar@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU Status: O 118 A Realist Theory of Science ... 6. EXPLANATION IN OPEN SYSTEMS The fact that closed systems are a presupposition of the actualist account of science is reflected (a) in the absence of a theory of their establishment and (b) in the absence of a clear contrast between *pure* and *applied* phases of scientific activity or, perhaps better, between *science* and its *uses*. It is with the second that I will be concerned here. Now consistency with our conception of the objects of science as the mechanisms that produce phenomena, not the phenomena they produce (which must now be seen as both complex and differentiated), means that we must carefully distinguish between two moments of the scientific enterprize (interpreted broadly): the moment of *theory*, in which closed systems are artificially established as a means of access to the enduring and continually active causal structures of the world; and the moment of its open-systemic *applications*, where the results of theory are used to explain, predict, construct and diagnose the phenomena of the world. Actualism cannot sustain this distinction; or, if we confront it with it, show how the practical application of our knowledge is possible in open systems. This depends upon precisely the same ontological distinction as is necessary to sustain the intelligibility of experimental activity, namely that between causal laws and the patterns of phenomena, the mechanisms of nature and the events they Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 119 generate, the domains of the real and the actual. In this way actualism's assumption of an undifferentiated reality is mirrored in the assumption of an undifferentiated science. It is because of this ontological distinction that theory is never disconfirmed by the contrary behaviour of the uncontrolled world, where all our predictions may be defeated. Meteorology provides an instructive example here. We can have very little confidence in the ex ante predictions of weather forecasters, because of the instability of the phenomena with which they have to deal. But we can place a great deal of rational confidence in their ex post explanations. For the law-like statements they use to retrodict the antecedent events and states by means of which they both explain what actually happened and excuse their forecasts of it are not meteorological laws. So that meteorology is in this sense not a theoretical science. Rather, mentioning general physical variables, they are physical laws which have been confirmed quite independently of their use to explain and predict the weather. Thus meteorology, like engineering, stands to physics and chemistry as an applied to a pure science, using the experimentally-established results of the latter. (I am not ruling out the possibility that there may be irreducibly meteorological principles.) Now it is characteristic of open systems that two or more mechanisms, perhaps of radically different kinds, combine to produce effects; so that because we do not know ex ante which mechanisms will actually be at work (and perhaps have no knowledge of their mode of articulation) events are not deductively predictable. Most events in open systems must thus be regarded as `conjunctures'. It is only because of this that it makes sense to talk of a stray bullet or an unhappy childhood affecting `the course of history'. And it is only in virtue of this that laboratory closures can come to be established. The importance of experimental activity in natural science, conceived as a specific kind of conjunctural occurrence, allows us to stress that the predicates `natural', `social', `human', `physical', `chemical', `aerodynamical', `biological', `economic', etc. ought not to be regarded as differentiating distinct kinds of events, but as differentiating distinct kinds of *mechanisms*. For in the generation of an open-systemic event several of these predicates may be simultaneously applicable. 120 A Realist Theory of Science The skills of an applied and a pure scientist are characteristically different. The applied scientist must be adept at analysing a situation as a whole, of thinking at several different levels at once, recognizing clues, piecing together diverse bits of information and assessing the likely outcomes of various courses of action. The pure scientist, on the other hand, deliberately excludes, whereas the applied scientist seeks always to accommodate, the effects of intervening levels of reality. Though he is unafraid of flights of daring (always risky for the practical man), he holds fast to his chosen objects of inquiry. The applied scientist is an instrumentalist and a conservative, the pure scientist a realist and (at the highest level) a revolutionary. Keynes had the rare gift among economists of knowing both how to make money and how money is made.51 I said in section 1 that the activities of explanation, prediction and the identification of causes not only do not presuppose a closure, but they do not necessarily involve, though they may make use of laws. There are two points here. First, there is a difference in general between scientific and lay explanations. That this is so is entailed by one of the most obvious features of science, namely the prolonged period of scientific education and training a novice must normally undergo before he is considered capable of `scientific explanation'. This has a rationale in the real stratification of the world and a real effort, which is science needed to penetrate it. Needless to say, however, that stratification cannot justify any particular institutionalized form or any social division e.g. between scientists and non-scientists (the educator and the educated) arising from the latter. Secondly what primarily distinguishes scientific from lay explanations of events is not their structure but the *concepts* that figure in them. Thus the role played by laws in the scientific explanation of events, a role which is played via the invocation of the concept of the mechanism at work in the generation of the event, which is the function of the citation of the law (and which will be discussed further in the next chapter), is paralleled in lay explanations by other kinds of normic statements such as platitudes, truisms, assumptions of rationality or more crudely or vaguely formulated law-like statements. Moreover, there is a case, which I am now going to examine in some detail, in which 51 See R. F. Harrod, The Life of John Maynard Keynes. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 121 both scientific and lay explanations have exactly the same form and in which they do not involve normic statements at all. This is the transitive verb model to which I have already alluded in section 3 above. `Why is the door open?' - `Because Tania pushed it open'. The door is open because Tania pushed it [open]' is a paradigm causal explanation, accomplished without reference to laws, by the redescription of the explanandum event in terms of its cause. It is informative - there are other reasons why the door might be open. But it is also logically necessary; i.e. the explanation is deductive - if Tania pushed the door open, it must be open. In this `Tania pushed the door open' differs from `Tania pushed the door hard'. `Tania pushed the door hard' may explain why the door is open but it does so only contingently. On the other hand `Tania observed the door open' cannot explain why the door is open because there is no conceivable way in which observing can bring about a change in the object concerned (viz. the state of the door). Now the role of the verb `push' in `Tania pushed the door open' is to link the A-sequence and the B-sequence in Diagram 2.1 by supplying an interpretation of the latter, so that the door's movement can be seen as the result of a continuous action sequence. Note that though `Tania moved up to the door and then the door moved away' is a true description it does not mean the same as `Tania pushed the door open.' A Sequence T ----->--+ | Door | B Sequence +--------->---- Diagram 2.1 Now transitive verbs such as `pushing', `pulling', `knocking', `twisting', `binding', `squeezing', `holding', `forcing', `driving', `turning', `stimulating', `producing', `generating', `bringing about', `making', etc. lie at the root of our notion of cause.52 When something is cited as a cause it is being viewed as that element, paradigmatically an agent, in the total situation then 52 Cf. H. L. A. Hart and A. M. Honore, Causation in the Law, Chap. 2, Sect. 2. 122 A Realist Theory of Science prevailing which, from the point of view of the cause-ascriber, `so tipped the balance of events as to produce the known outcome'.53 Now the importance of the transitive verb model is that it accounts for both the large number of ordinary causal explanations which are deductive (or become so with the addition of a suitable objective complement, perhaps tacitly understood) and the basic interactions of classical mechanics; i.e. the fact that action-by-contact was not itself felt to be in need of explanation. In neither case is there reference to laws or any other general statements. `Juanita made Xara push the door open', `The mixture made him sick', `He drove his wife to despair', `The sergeant forced him to pull the trigger', `The elephant crashed into the juggernaut', `The first billiard ball smacked into the second', `The irate positivist knocked his ink bottle over', `The psychoanalyst suggested he open the window' these are the primaeval explanation forms. It has been suggested that it is the fact that something is subject to human manipulation or control that accounts for our identification of it as the cause.54 But apart from obvious counter-examples, it is clear that we could only know ourselves as causal agents in a world of other causal agents and that our notion of cause takes in the possibility of a world without men. It is because men are agents, not because `other agents' have affinities with men, that the concept of cause would still find application in such a world. Now if most events in open systems are conjunctures, i.e. are to be explained as the results of a multiplicity of causes, to the extent that basic causal explanations are involved, one would expect a modification of the transitive verb model to be necessary, corresponding and similar to that which required a restatement of the nomological model in normic form. This is so. For if a single influence was responsible for the outcome the event could be seen, as in Diagram 2.1, as the simple pure linear displacement of its cause (and deducibility would be preserved). To the extent however that more than one factor is at work the event will have to be seen as a kind of `condensation' or `distillation' of its component causes. I now want to illustrate this by looking at a fairly typical piece 53 M. Scriven, `Causes, Connections and Conditions in History', Philosophical Analysis and History, ed. W. H. Dray, p. 248. 54 D. Gasking, `Causation and Recipes', Mind 1955, pp. 479-87. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 123 of historical narrative. This will also enable me to identify some more general characteristics of explanation in open systems. In the piece of narrative that follows I underline obviously causal notions. This *pressure* from the Labour Party, with its great *influence* on the industrial workers, combined with the attitude of President Wilson himself, slowly *propelled* Lloyd George in the *direction* of the formulation of war aims. *Hindered* as he was by the obligation of earlier agreements with the European allies, he *ensured* that his declaration, *made* on the 5th January 1918, was only in the vaguest terms. It was, however, not incompatible with the much more specific Fourteen Points enunciated independently by the American President a few days later, and appealed by the German Government as a basis for peace negotiations at the time of the armistice in November.'55 The first thing to notice about this piece of historical narrative is its decentralized focus, allowing the emergence, in a series of redescriptions of the event concerned, of a picture of the conjuncture or balance of forces in which it occurred and in terms of which it is explained. The event is in fact known under three different descriptions: E_a, Lloyd George's formulation of his war aims; E_b, his *vague* formulation of these war aims; and E_c, his vague yet *compatible* (with the Fourteen Points) formulation of these war aims. Secondly, the indispensable role that causal notions play in both indicating the key variables which brought about the event and in rendering intelligible their efficacy can be seen. Why did Lloyd George formulate his war aims? Because of pressure from the Labour Party and from President Wilson. Here we imagine the event as if it were a simple displacement. But now the simple displacement is modified by the effect of another factor, viz, his previous obligations, and so Lloyd George formulates his war aims vaguely. The event becomes a condensation of the different explanatory linkages. Thirdly, each of these individual linkages could in principle be located within some interpretative schema or theoretical structure. But it is simple displacements, transitively understood, and the role that causal notions play in them that explains the peculiar efficacy of what Dray has called `continuous series'.56 Finally, the non-unified ontology of the 55 H. Pelling, Modern Britain 1885-1955, p. 77. 65 W. H. Dray, Laws and Explanation in History, pp. 66ff. 124 A Realist Theory of Science explanation should be noted. The industrial proletariat and President Wilson's attitude co-exist within the same explanation. The pattern of the explanation is illustrated in Diagram 2.2. A possible misunderstanding must be avoided and a possible puzzle allayed. The physical action causal notions used in the explanation of such an event are of course employed metaphorically. Lloyd George is not literally propelled. In this way they Labour Party |\ | \ v \ Workers \ \ \ \ \ \ \ v E_a <-- ^ \ -- / \ -- / \ -- / \ -- President < E_b <------- Obligations to Allies Wilson \ / \ / \ / v v E_c Diagram 2.2 stand in for what some would say are trivial, though I would prefer to say are (as yet) inadequately understood, processes. Now this differs from the kind of criticism that I directed against the action-by-contact paradigm when I argued in section 3 that though it may provide the source of our concept of causality, it cannot provide an adequate model for the understanding of ultimate physical actions. For doors do really get pushed open and it is perfectly legitimate to talk in this way. What is illegitimate is to regard corpuscles as acting like doors. (For if the door was a corpuscle it could not retain its shape - it would have to be bent to be `opened'.) A puzzle may arise about precisely what event is being explained in our simple historical explanation, when the same event is referred to under three different descriptions. But the puzzle dissolves when it is realized that the phrase `the event which occurred (in s_i at t_j)' is essentially syncategorematic; that is to say that it refers only on the basis of some prior description of the event concerned. And it is precisely the function of the notion of an event to generate redescriptions of events as specified under their original descriptions in their explanation. In this way it also acts as a possible signpost into the language of theory. Actualism and the Concept of a Closure 125 I have taken a simple historical explanation because it illustrates some more general features of explanation in open systems. The pattern of explanation, even where well-developed scientific theory can be brought to bear on an event, is substantially the same. In general as a complex event it will require a degree of what might be called `causal analysis', i.e. the resolution of the event into its components (as in the case above). These components will then require theoretical redescription, so that the theories of the various kinds of mechanism at work in the generation of the event can be brought to bear on the event's explanation. The next step will consist in retrodiction from redescribed component events or states to the antecedent events or states of affairs that could have produced them. To the extent that for each determinate effect there is a plurality of possible causes retrodiction alone cannot be decisive. And so it will need to be supplemented by independent evidence for the antecedents until we have eliminated from the total set of possible causes all but the one which, together with the other factors at work, actually produced the effect on the occasion in question. The four stages in the explanation of an open-systemic event may therefore be summarized as follows: (i) causal *analysis* (or resolution) of the event; (ii) theoretical *redescription* of the component causes; (iii) *retrodiction* via normic statements to possible causes of the components; (iv) *elimination* of alternative causes. Now it is particularly important to beware of the supposition that if we have achieved such a complete explanation of an event (normally of course we will only be interested in one or two of the influences at work) this would put us in a position whereby we could have predicted it. For the different levels that mesh together in the generation of an event need not, and will not normally, be typologically locatable within the structures of a single theory. In general the normic statements of several distinct sciences, speaking perhaps of radically different kinds of generative mechanism, may be involved in the explanation of the event. This does not reflect any failure of science, but the complexity of things and the multiplicity of forms of determination found in the world. The idea that a complete explanation of an event entails a potential prediction of it depends upon the possibility of the reduction of the various sciences to a single 126 A Realist Theory of Science level and a complete description of all the individuals at that level; i.e. it depends upon the idea of an antecedent closure. Now it is not that this represents an unreasonable ideal for science; but rather that it constitutes a conjecture about the nature of the world which is in fact false and which, if acted upon, could have the most deleterious effects on science. If science is to be possible the world must be open; it is men that experimentally close it. And they do so to find out about structures, not to record patterns of events. --- from list --- .