Driftwork

15/04/09

realism, nonrelaism and a touch of ant-metaphysics

Filed under: culture, philosophy, event, difference — sdv @ 02:16:06 pm

Given that you accept that “Meillassoux’s argument: that a claim about how the universe was billions of years ago is necessarily a realist claim” then rather obviously I could be considered to be a realist, not that I would make such a claim myself. I would myself argue that a better understanding scientific realist claim that they aim to give us, in its theories and representations, a literally true story of what the world is like, and that the acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true. This is a quite minimal statement of realism and makes the claim that science aims to tell a true story not that it does tell a true story. An anti-realist position is one that argues that both philosophical and scientific intentions can be served without giving such a true story, and that the acceptance of a theory may require something less or different than the belief it is true. But in any case this does not in any sense justify the philosophical claim that because the universe is 14 plus billion years old, because there is no necessary relationship between the knowledge age of the universe and scientific and philosophical realism. The acceptance of this does not make you a realist, because it is preciously the case that non-realist and anti-realist positions can accept such scientific statements. It is not correct to think that non-realist positions assume that cosmological theories are meaningless - quite the opposite in fact because it is only from within such positions that the science begins to make any sense at all. Perhaps a realist position must maintain that the reductionist laws of nature will vindicate the cosmological views held - but as a non-realist I would maintain that the metaphysical error being maintained here is that the sciences can be unified as part of an all-encompassing and coherent world-view. For science (and engineering) does not require this at all !

Or to put this another way - we do not have to explain how science can explain things about times before humans evolved and after humanities extinction at all, what’s more our metaphysical explanations are unnecessary for a non-realist.

The irresolvable difference between us is that you imagine that you are saying “we know something about a realist world, and not necessarily that we know everything about it….” and that I would say ” that we can think there’s a realist world, but we can’t know anything about it. ” The problem for you is that I would categorically state that I am not a realist because critically I do not care that science aims to tell a true story, but that I do accept that there are many things we can know about the universe we exist within (science like philosophy is always recursive) just as there are many things we can know cannot exist. Perhaps it is important that we cannot yet estimate what the limits will be to scientific knowledge, though we can say that the scientific method as we currently understand it will probably have limits. The problem it seems to me is that you want things to fit within quite a narrow philosophical framework and it doesn’t.

I’ve long thought that there is a potential relationship between the empiricisms of Van Fraassen and Deleuze - both constructivist, both careful about metaphysics and science. But from very different philosophical traditions…

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